Seated Buddha

North Central India. Mathura
Kushan Dynasty, 1st century
Red sandstone
Ester R. Portnow Collection of Asian Art, a gift of the Nathan Rubin-Ida Ladd Family Foundation

One of the finest such sculptures in the United States, this work represents a type and style of fundamental importance. Originally from China, the Kushans (Kuei-shang) founded a dynasty that dominated a large expanse from Southern Russia through Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India and Bangladesh. King Kaniskha (78-144 AD) was an enthusiastic patron of Buddhism, although he might not have practiced it. This seated Buddha, faced frontally, is standard for Kushana sandstone art. The Buddha's right hand would have been raised in a gesture signifying a spiritual state; his left would have rested on his knee. Finely incised lines suggest the drapery of the Buddha's robes. Underneath the figure are bodhisattva disciples of the Buddha, carved in the understated but voluptuous manner of the Kushan period. Carrying lotus-branches, they surround the Bodhi-tree, the pipal tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment.