Amaravati: Buddhist Sculpture from the Great Stupa

Amaravati: Buddhist Sculpture from the Great Stupa

Amaravati: Buddhist Sculpture from the Great Stupa

Amaravati: Buddhist Sculpture from the Great Stupa

Excerpt

The sculptures which are the subject of this monograph rank with the Elgin marbles and the Assyrian reliefs among the great possessions of the Museum: they form the only major series of early Indian sculpture outside India, yet they have never been the subject of an official publication. There are reasons for this: the first that when they became the property of the Trustees in 1880 they had recently been accorded a full treatment by one of the leading authorities of the day, James Fergusson, in Tree and Serpent Worship (1st ed. 1868, 2nd ed. 1873). Moreover, in 1887 Dr Burgess, who had been investigating the site, wrote another substantial account for the Archaeological Survey of India, in which the Stūpa and its decoration, by then better represented in the Madras Museum, were reconsidered. In these two books practically every piece in the Museum collection was adequately reproduced; they could be cited from them conveniently, as they have been in every book on Indian art that has since appeared. Moreover, the dignified and conspicuous position assigned to the sculptures on the Main Staircase of the Museum, where they were attached to the wall behind an immense glass-fronted box, prevented the taking of improved photographs or the handling of the sculptures.

In this century the study of Indian archaeology, history, epigraphy and numismatics has progressed so far that the old works are out of date, and the subject is ripe for fresh treatment. The Amarāvatī sculptures now preserved in the Madras Museum were studied afresh in a full scale catalogue by Dr C. Sivaramamurti, in a volume published in 1942. In it the author has treated at length the subject matter of these sculptures, both the iconography and the incidental features, dress, weapons,jewellery and musical instruments, and has in general noted and analysed all the evidence they contain for life in the Andhradeśa under the Sātavāhanas. In this part of his volume he naturally refers to the British Museum sculptures, and it has not been judged useful to study this material again from that point of view.

On the other hand, there is still considerable difference of opinion on the form of the Stūpa, and the chronology of its decoration, and consequently on the stylistic development to be seen in the sculptures; in which is also involved their relation with other monuments. These questions have consequently been treated in full, and Mr Barrett has been at pains to put forward clearly all the facts bearing on the history of . . .

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