This large terracotta sculpture is an extremely rare legacy of the ancient kingdom of Gandhara, encapsulating the rich cultural interplay and hybrid art styles derived from Hellenistic and Indian influences. It depicts the bodhisattva Vajrapani, the protector of Buddhism, seated in rajalilasana (royal ease pose). Vajrapani is represented with the iconography of the Greek god Hercules, who was widely venerated as a hero and saviour in western Asia during the early centuries of the present era. As a great champion, yet one who nevertheless understood the human condition, Hercules was easily assimilated into Mahayana Buddhism. Like other Gandharan bodhisattvas, he is depicted as an earthly prince with his aristocratic bearing and posture. However, his heavily moustached face belongs to the Indian world, while the body, with its naturalistic treatment of flesh and muscle, is reminiscent of Greco-Roman sculpture.
For another rare representation of Vajrapani in the form of Hercules in Gandharan art, see a fragment of a stone panel in the British Museum, museum no. 1970,0718,1, included in the exhibition Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 2003, cat. no. 138.
The use of hard-fired ceramic instead of stone such as schist was popular during the later Gandharan period from the 4th to the 6th centuries. However, due to the fragility of the medium, only a small number of terracotta statues from this period and size have ever been recorded. For another rare Gandharan terracotta sculpture of similar size, see the figure of a ‘Thinking Bodhisattva’ in the Dallas Museum of Art (accession no. 2010.17), illustrated in Anne Bromberg, ‘Thinking Bodhisattva,’ The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 2013, p. 49.
See also a terracotta head of Dionysos, exhibiting similar stylistic influences in in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession no. 1979.507.2), gift of Mr and Mrs Uzi Zucker, 1979, and a head of the Buddha, sold in our New York rooms, 17th September 2014, lot 410.
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