Anna H. Asian Art History Maurya Dynasty: Sarnath Lion Capital Mauryan Empire of India lasted from 4th to 2nd century BCE. According to Coomaraswmy, an Indian historian, Mauryan art had three phases. The third phase was considered the beginning of brick and stone sculpture and architecture. The pillars of Asoka would consider such example, which are free standing carved animal capitals created in the time of Asoka empire. There are 20 known pillars that Asoka commissioned. These pillars are made out of shafts of sandstone and display Buddhist symbols.
Asoka had a sculpture of four lions placed on top of one of his pillars, knows as Sarnath Lion Capital. These lions were portrayed as power and still remain a national symbol of India. The art elements portrayed in this sculpture define the meaning and characteristics that had important significance during Mauryan dynasty. The Sarnath Pillar’s composition has more abstract relation than schematic portrayal. The capital contains four lions, standing back to back, mounted on an abacus with a frieze carrying sculptures of an elephant, horse, bull, and a lion.
In this way, four rivers of India is represented. The animals are separated by elapsing wheels, which symbolizes time. Because wheels are also mentioned in Buddhist religion, it can be explained as spiritual purpose as well. Since the sculpture has a schematic relation, it is hard to understand the main point at the first sight. The sculpture is volumetric with few high relieves. The animals and wheels can be considered as high relief where as the lion’s top portion would consider three dimensional. Overall sculpture itself is considered as free standing, since it can be iewed from all angles. The proportional relationship to the size of animals in reality is more abstract than realistic. The animals at the bottom portion of the sculpture, are much smaller than in real life. Although the lions can be considered realistic, despite the overlapping of one another. The adherence from reality suggests that the size of lions portrayed in large scale signifies power, besides of their nature meaning (powerful animal of animal kingdom). In this way it leads the viewer to concentrate more on lions than on other parts of the culpture. The lines of the sculpture let the eye to lead to the main ideas and it emphasizes more volume than lines. Some parts of the sculpture, such as water plant, and lion’s beard have curvilinear orientation where as the wheel is more rectilinear. The lines help to create more naturalistic details, which effects the sculpture to be more easily defined. The texture of the sculpture is smooth, more similar to copper made. This deviates from the real texture of the objects depicted, even though it gives the rich shiny feeling hich is more similar to lion’s natural color. Because the lack of color it give the sculpture more abstract than naturalistic look. The absence of the color gives more dull look and less definable. It also suggests that the painting techniques during Mauryan dynasty was not well developed and had limited use of techniques. Asoka's pillars are some of India's earliest major stone sculptures. The Asoka's reign were highly religious. He was the first powerful monarch to practice Buddhism, therefore his sculptures were mainly on Buddhism and power.
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