The Sanchi Torso thumbnail 1
The Sanchi Torso thumbnail 2
+3
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Buddhism, Room 18, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art

The Sanchi Torso

Torso
ca. 900 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The "Sanchi Torso" was discovered in 1883 during excavations of portions of the western gateway (torana) of Stupa number 1 at Sanchi. Its precise identification remained ambiguous until 1971 when the existence of two fragments of a companion figure were identified at the site. Traces of the nagapuspa, the flower symbol of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, identified the newly discovered figure and removed any doubts that the V&A torso represents the other premier Buddhist saviour figure, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Both bodhisattvas would once almost certainly have flanked a monumental Buddha image within a temple setting. The figure is one of the masterpieces of Indian Mahayana art.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Sandstone
Brief Description
Torso of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (the compassionate one), ca. 900
Physical Description
The "Sanchi Torso" was discovered in 1883 during excavations of portions of the western gateway (torana) of Stupa number 1 at Sanchi. Its precise identification remained ambiguous until 1971 when the existence of two fragments of a companion figure were identified at the site. Traces of the nagapuspa, the flower symbol of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, identified the newly discovered figure and removed any doubts that the V&A torso represents the other premier Buddhist saviour figure, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.



The torso appears to wear a waistcloth, the border of the upper hem being ornamented with a foliated scroll. There is a girdle with small kirti-mukha clasp, the upper band being engraved with small birds, elephants, rosettes and other conventional motifs. Other details include a broad jewelled necklace with small bell-pendants and a skin of the Black Buck (krishnajina) worn over the left sholder, passing across the body and round the right side.
Dimensions
  • Height: 119cm
  • Width: 58cm
  • Depth: 30cm
  • Weight: 290kg
Gallery Label
  • The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (‘The Sanchi Torso’) About 900 Avalokiteshvara was one of the two most popular bodhisattvas or Buddhist saviour-beings. He wears a blackbuck skin and princely jewels. The figure comes from a shrine in the important Buddhist monastery at Sanchi.Together with a sculpture of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, it flanked a monumental image of the Buddha. Although long admired for its beauty, the torso was only identified in 1971 when fragments of the Maitreya figure were discovered at Sanchi. Sandstone Central India Discovered in 1883 at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh Museum no. IM.184-1910 (06/06/2011)
  • THE BODHISATTVA AVALOKITESHVARA Sandstone Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, Central India Circa 900 A.D. The "Sanchi torso" was discovered in 1883 during excavation of portions of the western gateway (torana) of Stupa No.1 at Sanchi. Its precise identification remained ambiguous until 1971 when the existence of two fragments of a companion figure were identified in a storeroom at the site. Traces of the nagapuspa, the flower symbol of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, identified the newly discovered figure and removed any doubts that the V&A torso represents the other premier Buddhist saviour figure, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. IM.184-1910(1988)
Object history
Purchased from Mrs Pattie Kincaid for £80, 1910. Originally loaned by late Major-General W.Kincaid in 1891.



Historical context
The "Sanchi Torso" was discovered in 1883 during excavations of portions of the western gateway (torana) of Stupa number 1 at Sanchi. Its precise identification remained ambiguous until 1971 when the existence of two fragments of a companion figure were identified at the site. Traces of the nagapuspa, the flower symbol of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, identified the newly discovered figure and removed any doubts that the V&A torso represents the other premier Buddhist saviour figure, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
Production
Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, Central India.
Subject depicted
Summary
The "Sanchi Torso" was discovered in 1883 during excavations of portions of the western gateway (torana) of Stupa number 1 at Sanchi. Its precise identification remained ambiguous until 1971 when the existence of two fragments of a companion figure were identified at the site. Traces of the nagapuspa, the flower symbol of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, identified the newly discovered figure and removed any doubts that the V&A torso represents the other premier Buddhist saviour figure, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Both bodhisattvas would once almost certainly have flanked a monumental Buddha image within a temple setting. The figure is one of the masterpieces of Indian Mahayana art.
Bibliographic References
  • A Cunningham, Arch. Survey of India Reports, Vol.X, 1974-7, Pl XXI and pp. 62-4. B.Rowland: The Art and Architecture of India (Penguin Books, London, 1953)., Pl.95. The Art Quarterly, Detroit, Spring, 1949, pp.170-6. plate 27. V & A Small Picture Book No.7, Indian Art. J. Irwin, The Sanchi Torso, V & A Museum Year Book 3, 1972. Marshall & Foucher, The monuments of Sanchi, Vol.!!!, Pl 106 d. and Pl. 108 Fig a; and Vol,1, p.50. 70 Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London V & A Publication, 2007, p.59. pl.60. ISBN 971851775095
  • Buddhist reliquaries from ancient India / Michael Willis with contributions by Joe Cribb and Julia Shaw. London: British Museum, 2000 Number: 0714114928p. 76, fig. 63
  • The art of India and Pakistan, a commemorative catalogue of the exhibition held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1947-8. Edited by Sir Leigh Ashton. London: Faber and Faber, [1950]p. 49, cat. no. 205
  • Ayers, J. Oriental Art in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1983, ISBN 0-85667-120-7p. 61
  • Irwin, John C., Indian Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1968pl. 7
  • Irwin, John; Indian Art: Victoria & Albert Museum departmental guide, H.M.S.O. ISBN 0 905209117, 1978fig. 5, p. 7
  • Clarke, John; The New Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Orientations; vol. 48. no. 5, September/October 2017, p. 66, fig. 5.
  • Irwin, John, The Sanchi Torso, reprinted from the Victoria and Albert Museum Yearbook 3, 1972, published by The Phaidon Press. Bound with offprint from Journal of Indian Society of Oriental Art, New Series, vol. VI, 1974-75.
Collection
Accession Number
IM.184-1910

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdFebruary 13, 2000
Record URL