Buddhism Gandharan Art
Antonio Amato
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0256


The expression “Gandharan art” refers to the documented artistic production, starting from the 1st century CE, of the Gandhara region, which included modern northern Pakistan and part of eastern Afghanistan. This particular artistic production is almost entirely represented by stone or plaster reliefs of Buddhist subjects, featuring stylistic and iconographic characteristics of various origins: Indian, Iranian, and Hellenistic. The materials used are stone, “stucco,” and clay. The chronology of Gandharan art is still debated. While the beginning dates from the 1st century CE, scholars are not in agreement over the duration of the artistic productions of Gandhara. Conventionally, the end is dated to the 4th–5th century CE, even if there are echoes of Gandharan production up to the 7th–8th century CE. This article does not intend to provide a comprehensive bibliography of Gandharan art. Bibliographical references listed here are representative and serve as a guide to some of the more important and interesting books and articles about Gandharan art and related issues. Even though this article is published within the Buddhism module, a section is also dedicated to non-Buddhist subjects in Gandharan art.

General Overviews

More recent scholarship has not dealt with the art of Gandhara from a general point of view, so the most recent publication of that type, Zwalf 1996, dates back to over twenty years ago. Foucher 1905–1951—a pioneering work regarding the artistic production of Gandhara—remains the reference point for those who want to study the topic in depth. Before Foucher finished his work in three volumes, Lohuizen-de Leeuw 1949 addressed significant problems of Gandharan art with a critical spirit, tackling the same issues that have continued to plague scholars for decades. Rosenfield 1967 laid the foundations for the analysis of the artistic production of Gandhara from the point of view of its relationship with the Kushan rulers, be it economic or commissioning. Bussagli 1984 represents the summa of the scientific production of the Italian scholar and is still today a solid general overview of the topic, thanks to the methods used and his original insights. Tissot 1985 is a valuable work from the point of view of iconographic research and classification attempts. A key critical overview of the range of possible origins for aspects of Gandharan art was provided by Nehru 1989, while Zwalf 1996 brought together all previous contributions, and provided students and scholars with a useful and well-structured text on Gandharan art.

  • Bussagli, Mario. L’arte del Gandhāra. Turin, Italy: UTET, 1984.

    A volume dedicated to Gandharan art, useful to students and scholars who want to begin the study of this art. Bussagli argues that Gandharan art is the product of different influences synthesized by the Kushan style.

  • Foucher, Alfred. L’art gréco-bouddhique du Gandhâra: étude sur les origines de l’influence classique dans l’art bouddhique de l’Inde et de l’Extrême-Orient. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1905–1951.

    A pioneering and fundamental work about Gandharan art and its iconography. Foucher considers “l’art gréco-bouddhique du Gandhara” as a harmonious encounter between West and Orient. One of the proofs of the Hellenistic influence on Gandharan art was the creation of the Buddha image with the nimbus around the head.

  • Lohuizen-de Leeuw, Johanna Engelberta van. The “Scythian” Period: An Approach to the History, Art, Epigraphy and Palaeography of North India from the 1st Century B.C. to the 3rd Century A.D. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1949.

    A remarkable volume that deals with some of the principal problems of Gandharan art, history, and chronology. The book is divided into seven chapters in which it is possible to find embryonic ideas later developed by the author.

  • Nehru, Lolita. Origins of the Gandhāran Style: A Study of Contributory Influences. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

    A study of Gandharan art starting from artistic, cultural, and iconographic influences. Nehru endorses the Greco-Bactrian origin of Gandharan art, even if with some local contributions.

  • Rosenfield, John M. The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

    A volume dedicated to the “dynastic art” of the Kushans, a term coined by Rosenfield which refers to the portrayals of Kushan kings. Chapter 9 is dedicated to Kushan figures in Buddhist sculptures.

  • Tissot, Francine. Gandhâra. Paris: Jean Maisonneuve, 1985.

    A volume dedicated to a detailed and comprehensive description of Gandharan art through the analysis of archaeological discoveries, costumes and hairstyles, jewelry, and everyday objects.

  • Zwalf, Wladimir. A Catalogue of the Gandhāra Sculpture in the British Museum. London: The British Museum, 1996.

    A two-volume catalogue of the sculptures in the British Museum. The substantial introduction is a valuable resource for students and scholars.

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