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Buddhist Primitives

Author(s): Ananda Coomaraswamy

Source: The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 28, No. 154 (Jan., 1916), pp. 151153+155
Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/860268 .
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Raphael's Drawings
for which our author reveals two important
studies. These are sketches of women's heads on
two sides of a small sheet (F. 35, 36) at Oxford
[PLATE II, B, c].

A moment's reference to the

painting establishes their connexion with it. They

are slight but very able studies from life, the
same model standing for all three. A similar
study, which when last recorded was in the Triqueti collection, must be grouped as contemporary with these." The elaborately modelled,
almost life-size study from life of a Man's head in
the British Museum stands rather alone. Fischel
compares it with the male heads in the Sposalizio,
but the comparison is not convincing. To the
same year 1504 belong the Louvre painting of
S. George with the Sword and its admirable and

famous cartoon. With the latter Dr. Fischel

groups a leaf in the Uffizi with a pen-and-ink
sketch of Hercules fighting three Centaurs (perhaps

copied from a plaquette)and some oddments on

the other side. The year 1505 brings us to the

large Vienna design of the Madonna with a Pome.

granate, forming a link between the women of the

Sposalizio and the Ansidei Madonna.

The Terra-

nuova Madonna follows, for which Lille possesses

a well-known study, agreeing in composition with
the disestablished Berlin drawing, now assigned
by general consent to some second-rate Umbrian
artist. The series concludes for the present with
a masterly study from the nude (F. 55: British
Museum) for a kneeling figure of S. Francis,
not known to have been used by Raphael in any
painting. It is proof of the rapid strides the
' Op.cit., pag. cit., No. I.

young artist was making in the technical mastery

of his craft.
The remainderof this part is occupied by reproductions of a couple of Perugino drawings of his
best period, for comparison, and of the whole
group of studies and designs for Pinturicchio's
frescoes at Siena. The once thorny question of
Raphael's possible share in them does not cause
our author any qualms. He rejects them all and
gives them to Pinturicchio. What he has to say
on the matter will probablyreceive general assent,
and he has freely illustrated his remarks with
reproductions, in the text, of works he has occasion to cite for comparison. Pinturicchio, he
says, carried out the contract which compelled
him to make all designs by his own hand; Vasari
was mistaken (so far as existing material enables
us to judge) in asserting that Raphael helped the
older master on this occasion. Moreover, whoever made these Siena drawings was also responsible for the best pages in the Venice sketch-book,
which is thus here entirely excluded from the
accepted work of Raphael.
Having thus mentioned, though with needful
brevity,the drawings which our author has reproduced as genuine, space does not permitdiscussion
here and now of those which he excludes and for
which in some cases specious claims might be
put forward. Enough has been said to show the
scope of the work and the high promise with
which it was begun. Let us hope that some day,
even if in what now seems a nebulous future, the
work begun by Wickhoff, and handed on to Dr.
Fischel, may be carried to a satisfactory completion by him.

HE Early Buddhist view of art is
strictly hedonistic. Just as little as
Early Buddhism dreamed of an expression of its characteristic ideas
through poetry, drama, or music, so
little was it imagined that the arts of sculpture and
painting could be anything but worldly in their
purpose and effect. The arts were looked upon
as physical luxuries, and loveliness as a snare.
" Beauty is nothing to me", says the "1Dasa

and elixir-prescribing physicians are all classed

together as purveyorsof sensuous luxuries, whomu
others honour " on account of love and devotion
to the sensations excited by forms and other

of sense ".

This is the characteristic

Hinayana position throughout,and it is, of course,

conspicuous also in the Jaina system, and in
certain phases of Brahmanical thought, particularly in the period contemporary with early
It is only in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. that
we find the Buddhists patronizing craftsmen and
employing art for edifying ends. From what has
just been said, however, it will be well understood
that there had not at this time come into being
any truly Buddhist or Brahmanical idealistic art;
and thus " Early Buddhist" art was necessarily
the popular Brahmanical art and animistic art of
the day, adapted to Buddhist requirements. The
only exception to this rule is that special phase of

Dhamma Sutta ", " neither the beauty of the body

nor that that comes of dress ". The Brethren

were forbidden to allow the figures of men and

women to be painted on monastery walls, and
were permitted only representations of wreaths
and creepers.' The psychological foundation of
this attitude is nowhere more clearly revealed
than in a passage of the " Visuddhi Magga ", where

we find that painters,musicians,perfumers,cooks,

SCullavagga, vI, 3, 2.

