Art has always been an influential form of expression, so much so that I have even decided to major in it. Luckily for art lovers such as myself, it just so happens to be that practically all of the places in the world that you can think of have long histories with art. One type of art that I happen to enjoy among most would certainly have to be any type of art from Asia. Now when you ask someone what they think of when you bring up Asian art, there are high chances that they will associate it with works from China, Japan, Southeast and Central Asia, and Korea. However, most people that are told to think about Asian influences often overlook the works that were present in India.
Amazingly, Indian art consists of a wide variety of art forms, including arts such as pottery and sculpture, visual arts such as paintings, and performing arts and textile arts. In fact, it spans the entire Indian subcontinent, including what are now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and eastern Afghanistan. Indian Art, for how big it has become, has been standing strong since the prehistoric times. In historic art, sculpture in stone and metal, mainly religious, has survived the Indian climate better than most other art out there. Many of these holy sculptures include a seated male figure commonly known as Buddha, which just so happens to be one of the most recognized art forms out there.
The art piece that I will be analyzing is one that I have considered to share many similarities with the common Buddha statue. Like many found Buddha statues, this statue also goes by the name of ‘Seated Male Figure’, but I can certainly assure you that while this piece is largely unknown due to its age, it still has many things that distinguish it from the former. More specifically, I find it important to compare and contrast the differences of this piece to largely known Buddha statues despite the mysteries surrounding it.
The aforementioned statue known as the ‘Seated Male Figure’ appears to be nothing more than a seemingly hand modeled terra-cotta figure of a seated man. Despite the mysteries that surround the origin of this sculpture, what was able to be gathered is that this piece was discovered in Gupta, India at around the 5th century A.D. Additionally, it is made up of red terracotta and its overall dimensions are height of 31.0 cm., a width of 24.5 cm., and a diameter of approximately 14 cm. (12 3/16 x 9 5/8 x 5 1/2 in.) (source 1). Currently, the Seated Male Figure is located in Princeton University’s Art Museum in New Jersey. In particular, the seated male figure appears to have no upper body clothing on, which lets the viewers see his large-bellied torso. This however, would come to no surprise as rounded features shown on human sculptures are common characteristics of Gupta terra-cotta figures of the fifth century.
The Seated Male figure was created during the Gupta period of Indian Art, which is a period generally regarded as a classic peak of north Indian art for all the major religious groups. Although painting was evidently widespread, the surviving works are almost all religious sculpture. The fact that most sculptures of the time were religious certainly leads me to believe that the connections to Buddha are reasonable. Adding to this, it was during the Gupta period of India that Buddha statues were initially created. It is not uncommon to see Buddha statues which significant cultural and religious meanings head to toe. They represent those who are awakened and have long conveyed religious teachings. They often possess half-closed eyes that show a state of meditation, always looking outward and inward. Their ears elongated earlobes that hear what’s needed in the world and they can even be shown having a dot on their foreheads to act as a third eye to see unity.
Many Buddha statues are doing a gesture known as a mudra, which are hand gestures representing different meanings. While one hand of the statue is palm up with no known significance, the other arm is noticeably missing. It is also not known if it was incomplete or rather it was simply broken off from ware over the years. With that being said, I believe it would not come as a surprise if the seated male was originally intended to be doing a mudra itself. This alone often makes me wonder that if this truly were to be the case, then what would this sculpture’s hand gestures represent. From what we can see of this sculpture’s face, it has opened eye sockets, which may possibly lead to the notion that it isn’t a relaxed individual. Despite this, the sculpture is shown to be sitting, just like the name implies and also similar to comparable Buddha statues.
What is interesting to note is that it is entirely possible that The Seated Male was not a standalone figure, but was rather part of something much more grandiose. This all comes into speculation once it is considered that this piece was reportedly found at the ruins of a terra-cotta temple in the area of Hardoi city, Lucknow District, in central Uttar Pradesh state in northern India. Whether or not it was intended to be a Buddha statue cannot be confirmed as the creators of this piece would not be around today. This is rather intriguing when keeping in mind that most sculptures, let alone terra-cotta statues, do not endure the test of time when paired in such buildings like the Seated Male Figure was.
In contrast with typical Buddha designs, there is good reason to believe that the Seated Male Figure is not related to Buddha statues as well. For example, most Buddha statues are not typically made out of terra-cotta, but are usually comprised of metal or stone from mountains or caves. Also, unlike the curly type of hair that is usually associated with Buddha statues, the Seated Male Figure manages to have seemingly straight hair that is parted down the middle and falls in locks on both sides. This fact combined with its overall facial expression is something that one would not normally associate with statues of seated Buddha. According to legend, Buddha had to shave his head only once, in which Buddha’s hair grew back and adhered tightly to his scalp in rows of snail like curls. There is often 360 curls that artists give to these statues, each turning into a clockwise direction. Variously the coils can be large, small, flat, knob like or pointed like a scorpion’s tail. More often, the hair is neither totally shaved nor long, representing life between the extremes of indulgence and mortification. These depictions of curly hair often change depending on the artists, or location.
The sole reason that I have chosen to do the Seated Male Figure was not only because of my interest in Asian Art, but also ancient art as whole. I find it interesting putting myself in the artist’s shoes and trying to figure out what they were meaning to portray in their artwork. Due to the Seated Male Figure existing since ancient times before its discovery is a testament to how old artworks have always existed in the past. We are continuously finding much more ancient art to this day and it is utterly astounding at how art has both changed and adapted over the years, and also how some of it is still being done in the same manner to this day. In this case, I found it nessessarry to compare the art form and analyze it to see if it was meant to be a seated Buddha statue all along. Of course, this is no simple task as the ststates origin still remains an undiscovered mystery.
When I laid eyes on this art piece, I had heard of the mystery surrounding it, but just could not help but to believe that it was associated with the common seated Buddha. Utilizing my past knowledge of how ancient Indian sculptures often have religious symbolic meanings, I am under the assumption that this the Seated Male Figure is of the same category until more studies reveal the true answer. Comparing and contrasting the differences and similarities has been truly insightful, and I look forward to when more information on the Seated Male Figure is known.