A schist figure of a winged Atlas Ancient region of Gandhara, 3rd/4th century
Lot 66W
A schist figure of a winged Atlas
Ancient region of Gandhara, 3rd/4th century
Sold for US$ 245,000 inc. premium
Auction Details
A schist figure of a winged Atlas Ancient region of Gandhara, 3rd/4th century A schist figure of a winged Atlas Ancient region of Gandhara, 3rd/4th century
Lot Details
A schist figure of a winged Atlas
Ancient region of Gandhara, 3rd/4th century
The atlant squats with his left leg raised, his toes outstretched, while scattered vignettes mark the ground, his hands on his knees, his left thumb cocked, he wears a pleated robe that drapes over his left shoulder and swoops before his immense torso, pooling before his genitals and neatly delineated pubis, his cavernous abdomen rises to the broad ribcage, his parted lips and attentive expression framed by thick tufts of hair, flanked by his arched his wings with beautiful curving feathers.
15 5/8 in. (40 cm.) high

Footnotes

  • A triumph of Gandharan sculpture, he captivates with the singular attentiveness of his gaze. His left thumb is cocked and alert. He seems ready to spring up and soar to the aid of a devotee, or perhaps in defense of the faith. The incised markings on the base seem to accent the sheer mass of his body pushing against the ground. His right elbow resorts to bending slightly forward to support the bulk of his torso. The contours of its muscles, bones, and joints echo those of his left knee, balancing the composition. The deeply carved abdomen utilizes the full horizontal plane of the stone, thus maximizing his superhuman proportions.

    Fewer sculptures communicate so clearly the Classical legacy in Gandharan art. His mature, bushy face recalls the portraits of Greek and Roman gods and leaders, while his herculean musculature evokes the athletic ideal. Furthermore, the Atlant type stems from a tradition in classical architecture of depicting male and female figures supporting architectural superstructures best known from The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius, dedicated to Emperor Augustus (see Rowland (trans.), Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 83 & 135).

    In the Gandharan context, similar examples in stucco surviving in situ line the veneer of stupa bases at Taxila and Hadda, recording the placement of such figures at Buddhist sites. Whilst maintaining a similar function and a clearly Western look, the Gandharan version differs from the classical prototype in at least three ways. Firstly, the common inclusion of wings, secondly the ornamental (non-architectural) function of the figure, which perhaps prompts the third: the ease and buoyancy of being with which he his shown supporting the superstructure. Moreover, while we have some evidence from which to understand his context at Buddhist sites, his precise identity remains a mystery. He has been called a disguised yaksha, a lesser Greek god, and a garuda, yet there is no archaeological or textual foundation to underpin any of these claims (see Foucher, L'art Gréco-Bouddhique du Gandhara, 1905, p. 208, and Errington, The Western Discovery of the Art of Gandhara and the Finds of Jamalgarhi, London, 1987, p. 67). Perhaps, the term 'atlas' ties him too closely to classical prototypes, at the risk of obscuring added layers of meaning in the unique Gandharan context.

    This figure pairs with another held in the Norton Simon Museum (F.1975.17.17.S). With a similar size, style, and high polish, they likely featured at the base of the same structure, and could have been produced by the same hand. Two other, slightly larger examples, survive in the Claude de Marteau collection in Brussels and the Peshawar Museum (see Kurita, Gandharan Art, vol. II, Tokyo, 1990, figs. 448 & 453, pp. 155 & 157). These four sculptures represent the grandest and most refined examples of atlantes from the ancient region of Gandhara.

    Published:
    I. Kurita, Gandharan Art, vol. II, 2003, fig. 449, p. 155

    Provenance:
    Spink and Son, Ltd., 1970
    Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Cecil Y. Lang Collection
    Sotheby's, New York, 21 March 1990, lot 216
    Christie's, New York, 20 March 2009, lot 1201
    Property of a Private Trust
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