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Buddhist Primitives
Early Buddhist art which is represented by the
capitals of the Asoka columns, of which the forms
are not merely non-Buddhist, but of extra-Indian
The Indian non-Buddhist art that we have evidence of in the age of Asoka and in the period
immediately following Asoka, is chiefly concerned
with the cult of nature-spirits-the Earth Goddess,
the Nagas or Serpent kings of the waters, and the
Yaksha kings who rule the Four Quarters. The
Maurya types are represented by the well-known
free-standing female figure at Besnagar,3 and the
Parkham figure4 now in the Mathuri Museum.
The early Buddhist art of Sanchi and Bharhut,
probably slightly later, reflects the prevalence of
the animistic cults in placing low-relief figures of
the YakshaGuardiansof the Four Quartersas protectors of the entrancegateways.5 That the naturespiritsshould thus act as the guardiansof Buddhist
shrines reflects the essential victory of Buddhism,
precisely as the story of the Naga Muchalinda,
who, in the literarytradition, shelters the Buddha
during the week of storms.
Besides the Guardians of the Quarterswe find
at Sanchi figuresof beautiful Yakshinis or dryads,
whose function may be partly protective, but is
also in large degree honoraryand decorative. The
Yakshini figure here reproduced [PLATE I, A] is

typical of all that is best in the art of Sanchi : but

in what a different world this happy dryad moves
from that of the Pali Suttas, where orthodox
Buddhism tries to prove that "as the body when
dead is repulsive, so also is it when alive" ! Buddhist monasticism-to use the language of Blake
-sought consistently to bolt and bar the
"'Western Gates": but our Sanchi dryad rather
seems to say " the soul of sweet delight can never
be defiled ".

The art of Sanchi is essentially pagan, and this

appearsnot only in its fearless happiness,untinged
by puritan misgiving or by mystic intuition, but
also in the purely representative and realistic
technique. It was in the main a later Mahayana
and Vaishnava achievement of the Indian lyric
spirit to discover that the two worlds of spiritual
purity and sensuous delight need not, and perhaps
ultimately cannot, be divided.
In any case the Sanchi art is plainly not an expression of Early Buddhist feeling: and so also

it is not primitive, but, on the contrary, it is the

classic achievement of an old popular art already
long practised in less permanent materials. If
there is at this time any Buddhist art that can be
fairly called primitive, it is only to be recognized
in architecture, where the severe and simple forms
of the early stfpas, and their undecorated railings,

Visvakarmd, 80, 81,.

Visvakarma, 64.
4 Visvakarma, 26.

5A much later example of the same arrangementis illustrated

in Visvakarrn, 75.

and the austere design of the early excavated

chaitya-halls truly reflect the intellectual and
austere enthusiasm of Early Buddhism.
Another part of the art of the Bharhut railing
and the Sanchi gateways is devoted to the illustration of edifying legends, particularlystories of the
former lives of the Buddha, and of the last incarnation. The work is delicately executed in
low relief-we know from a contemporaryinscription that amongst the craftsmen who contributed
to the decoration of the Sanchi toranas were the
"ivory-workers of Bhilsa "-and affords us a remarkable record of Indian life, with its characteristic environment, manners and cults set out
with evident realism and a wealth of circumstantial detail. But for all their interest these reliefs,
too, are essentially illustrations of edifying anecdotes, and only to a limited extent-less, for
example, than the similar but, of course, very
much later, illustrations at Borobodur-directly
express the Early Buddhist view of life and death.
There is, however,one respect in which that view
is perfectly reflected; in the fact that the figure of
the Masterhimself is nowhere represented. Even
in the group of episodes which illustrate the Great
Renunciation - Prince Siddhattha's departure
from home, riding upon the back of the horse
Kanthaka,and attended by the groom ChannaKanthaka's back is bare, and we see only the
figures of the Devas who lift up the feet of the
horse lest men should be roused by the sound
of his hoofs, while the presence of the Prince
is only indicated by the parasol of dominion
borne beside the horse. In other compositions
the Buddha is representedby symbols such as the
Wisdom Tree or the conventionally represented
footprints,the " Feet of the Lord " [PLATE I, C]. It
will be realized at once that the absence of the
Buddha figure from the world of living menwhere, however, there yet remain the traces of his
ministry, literallyfootprints on the sands of timeis a true artistic rendering of the Master'sguarded
silence respectingthe after-deathstate of those who
have attainedNibbana: "the Perfect One is released
from this, that his being should be gauged by the
measure of the corporeal world", he is released

from "name and form". In the omission of the

figure of the Buddha, the Early Buddhist art is
truly Buddhist: for the rest, it is an art about
Buddhism, rather than Buddhist art.
Changes were meanwhile proceeding in the
material of Buddhist belief. This belief is no longer
merely intellectual, but has undergone an emotional
development akin to that which finds expression
in the bhakti doctrine of the " Bhagavad Gita" :

Even they that be born of sin, even women, traffickers,

and serfs, if they turn to Me, come to the Supreme Path:
be assured, O son of Kunti, that none who is devoted to Me
is lost.

