Torso of a Bodhisattva

Artist: Probably Sahri-Bahlol Workshop

Date: ca. 5th century

Culture: Pakistan (ancient region of Gandhara, mondern Peshawar region)

Medium: Schist

Dimensions: H. 64 1/2 in. (163.8 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.419


Strategically located along the crossroads from the Mediterranean through ancient Bactria to northern India and China via Central Asia, Gandhara was of tremendous military and commercial significance. Throughout its early history, it attracted many different figures and peoples—among them, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, Scythians, Bactrians, Sogdians, Indians, Romans, and Sasanians—all of whom in varying degrees left their cultural imprint on the region.

Under the Kushans, Gandhara achieved its greatest glory. The most important Kushan ruler, Kanishka, was one of Buddhism's greatest patrons, prompting Gandharan iconography to become almost completely Buddhist. The area's artistic style, however, reflects the classical legacy of Alexander's cultural heirs and is markedly dependent upon Hellenistic and Roman prototypes. This combination of strong classical influence with a virtually Buddhist iconographic program is the hallmark of Gandharan art.

The most popular Gandharan image, after those representing the Buddha, was that of the bodhisattva, a being who attains enlightenment and escapes the cycle of death and rebirth but chooses to remain on earth to help others achieve salvation. The ideal of the bodhisattva is one of the basic tenets of Mahayana Buddhism. Heroic in scale and conception, this majestic torso is stunning in its visual impact.