East Meets West

To the Western viewer the Buddhist art of Gandhara seems strangely familiar; its rootedness in Western traditions is strikingly obvious. Gandhara is the name of a region in present-day Pakistan whose connection with the West can be traced back to the far-flung conquests of Alexander the Great (330 BC) and his local successors. Alexander’s foray laid the foundation for the trade along the Silk Road between the Roman Empire and the Far East and southern Asia. The Silk Road was also instrumental in the spread of Buddhism beyond its native India. The exhibition shows some 300 outstanding objects – among them exquisite stone sculptures, highly detailed reliefs, precious coins and elaborate jewellery – introduce the visitor to the art of the ancient kingdom from the 1st to the 5th century AD. The presentation highlights the multifaceted artistic production of Gandhara under Kushan rule and explores the rich artistic heritage of the region, a melting pot of many different cultures. The exhibition focuses on stone reliefs depicting the life of the Buddha. Depicted for the first time under Kushan rule, the Buddha is shown wearing a pleated garment reminiscent of the Roman toga. Greek subjects are also prominent and coins feature Greek inscriptions. The exhibition places Gandharan art in a wider context, from the establishment of Greek culture in the region to its legacy in Central Asia and present-day Afghanistan. This legacy garnered worldwide attention when the gigantic rock-cut Buddha sculptures of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001.