Tuesday, December 17, 2013
WHEN, in the study of Sinhalese decorative art, I first met with certain peculiar types of ornament, forcibly recalling early Mediterranean forms, I assumed the common view as to the extent, permanence and importance of the influence of Greek on Indian Art, and endeavoured to explain the presence of these decorative forms in Ceylon on those lines. At that time I accepted such statements as those of Grünwedel that the ideal type of Buddha was created for India by foreigners. I also assumed that decorative forms such as the continuous branch, palmette, honeysuckle, etc., being known from the Mediterranean area long before their earliest known occurrence in India, must have originated where they are first found, and travelled thence to India; accepting, for example, Riegl’s statement that neither intermittirende nor fortplanzende Wellenranke (‘interrupted’ and ‘continuous branch’) borders were known in the East in pre-Hellenic times. I have since seen reason to doubt these somewhat simple solutions of the difficulties, and have come to believe that the influence of Greek on Indian Art, however extensive at a certain period, was ultimately neither very profound nor very important. It is the concentration of attention upon the effeminate and artistically unimportant work of the Gandhāra school that has given undue prominence to the Greek influence.
It must be admitted also that a certain prejudice has led European investigators to think naturally of Classic Greece as the source of all art, and to suppose that the influence of Classic Art must have been as permanently important in the East as in the West. At the same time, it is to be remembered that it is not generally realised by Western scholars, who are not always artists, that Eastern Art, whether Indian or Chinese, has a value and significance not less than that of the Western Art of any time. The main difficulty so far seems to have been that Indian Art has been studied only by archaeologists. It is not archaeologists, but artists, or at any rate students of art rather than of archaeology, who are best qualified to judge of the significance of works of art considered as art, and to unravel the influences apparent in them. No artist, familiar with the true genius of Indian art, could suppose that the work of the Gandhāra school was the real foundation of Indian figure sculpture, or that Indian art could have been founded on such a decadent Graeco-Roman basis.
From: Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Influence of Greek on Indian Art (1908)
The Kinks: Till The End Of The Day (Link)
Coomaraswamy bookplate by Eric Gill, 1920.
Coomaraswamy portraits: Top – Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1916. Bottom – 1907, from India Nation Builders III.