Head of an old asceticOn display
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Head of an old ascetic
Date2nd half of the 3rd century - 4th century AD
Kushan Period (AD 50 - 600)
Material and technique
Dimensionswith 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
Presented by E. M. Scratton, 1958.
Museum locationGround floor | Gallery 12 | India to AD 600
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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)
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