Head of Buddha, probably the Buddha Sakyamuni

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Head of Buddha, probably the Buddha Sakyamuni, 7th-early 8th century
, Relief
7th-8th century
Dvaravati Period
Creation Place: Thailand
Gray limestone
Maximum, slightly irregular, head only: H. 33 x W. 21 x D. 18.5 cm (13 x 8 1/4 x 7 5/16 in.)
Full height of head and modern marble base together: 50 cm (19 11/16 in.)
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Christina and Laura Marcove in memory of Ralph C. Marcove, M.D
, 2011.14
Carved in gray limestone in Thailand in the seventh or early eighth century, this stone sculpture depicts the head of a Buddha, probably the Buddha Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha; the face displays a serene, benevolent countenance. No images of the Buddha were created during his lifetime (traditionally, 563-483 BCE), so all representations, whether in painting or sculpture, are fanciful, presenting the imagined appearance of the Buddha; thus, the facial characters vary from culture to culture and from period to period. Broken from a stone statue of the Buddha—presumably a standing image of the Buddha—this sculpture includes the figure’s head and neck. The sculpture is presented frontally and, in form, is basically an elongated, vertically oriented rectangle. The facial features are relatively large, the down-cast eyes fully-modeled, lightly outlined, and set in shallow sockets below the narrow forehead and above the fleshy cheeks; appearing below the prominent nose, the thick, decidedly outlined lips turn up at the ends, imparting a slight smile to the mouth. Typical of sculptures influenced by Indian, Gupta-period sculptures from Sarnath (and ultimately by earlier sculptures in Gandharan style), the eyebrows are created less through modeling than through the crisp intersection of forehead and eye-socket planes. Three relatively deep intaglio lines encircle the neck, creating the characteristically fleshy folds that are described in Buddhist texts. A mound-shaped ushnisha appears atop the head, the ushnisha being the cranial protuberance symbolizing the expanded wisdom that the Buddha gained at the time of his Enlightenment and thus serving as the single and most-important defining iconographic characteristic of a Buddha. Snail-shell curls of hair arc across the top of the forehead and cover the entire crown of the head, including the ushnisha. The ears, with their distended lobes, are proportionally long but cling tightly to the sides of the head, the lobes flaring out lightly at the bottoms. The front and sides of the sculpture are in excellent condition, given the age of the piece; those portions are intact and complete. In fact, those portions show only various small nicks and scratches, apart from a chip on the proper left cheek—slightly above and to the (viewer’s) right of the end of the mouth—and apart from a long crack that extends from the bottom of the chin, through the just-mentioned chip and the proper left eye socket, across the forehead, and to the hairline. A small chip and related crack appear in corresponding positions on the proper right side of the face. In contrast to the well-preserved front and sides of the sculpture, most of the lower half of the back of the head is missing. The loss extends from the middle of the back of the head down to the bottom of the neck; the loss begins immediately after the first column of snail-shell curls of hair behind the figure’s proper right ear; the loss begins after the third column of curls behind the proper left ear, with the fourth column partly intact, partly missing. Fortunately, the ears and distended lobes are completely intact and undamaged. The chips and long cracks on the front of the sculpture likely were inflicted long ago, once the sculpture was no longer under worship; perhaps the sculpture fell over and was damaged. It is unknown when the head became detached from the body or when the lower portion of the back of the head was broken away. Like virtually all Buddhist sculpture in stone and clay, this image originally would have been painted, though no traces of either pigment or gesso ground remain today.
Dr. J. R. Belmont, Basel, Switzerland (c. 1940 [or c. 1950?]-1965), sold; [through R. H. Ellsworth, New York, 1966] to Christian Humann (Pan-Asian Collection), New York (1966-1981), sold; [through R. H. Ellsworth, New York, inventory no. St121, early 1980's-1990], sold; to Ralph C. Marcove, New York (1990-2001), bequest; to his wife Christina Marcove, New York (2001-2011), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2011.

The sculpture was created in Thailand in the seventh or early eighth century;
R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., New York, acquired it by purchase from Dr. J. R. Belmont in 1966;
Estate of Christian Humann (d. 1981) sold back to R. H. Ellsworth in the early 1980s;
Ralph C. Marcove (d. 2001), New York
Exhibition History
Recent Acquisitions, Part II: Building the Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/19/2012 - 09/29/2012