Similarly we find, even in so early a text as the

" Majjhima Niktya" that those who have not yet


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even entered the Paths, " are sure of heaven if they
have love and faith towards Me". Graduallythe
idea of Buddhahood replacesthat of Arahatta: the
original agnosticism is ignored, and the Buddha is
endowed with all the qualities of transcendental
godhead as well as with the physical peculiarities
or perfections of the Superman(maha--purusha),
The Buddha thus conceived, together with the
Bodhisattvas or Buddhas-to-be, presentlyengaged
in the active work of salvation, became the object
of a cult and was regarded as approachable by
worship. In all this we see not merely an internal
developmentof metaphysics and theology, but also
the influence of the lay community: for a majority
of men, and still more the majority of women,
have always been more ready to worship than to
At Amaravati we still find that the Buddha is

representedby symbols, but it may be clearlyseen

from the passionatedevotion of those who worship
at the symbol-shrines-and many of these are
women, as in the case of the fragment here reproduced in PLATE I, c-that the One adored must
have been conceived in other terms than those of
a purelyintellectual psychological analysis. Even
before the Buddha figure is representedin official
Buddhist art, the Buddha had become an object of
adoration, a very personal god : and it cannot surprise us that the Master'sfigureshould soon appear
whereverBuddhist piety erectedshrinesand monuments. We know that images of Hindu gods were
already in use in the 2nd century B.c., and it is
highly probable that Buddha figures were in
similar private use long before they took their
place in a public cult.
(To be continued.)


HE artist of all sorts-painter, sculptor, engraver and jeweller-has portrayed medical events in the manner
dictated by his respective calling, and
has done so from very early times, for
some of our most ancient discoveries in sculpture
and pottery have borne representationsof disease
and deformity. Several observers, notably Mr.
Hastings Gilford, in one of his recent Hunterian
lectures delivered before the Royal College of
Surgeons of England, have called attention to prehistoric drawings of the human figure displaying
variousphysiological and pathologicalconditions ;
and one of these, an outline sketch from the rock

sculptures in the Dordogne, is at least 15,000 to

20,000 years old in the opinion of experts. Many

English readers are familiar with " L'Art et la

M6dicine ", by Dr. Paul Richer; this book is a

storehouse of informationon the relation of art to

medicine, and beautifully illustrated, as well as
admirably written.1 The work had its origin ifn
the impression made upon Professor Charcot, the
great neurologist, by seeing in the church of
S. Ambrose, in Genoa, the famous picture by
Rubens, representing S. Ignatius casting a devil
out of a young girl, and simultaneously bringing
a child to life. Charcot recognized the acute observation that had enabled the artist, working
from memory, to reproduce accurately the salient
features of acute hysteria; the very symptoms
which presented themselves daily at the Salpe-.
triere were set down, he perceived, on Rubens's
canvas. The famous professor and his assistant,
for at that time Dr. Richer was an interne at the
Salpetriere,were accordingly moved to study la
1L'Art et la Midecine, par Dr. Paul Richer. Paris, I9oo
(Gualtier,Magnieret Cie).

grande ne'vrosefrom the medico-artistic standpoint, and the result was a brochure entitled
"The Demoniac in Art ". Later their studies in

this direction took them into other pathological

fields, while at the same time a record of conspicuous cases at the Salpetribrebegan to appear,
illustrated by photographs and drawings contributed by the staff of the hospitaland their pupils.
All this work has been largely drawn upon by
Richer in a fascinating volume, with the result
that on the neurological side very little is left to be
said. In other fields of medicine the work is far
less complete, though there is a general indication
through the pictures how universalsince the dawn
of our existing civilization the practice among
artists has been to depict the results of disease or
From the vast selection of illustrated disease,
which any of the great picture galleries of the
world will be found to possess, one thing can be
learned immediately: the result for us of to-day
from the laboursof the artist contrasts remarkably
with the result derived from the writings of
numerous authors who have described medical
events in general literature. The difference is this.
The artists have very usually shed definite light on
medicine, while the chroniclers, poets, and dramatists, though dealing freely with medical topics,
have not been as distinctly informatory. Written
descriptions of diseases occurring in early literature leave largelydoubtful diagnoses for the reader
to choose between ; pictorial representationshave
often been equivalent to accurate naming of the
conditions. Historians have touched upon epidemics in accounting for the social and political
conditions of the nations of whom they are
writing, but as often as not it remains a matter of


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