The Buddha (d. 483BC) was first depicted from around AD 0–100, when separate sculptural traditions developed at Mathura, south of Delhi, and in the region of Gandhara. Although they are Indian in iconography, Gandhara images show a strong Graeco-Roman stylistic influence.
The Buddha stands serenely in a subtly flexed posture, his right hand raised in the abhaya gesture of protection, and left hand holding the edge of his robe. This classic representation reflects the elegant proportions and diaphanous robe type of the Sarnath aesthetic tradition, which was introduced into Nepal in the Licchavi period and persisted there long after. The simplicity of the treatment of the robe emphasizes the Buddha’s strong and graceful body, but it is less slim than the tenth century examples, suggesting a date in eleventh to twelfth century. In this commanding image of a standing Buddha, the rhythmical modelling of the folds of the robe, which follow the contours of the body, is in the Roman tradition, while the head distantly recalls the Grecian Apollo type. The refined carving of the Buddha’s face conveys a conscious serenity that is wholly Indian.
Weldon and Casey Singer have previously associated this sculpture with Kathmandu Valley productions, remarking that the copper alloy and colour of the gilding conform to known models. They emphasize however that standing Buddhas from Nepal always display the varada not the abhaya gesture. Moreover, they remark on the blue pigment of the hair, an indication that the sculpture was formerly in Tibetan possession. It has therefore been difficult to ascertain whether the original patrons of this work were Nepalese or Tibetan. While Nepalese sculptures are often as elaborately modelled in the front as at the back, an additional element suggestive of Tibetan patronage is the largely unfinished back of this image. This feature has been remarked as characteristic of statues produced in West Tibet during the eleventh century yet this iconography has remained infrequent in Tibet to the present day.