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Portrait of a donor (?)

India, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh

Not on view

Scholars of early India once identified any anonymous renderings of a human as a personified nature spirit; however, it is now clear that portraits of individuals existed alongside images of nature deities. The head seen here was excavated in 1914 at Sarnath, the site of the Buddha’s first sermon. It is distinctive in facial features and style of headdress, suggestive of portraiture. Confidently carved in sharp planes that cast deep shadows, ideal for outdoor installation, it wears a patterned-cloth turban and braided hair. Mauryan north India was in close diplomatic contact with Iranian and Hellenistic cultures, in which portraiture had an established place. The heads from Sarnath may then represent high-status Buddhist donors.

Portrait of a donor (?), Sandstone, India, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh

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