Monumental Bodhisattva Head, 5th century Pakistan (ancient region of Gandhara) (Photo: The MET)
Situated between India, Persia, and the Greco-Roman world, the region of greater Gandhara (stretching through parts of modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) produced artwork that blended influences and ideas from many cultures. Treasure hoards with bounty that includes glasswork from Rome, Central Asian jewelry, and South Asian ivory are a testament to the region’s central role in the long-distance exchange of goods. Images of the Buddha reflecting Greek sculptural styles show its equally important role in the exchange of cultural ideas.
Although the kingdoms of greater Gandhara reached their artistic peak in the first through fifth centuries, the region’s legacy extends to the present: The era is one of the most important periods in world art. Robert DeCaroli, a professor of art history at George Mason University, examines the origins of the region’s material culture, explores the ways imperial and religious power were displayed, and traces the role of trade in the exchange of ideas.
10–11:15 a.m. Early Empires
The early cultural history of Gandhara is linked to Persia, but the arrival of Alexander the Great set the stage for a showdown between Seleucus Nicator, Alexander’s regional successor, and the brilliant Indian general Chandragupta Maurya. These conflicts led to a long period of cultural exchange and the rise of Buddhism in the region.
11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m. The Rise of the Kushan Empire
The expansive, long-lasting empire ruled by the Parthian dynasty had a profound impact on the region and its art. That heritage was enriched by the arrival of the powerful Kushan kings. DeCaroli examines the greatest Kushan rulers, how they had themselves represented on coins and in sculptural portraits, and their royal patronage of religious art, Buddhist reliquaries, and “houses for the gods.”
12:45–1:15 p.m. Break
1:15–2:30 p.m. Buddhism in Gandhara
Architectural remains attest to Gandhara’s role as a center of Buddhist practice; its monastic sites served as the setting for the creation of some of the earliest images of the Buddha. The region’s artists also pioneered Buddhist narrative art, creating an artistic tradition that reached across Asia.
2:45–4 p.m. Beyond the Boundaries of Gandhara
Gandhara was a hub for extensive trade and cultural contact with many regions, and records of Chinese pilgrims of the fourth through seventh centuries offer accounts of its vibrancy. Its cosmopolitan nature is also revealed by the rich caches of luxury goods left behind in palaces and graves. DeCaroli looks beyond Gandhara to explore sites in Afghanistan including Bamiyan, Hadda, and Mes Aynak.
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