Major exhibition at the MET Museum exploring the origins of Buddhist Art in India, until November 13, 2023

Pillar capital, Patna, Bihar, northern India; Mauryan period ca. 3rd century BCE; Sandstone, 85.1 x 121.9 x 50.8 cm, Excavated at Patna (ancient Paliputra), May 1896; Collection: Bihar Museum, Patna (inv. Arch 187).

The show titled “Tree and Serpent“ features more than 125 works in stone, metal, ivory, ceramics, paintings, and jewelry

The exhibition “Tree and Serpent: Early Buddhist Art in India, 200 BCE–400 CE“ will illuminate how the religious landscape of ancient India was transformed by the Buddhist presence. Featuring more than 125 objects, including major loans from India, the exhibition at the MET Fith Avenue until November 13, 2023, will consist of stone sculptures associated with the adornment of the stupa—the monumental dome structures that housed the Buddha relics—as well as metalwork, ivory, ceramics, paintings, and jewelry. It will present a series of evocative and interlocking themes to reveal both the pre-Buddhist origins of figurative sculpture in India and the early narrative tradition that was central to this formative moment in early Indian art.

Yaksa, Railing pillar fragment: with lotus vine emerging from mouth, Bharhut stupa, Satna district, Madhya Pradesh, Sunga; ca. 150–100 BCE, Sandstone, 104.1 x 58.4 cm; Collection: Allahabad Museum, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh.

The exhibition is particularly noteworthy for the series of spectacular sculptural masterpieces from southern India that will be exhibited to the public for the first time, including newly discovered works of art from ancient monastic sites in the Deccan.

Much of the earliest Indian art was produced in the service of Buddhism, a religion that emerged in northern India in the 4th century BCE as a result of the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni. This thematically organized exhibition explores the pre-Buddhist nature cults of India that influenced early Buddhist art, the role of stupas and relic worship, the role of patrons, and the influence of India’s global position, including its international trade with the Roman world. The resulting art was cosmopolitan and new, and devoted above all to the celebration of the Buddha and his message.

Ayaka platform panel with stupa, Dhulikatta stupa, Karimnagar district, Telangana; Early Satavahana, 1st century BCE; Limestone, 100 x 120 x 18 cm; Collection: Karimnagar Archaeology Museum, Department of Heritage.

Highlights include sublimely beautiful renderings of stupas, sections of ceremonial gateways, and processional railings protected by awesome rearing cobras (nagas). Housed within are the precious relics marking the Buddha’s presence, honored through these sculptural adornments—masterpieces of early Buddhist art.

The exhibition is complemented by an international symposium to take place at The Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium on September 29 and 30, 2023.

MET Museum, until November 13, 2023

Source: MET Museum

Drum slab with Buddha-life narratives, showing the Buddha receiving gifts from the gods and first meal; Nagarjunakonda, Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh, Iksvaku, 3rd century CE; Limestone, 200 x 86 x 24 cm; Excavated from 2 during the 1927–31
Campaigns; Archaeological Museum ASI, Nagarjunakonda, Andhra Pradesh.
Portrait of a donor (?), Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh; Maurya, 3rd–2nd century BCE; Sandstone, 71/2 x 4 x 6 in (19.1 x 10.2 x 15.2 cm); Collection: National Museum, New Delhi.

(24.08.2023, USA: 08.24.2023)