Head of an old ascetic

On display


  • Title

    Head of an old ascetic

  • Associated place

    Gandhara (place of creation)
  • Date

    4th - 5th century (AD 301 - 500)
    Kushan Period (AD 50 - 600)
  • Material and technique


  • Material index

  • Object type

  • Dimensions

    with mount 21 x 9.5 x 9 cm max. (height x width x depth)
    14 x 9.5 x 9 cm max. (height x width x depth)
  • No. of items


  • Credit line

    Presented by E. M. Scratton, 1958.

  • Museum location

    Ground floor | Gallery 12 | India to AD 600
  • Museum department

    Eastern Art

  • Accession no.


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  • Catalogue text

    In almost all cases such detached heads once belonged to a complete figure, sometimes in groups, more likely placed singly. This example, a “Socratic” type head of purely western classical inspiration, shows the ability of the sculptor in Gandhara to copy purely foreign types as a variant from the standardised heads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas which were his stock in trade. To the contemporary Buddhist worshipper, versed to some extent in Brahmanical lore as he probably was, this personage was likely to represent a rsi or sage. The heads, sometimes secured to the bodies with a wooden peg, were easy prey to vandals and spoliators but there is evidence that at times they simply dropped off. It can rain abundantly in Gandhara, obliterating the carving in the easily soluble stucco. A head in the Museum’s collection shows where a fresh coating of stucco was applied, in which the features were modelled anew.

    In: Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987)

Further reading

Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 22 on p. 17, p. 21, illus. p. 17

Jongeward, David, Buddhist Art of Gandhara in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2019), no. 107 on p. 137

Reference URL

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