Amaravati and the Beginnings of Stucco modelling in India by K.M. Varma

Amaravati and The Beginnings of Stucco Modelling in India

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Amaravati and The Beginnings of Stucco Modelling in India
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Amaravati stuccos, images made of Sudha compound of quick-lime and sand were unearthed by Alexander Rea almost a century back yet, strangely enough, they remained so far unnoticed and utterly neglected when in fact they have a great historical value posing a big chronological question as far as the use of Sudha or stucco as a medium of image making goes.

Judged on stylistic grounds, the Amaravati fragments of stucco images appear, to be of 1st, century A.D., thus these are somewhat earlier than Candharan examples so far held to be the earliest in entire India. The oldest Candharan stuccos be-long to the -first half of the 2nd century A.D., whereas those which Marshall assigned to the 1st century A.D. cannot be earlier than the 3rd century A.D. It is therefore likely that stucco model-ling was started in India for the first time at Amaravati, conjecturally, because of the inspiration drawn from the Roman world.

Besides bringing this highly significant historical fact to the fore, the present monograph refers to similarly forgotten stuccos of other centres of Amaravati school which are supposed of pre-Gupta in date and it tries to clarify the issue since when the stucco as a material was known to the Amaravati centre, a problem which has never before been discussed. Further, it also draws attention to other contributions Amaravati made to the art traditions of India as a whole.


The aim of this monograph is to bring the Amaravati stuccos to light, which so far remained in total obscurity, and to point out the chronological problem they pose in respect of the use of stucco as a medium of image-making in the context of (ancient) India at large. The opportunity has also been taken to enumerate, very briefly though, some other contributions Amaravati made to the creative aspects of Indian graphic and plastic arts on the whole. Unless these two points are made clear, some misunderstanding can possibly arise as regards the purpose of this monograph.

The typescript of the present monograph also was lying unpublished for some years. We thought of bringing it out either simultaneously with another work of ours, viz. The technique of Gandharan and Indo-Afghan Stucco Images, or after its publication. But circumstances have not allowed us till now to bring out the latter, though its press copy was ready, in type, from October 1976. We decided now to bring out this monograph without waiting any longer for the publication of the other work. In this connection, the following should be mentioned.

Paul Bernard advanced a new theory in his excavation report of Al Khanum (= F.A.K., p. 193). According to him the origin of Gandharan "monumental statuary" in unbaked clay as well as in stucco is to be sought in the art of Bactrian Greeks, which came to light in his excavations at Ai Khanum. He dated the Ai Khanum pieces in question around the mid-second century B.C. Since our problem in this monograph is not the "monumental statuary" we need not go into any details of his theory here. Our problem is the use of stucco for image making as such for the first time in India, including Gandhara, irrespective of the size of images made with it. Still, there is some implication in his theory and that implication will be discussed in our work mentioned above, by adding some lines into it before its publication, for that is a more relevant place to do so. To clarify this point further, stucco modelling as had been practised in the entire of ancient India, including the real Gandhara territory has relevance to this monograph, but not the development that took place beyond it irrespective of the fact to which school of art it belonged.


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