Beyond the Mediterranean – Gandhara (4th century BC – 6th century AD)

At the end of the 4th century BC, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (Alexander III) conquered parts of today’s Pakistan and Afghanistan. The region known as Gandhara was the main site of interaction between Greek and Indian culture, which created a characteristic local artistic tradition. Gandharan reliefs mostly decorated stupas (buildings preserving relics), and depicted Buddhist mythological subjects such as episodes from the life of Siddhartha, the founding Buddha of the religion (5th century BC), or images of Maitreya, the future Buddha of this world.

Gandharan art also influenced Buddhist iconography. It was possibly in Gandhara that the historical Buddha was first represented in human form, which later became general in most Buddhist schools. The faces of the earlier Buddha statues (1st–3rd centuries AD), carved of gray schist, are Greek in style and resemble the face of Apollo (1). Local characteristics, like the moustache and Indian costume, become more pronounced only in later centuries. On a typical example which blends Greek and Indian Buddhist traditions (2), a divine couple is seated in a western posture and clothing (tunic and mantle). In the late phase of Gandharan art (4th–5th centuries AD), Hellenised styles persisted chiefly on stucco representations (3–5).