H. 41 CMS, 16 INS.

W. 33 CMS, 13 INS.

An exceptionally rare and important mottled red sandstone depiction of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Future Buddha, probably once part of a standing figure, muscular and powerful, with his right hand raised in abhayamudra (the gesture of dispelling fear) and marked with a chakra, the left arm (now missing) probably lowered to hold his lustral water-flask (kamandalu), adorned with elaborate jewellery including a flat ornamented torque, a necklace, basubands, bracelets and heavy double earrings,  a ledge decorated with a row of lotus lappets above his head and a halo with a scalloped border behind, with a pronounced cranial bump (usnisha) in the form of a bun, his sanghati  draped in folds over his left shoulder and leaving his upper body uncovered; the reverse with an oblong cartouche containing a  crouching lion wearing a thick collar, the remains of a second animal below.

Devotees of Maitreya, the Future Buddha sought salvation through rebirth in the Tushita Heaven, where Maitreya was waiting to become the next Buddha on earth. Worshippers also hoped to be reborn on earth at the same time Maitreya made his descent, thereby benefiting directly from his teachings. Followers of both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism were adherents of Maitreya, depictions of whom can be traced back to both the Gandhara and Mathura schools of Kushan art.

Mathura is located on the right bank of the Yamuna, a tributary of the Ganges some 150 km south of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh. It sits at the junction of India’s trade routes and by the first century AD was a thriving religious and commercial centre. Described by Ptolemy as a ‘City of Gods’, early Indian texts state that the inhabitants lived by trade rather than by agriculture.

Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism all coexisted peacefully, along with the worship of nature-spirits, and traders and acolytes brought religious and cultural influences to the city. Mathura’s heyday lasted from the first to the third century AD, until the Sasanian incursions of the mid-third century. Despite a partial revival under the Gupta rulers of the fourth to the seventh century, the city never regained its former glory and eventually lost its position as a commercial and religious centre. Mathura sculpture is typically produced from mottled red sandstone quarried locally. Popular motifs include sensual young women, mythical beasts, nature and water spirits (yakshis and nagas), architectural elements, flora and fauna, and bacchanalian scenes. Mathura sculpture is often fleshy and full figured, and its protagonists (both religious and secular) are dressed in diaphanous clothing with multiple folds. While its form is essentially Indian, the influences of Greece and Rome, assimilated via the Silk Road, are also present.

The best known example of a standing Bodhisattva Maitreya from Mathura is the celebrated ‘Ahichchhatra Maitreya’ in the National Muesum, New Delhi- see cat. no. 87 in S.P. Asthana, Mathurã Kalã: Catalogue of Mathura Sculptures in National Museum, New Delhi: National Museum, 1999. The Musée Guimet, Paris has fine seated example of Maitreya – see cat. no. 6 in A. Okada, Sculptures Indiennes du Musée Guimet, Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2000.

Many Mathura sculptures include depictions of lions (signify the Buddha’s royal heritage), with influences from the Hellenistic world – see, for example, cat. nos. 13 and 15 in S. J. Czuma, Kushan Sculpture: Images from Early India. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1985.

Provenance: Private American collection.

Previously sold by us in 2010.