Stucco; H. 16 1/2 in. (42 cm)
Purchase, Walter Burke Gift, and Anonymous Gift, Rogers Fund, and Gift of George D. Pratt, by exchange, 2005 (2005.314)
This lunette, one of only two complete examples known, is a rare survival from the once extensive Buddhist complex at Hadda, which was destroyed in the late 1980s during fighting between the Russians and the Mujahideen. Probably one of a series of lunettes that embellished the high base of a Buddhist stupa, or relic mound, it would have been viewed during ritual circumambulation.
Shakyamuni, the historic Buddha born as Prince Siddhartha, is shown as a bodhisattva wearing the jeweled turban and ornaments of a royal. The elephant and the adjacent bowed figure may refer to an episode from his youth, but his halo, meditating posture, and hierarchic relationship with the surrounding devotees all anticipate his enlightenmentthe sculptor's answer to the problem of presenting an icon as an object of veneration and also in the temporal context of a sacred biography. Given that the relief was sculpted in the fifth or sixth century, when classical traditions in the West had become formulaic, the naturalistic anatomy and complex treatment of the interacting devotees seem remarkable. But renewed Western influence would not have been necessary in this period of artistic renaissance, as classical motifs had been part of the Afghan heritage since Alexander the Great's campaign in the fourth century B.C.