The possible provenance for Greco-Roman motifs in Japan

Japanese royal genealogies and the oldest chronicles contain many mythical components that have been noted to resemble Greek and Anatolian myths. Pinpointing a source for the body of Japanese myths that appear closest to Black Sea Greek myths requires an examination of Gandharan influences as one of the possible sources for the diffusion of Indo-European ideas to Central and East Asia, and especially Japan.

Mukul Banerjee’s article “The Buddha, Gandhara, Kushana” informs us that Gandharan sculpture “was, in the main, Hellenistic or Roman, and the art of Gandhara was indeed “the easternmost appearance of the art of the Roman Empire, especially in its late and provincial manifestations” and Gandharan art had a deep influence upon Central and East Asian art forms:

“Gandhara sculpture primarily comprised Buddhist monastic establishments. These monasteries provided a never-ending gallery for sculptured reliefs of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. The Gandhara stupas were comparatively magnified and more intricate, but the most remarkable feature, which distinguished the Gandhara stupas from the pervious styles were hugely tiered umbrellas at its peak, almost soaring over the total structure. The abundance of Gandharan sculpture was an art, which originated with foreign artisans.

In the excavation among the varied miscellany of small bronze figures, though not often like Alexandrian imports, four or five Buddhist bronzes are very late in date. These further illustrate the aura of the Gandhara art. Relics of mural paintings though have been discovered, yet the only substantial body of painting, in Bamiyan, is moderately late, and much of it belongs to an Iranian or central Asian rather than an Indian context. Non-narrative themes and architectural ornament were omnipresent at that time. Mythical figures and animals such as atlantes, tritons, dragons, and sea serpents derive from the same source, although there is the occasional high-backed, stylized creature associated with the Central Asian animal style. Moldings and cornices are decorated mostly with acanthus, laurel, and vine, though sometimes with motifs of Indian, and occasionally ultimately western Asian, origin: stepped merlons, lion heads, vedikas, and lotus petals. It is worth noting that architectural elements such as pillars, gable ends, and domes as represented in the reliefs tend to follow the Indian forms.

Gandhara became roughly a Holy Land of Buddhism and excluding a handful of Hindu images, sculpture took the form either of Buddhist sect objects, Buddha and Bodhisattvas, or of architectural embellishment for Buddhist monasteries. The more metaphorical kinds are demonstrated by small votive stupas, and bases teeming with stucco images and figurines that have lasted at Jaulian and Mora Moradu, outpost monasteries in the hills around Taxila. Hadda, near the present town of Jalalabad, has created some groups in stucco of an almost rococo while more latest works of art in baked clay, with strong Hellenistic influence, have been revealed there, in what sums up as tiny chapels. It is not known exactly why stucco, an imported Alexandrian modus operandi, was used. It is true that grey schist is not found near Taxila, however other stones are available, and in opposition to the ease of operating with stucco, predominantly the artistic effects which can be achieved, must be set with its impermanence- fresh deposits frequently had to be applied. Excluding possibly at Taxila, its use emerges to have been a late expansion.

Architectural fundamentals of the Gandhara art, like pillars, gable ends and domes as showcased in the reliefs, were inclined to follow Indian outlines, but the pilaster with capital of Corinthian type, abounds and in one-palace scene Persepolitan columns go along with Roman coffered ceilings. The so-called Shrine of the Double-Headed Eagle at Sirkap, in actuality a stupa pedestal, well demonstrates this enlightening eclecticism- the double-headed bird on top of the chaitya arch is an insignia of Scythian origin, which appears as a Byzantine motif and materialises much later in South India as the ga1J.qa-bheru1J.qa in addition to atop European armorial bearings.

In Gandhara art the descriptive friezes were all but invariably Buddhist, and hence Indian in substance- one depicted a horse on wheels nearing a doorway, which might have represented the Trojan horse affair, but this is under scan. The Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, familiar from the previous Greek-based coinage of the region, appeared once or twice as standing figurines, presumably because as a pair, they tallied an Indian mithuna couple. There were also female statuettes, corresponding to city goddesses. Though figures from Butkara, near Saidan Sharif in Swat, were noticeably more Indian in physical type, and Indian motifs were in abundance there. Sculpture was, in the main, Hellenistic or Roman, and the art of Gandhara was indeed “the easternmost appearance of the art of the Roman Empire, especially in its late and provincial manifestations”. Furthermore, naturalistic portrait heads, one of the high-points of Roman sculpture, were all but missing in Gandhara, in spite of the episodic separated head, probably that of a donor, with a discernible feeling of uniqueness. Some constitutions and poses matched those from western Asia and the Roman world; like the manner in which a figure in a recurrently instanced scene from the Dipankara jataka had prostrated himself before the future Buddha, is reverberated in the pose of the defeated before the defeater on a Trojanic frieze on the Arch of Constantine and in later illustrations of the admiration of the divinised emperor. One singular recurrently occurring muscular male figure, hand on sword, witnessed in three-quarters view from the backside, has been adopted from western classical sculpture. On occasions standing figures, even the Buddha, deceived the elusive stylistic actions of the Roman sculptor, seeking to express majestas. The drapery was fundamentally Western- the folds and volume of dangling garments were carved with realness and gusto- but it was mainly the persistent endeavours at illusionism, though frequently obscured by unrefined carving, which earmarked the Gandhara sculpture as based on a western classical visual impact.”

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