Monochrome Terracotta Bowl

SKU LO.844
Circa

200 AD to 300 AD

Dimensions

2.50″ (6.4cm) high x 7.30″ (18.5cm) wide

Medium

Earthenware

Origin

Central Asia

Gallery Location

UK


 

This beautifully decorated bowl was made by a master potter of the Kushan Empire. It is comparatively shallow, and was probably used for the serving of food. The piece has a light brownish ground, and is decorated with exuberant dark brown scrollwork that extends up the sides of the vessel from the central cavetto, terminating at the rim. The centre of the dish is taken up with what appears at first sight to b ea horse, but is in fact some form of deer with extravagantly curling antlers. The presence of what appears to be a bridle bit on the muzzle is thus puzzling. It is depicted running at full speed, looking over its right shoulder as it runs, its tongue protruding with exhaustion. Its flanks are decorated with geometrical motifs, and a large circular decoration on the rump.
The Kushan were a highly inscrutable and short-lived Central Asian Empire that had its apogee in the first centuries of the first millennium AD, overseeing an empire that stretched from the Aral Sea through what is currently Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The empire was founded on trade and warfare, and was emphatically multicultural due to the enormous number of Central Asian and foreign groups who came through the area. They built their cities on the remains of Hellenistic settlements, and seem to have been allied with the Greeks judging from their very similar coinage and their use of the Greek alphabet. It was yabgu (Commander) Kujula Kadphises who united the rather disparate groups into a truly powerful force to be reckoned with, taking over lands previously occupied by the Scythians, Bactrians and Gandharans, amongst others.

Culturally they were highly sophisticated, using an amended Greek alphabet, Prakrit, Kharosthi script, a variety of religions (including Buddhism, Saivism and Zoroastrianism) and absorbing aspects of all the cultures they invaded or were allied with. They sent diplomats back and forth to Rome, under the rule of Trajan. The relative stability they brought to the Silk route was instrumental in maintaining its integrity, and the flood of materials and ideas that travelled from China to Rome and back. They had a variety of capital cities according to district, one of which – Bagram – had a museum of art and materials from all the areas touched by Kushan influence. Their religion was very complex, their pantheon extremely large and comprising deities from Greek, Iranian and Indian sources. The two main deities, were Ardoxsho and Oesho (Shiva, conflated with Avestan Vayu), although others may be recognised (i.e. Boddo [Buddha] and Eraklis [Heracles]). They helped in the dissemination of Greco-Buddhist art, which led into the Serindian artistic tradition. The Kushans themselves, incidentally, often find themselves portrayed in the arts of other realms: in Gandhara they are represented as devotees of the Buddha, dressed in tunics and belted trousers.

Their position between the immovable wall of China and the massed nomads of the Steppe, the rise of competing empires and their valuable position on the Silk Road both put pressure on the Kushans throughout the 2nd century AD. Internal squabbles led to the empire being split into two halves in 225 AD. The western half, based in Afghanistan, was rapidly conquered by the Sassanids. The eastern half (in the Punjab) resisted longer, but was eventually subjugated by the Gupta Empire under Samudragupta. The Kushan order was overthrown by the Kidarites, and while much of their culture lived on in their conquerors, the rise of Islam and the invasion of the Huns put paid to the last remnants of Kushan culture.

The significance of this piece is open to question. It is probable that it depicts part of a hunting scene that may have been continued on other plates, although it is also possible that it refers to some aspect of Kushan (oral) history of which we are currently unaware. This is a very rare and beautifully- executed piece of Kushan art.

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