Gandhara and Mathura School of Art - Seeker's Thoughts

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Gandhara and Mathura School of Art

Gandhara and Mathura School of art








Gandhara and Mathura School of Art

Gandhara School sculpture reached its zenith during Kanishka's (127-151 AD) reign and inherited Greco-Buddhist art. Artists belonging to this school were adept at depicting Buddha with Hellenistic features like curling hair, anatomical accuracy and spatial depth.


Mathura artists drew upon Mauryan sculpture patterns until an image of Buddha, distinct from other styles but reminiscent of Gandhara aesthetic, emerged.




Gandhara and Mathura both excelled at sculpture as a form of religious building adornment, using red sandstone sculpture as its medium. After Mauryan period, however, sculpture underwent considerable development with three distinct schools emerging: Gandhara-Mathura-Amravati Schools of art.


Gandhara School images became highly-sought-after during this period, depicting life stories pertaining to Buddha, either sitting or standing, often wearing robes with different mudras on his hands. Gandhara sculptures were heavily influenced by Hellenistic realism as well as Iranian, Scythian and Parthian models that also borrowed elements. 


Gandhara art was known for anatomical accuracy, spatial depth and foreshortening - its images often featuring curly locks elongated ears as well as large forehead planes featuring protrusion of eyeballs and half-closed eyeballs on an image depicting life events of its protagonist.


Gandhara School statues not only featured Buddha images but also included statues of Bodhisattvas and Gods, known as Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. A Bodhisattva represents someone seeking salvation by overcoming all obstacles on their journey towards enlightenment - similar statues could be found at Sanchi and Sangama; however the Gandhara School's depiction didn't emphasize meditative poses as strongly; instead it focused more on exterior beauty of statues rather than its interior beauty compared to what Sanchi and Sangama could offer.


Mathura School Buddha images also drew heavily from Gandhara School traditions; however, unlike its counterpart, their depictions of Bodhisattvas in Mathura School images was more authentic and featured meditative poses; furthermore they modeled themselves after Yaksha images that existed contemporaneously with Gandhara images.


Mathura School was also strongly influenced by Jain religion, resulting in statues depicting its Tirthankaras such as Mahavira or Rishabh, each featuring their own distinctive symbol on their throne or breast: for instance a lion for Mahavira or bull for Rishabh. Furthermore, Hindu deities and goddesses were also popular subjects.




Gandhara and Mathura were two major schools of sculpture to emerge during India's Kushan Empire period. Gandhara sculptures reflected Greco-Roman influences while those made in Mathura were more indigenous. Still, both schools shared similar themes and iconography.


Gandhara school sculptures are distinguished by their naturalism, with particular attention given to physical features and muscle tone of their figures.


 This style was significantly shaped by interactions between Gandhara artists and various Hellenistic sculptors who came into contact with this region; Gandhara sculptors also employed several of the same iconographic motifs from earlier Buddhist, Jaina, and Hindu images that had previously existed in Gandhara art forms.


On the other hand, Mathura School sculptures emphasized expressing Buddha's emotions and spirituality, leading to more realistic portrayals. Mathura sculptures recall early Jaina and Hindu images as well as early Kushn period's massive standing Buddha representations.


Early Mathura sculptures featured blocky forms with their robes free from folds. Later, however, their style became more fluid as torsos became slimmer and more expressive; their influence being drawn from artistic traditions of both Bactria and Parthia as well as Yaksha images from earlier periods.


As the Mathura School matured, its style changed into something that was more traditionally Indian. Sculptors found inspiration from various Indian cultural and artistic traditions - particularly ones that placed great importance on imagery and feeling - drawing from this source of creativity for their sculptures, which also used techniques from Gupta period sculptures.


In the second century AD, the Mathura School began to be outshone by an emerging style in northern India, particularly Patna and its surroundings. This style would become known as Vaishnava or Shakta tradition and focus on depictions of Buddha that highlighted inner beauty through depictions influenced by Hindu, Jaina, and Buddhist iconography.




Gandhara school of art flourished during India's Kushan Dynasty, an era marked by unparalleled cultural and economic exchange with other parts of the world. Merchants brought Greek and Roman styles and techniques from trading ships traveling along India's northwest frontier, having an impactful impact on art in this region and giving rise to two distinct schools of art: Gandhara School and Mathura School.


Mathura School of art was initially inspired by Gandhara but soon evolved into its own unique style with distinctive features of its own. One notable difference between these styles lies in their distinct influences - Gandhara was heavily influenced by Indian traditions while Mathura was more heavily influenced by Greek techniques - with this mixture of cultures manifest in statue facial features, clothing choices and embellishments.


Gandhara School Buddha images began taking on more realistic forms during the first century AD, with features like shaved heads and form-fitting attire that featured more realistic lines and textures for hair waviness added by artists. These features reflected Hellenistic ideals of beauty that prioritized physical attractiveness over masculinity.


Gandhara statues grew taller, their robes more elaborate, their faces carved more expressively to convey enlightenment, and meditative pose of Buddha was also highlighted in these sculptures.


Gandhara School images often featured symbols in them, including two footprints and a wheel. Their seated Buddha was depicted with his hand extended out as in Abhyamudra to indicate spirituality and inner peace.


Gandhara School of Sculpture quickly emerged as a regional center of Buddhist art while Mathura School rose as an influential centre of Hindu sculpture in northern India at this time. Both schools were deeply impacted by various religions present at that time in northwest India - Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism being just some examples.


The Mathura School of sculpture emerged at a later time than Gandhara and is distinguished by its own distinct style and iconography. While Gandhara was heavily influenced by Greek techniques, Mathura School sculpture is more closely aligned with Indian styles and motifs; evidenced by many statues at Mathura that represent early yaksha (male nature deities).




Gandhara and Mathura art incorporated religious themes into their works. Artists of the Gandhara School portrayed Buddha's life and teachings through sculptures while Hindu deities were depicted through sculptures from Mathura School artists. While both styles emerged independently over time, their growth was tied closely to cultural and political shifts in India at that time.


Gandhara flourished during the Kushan Empire, which saw significant trade between India and other parts of the world. Artists at this time were familiar with Greek techniques, and due to foreign dynasties present they quickly adopted these elements into their style - something evident by musculature, facial features and drapery of Buddhas at Gandhara.


Gandhara sculptures were fashioned out of schist stone, an extremely hard material perfect for carving delicate details and intricate patterns into sculptures. Gandhara's artists combined various Indian, Persian, and Greco-Roman styles into the distinctive Gandhara style to craft their artworks.


At this period, the first sculptural representations of Buddha were made. At first, these depictions showed him as an innocent figure without much spiritual depth; later however, artists began showing more realistic portrayals that focused on his teachings as well as depictions of other figures such as Bodhisattvas or mahapurusha-lakshanas (wisdom bearers).


Mathura art focused on depicting Buddha as an expression of tranquility, drawing influence from Mauryan and Gupta art from ancient India as well as regional folk art and crafts from surrounding regions. The resultant style combined naturalism with stylization for an exquisite display that was both naturalistic and stylized at once. Mathura school artists became well known for their skill at detailing as well as using different materials like bronze and sandstone in their pieces.


Gandhara and Mathura schools both emerged independently but simultaneously as part of India's political and cultural movements during their periods of growth. Both became prominent art forms due to Buddhist teachings spreading around them - with both still revered by many today for their beauty.

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