Silk Roads Series: Kushan Art

Silk Roads: Kushan Art by Jewel K. Goode

The expansive Kushan territories (1st – 4th centuries AD), encompassed a vast range of artistic cultures, unified under one administration.  These cultures can be divided into four broad regions: 1. Bactria, 2. Mathura (India), 3. Arachosia and Nagarahara, and 4. Ancient Gandhara. Both Arachosia and Nagarahara, as well as Ancient Gandhara, are situated in areas which are now known asmodern Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Despite regional variations, artistic production reflected the legacy of a common cultural heritage of the Silk Roads.   Gandhara served as a major crossroads from which Kushan art was disseminated to Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Indian towns such as Mathura, Devnamori, and Amaravati.  In addition, excavations in Begram, Pushkalavati, Taxila, Mathura, and Surkh Kotal revealed that some Gandhara art displays elements that are characteristic of the Hellenistic period.  Due to external influences, Kushan art was constantly evolving.  It absorbed earlier Graeco-Bactrian traditions, and was also receptive to Western trends through international trade and commerce. However, it always retained its individuality, reflecting the sociocultural aspirations of its people, as well as the importance of local craftsmanship.  Artistic Kushan jewelry design reflects a variety of styles, techniques, and materials.  While the Taxila collection is predominately Graeco-Roman in character, Gandhara jewelry generally reflects a range of classical Iranian, Sarmatian, and Indian savoir-faire typical of Gandhara art.  It also displays a mastery of goldsmith techniques borrowed from Western Asia.  Gems, precious and semi-precious stones, shell, bone, ivory, glass objects, and beads were all used in jewelry design.  Examples include necklaces, bracelets, anklets, hairpins, and finger rings, sometimes with encrusted gems and impressions.  Decorative items such as brooches, turban pins, and miniature gold figures of Cupid, Psyche, animals, birds, and flowers can be found in the Taxila collection. Moreover, elaborate ornamentation was a reflection of elevated social status.  Bodhisattvas, nobility, and deities are always depicted wearing jewelry. Conversely, those of lower social status wore replicas, or none at all.  Kushan art, artifacts, jewelry, and craftsmanship are a direct reflection of those who were living within its expansive territories. Economic prosperity and peace remained the basis for the popularity and development of this art along the Silk Roads.  These objects are visible remnants of the global, transnational fluidity of culturally embedded concepts that are passed down through generations. They also reveal the subtle intricacies of pluralistic identities, intercultural dialogue, and communicative exchange amongst diverse populations.

Author: Jewel K. Goode.  Global Communications Consultant, Writer, Art Curator, and Photographer

image © Ashwin.  Sources provided upon request

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