Echoes of Alexander the Great: Silk Route Portraits From Gandara
Author: Wenzel, Marian
Publisher: Eklisa Anstalt, 2000
160 pages, 60 colour pictures
Available from Amazon at a price of $50.
The focus of the introduction, and the forword by the Dalai Lama (whose office seem quite keen to endorse books on Gandhara), indicate clearly that this collection is intended for readers to appreciate what are stunning images, rather than discuss academic ideas. This is a coffee table book, and it would be churlish to assess it on its academic merits (including an erroneous point about banking in 1st century Jerusalem), so I won't.
There is a brief introduction to Gandharan art, followed by images of 60 portrait sculptures. The introduction is short but well written. Important terms (dharma, sangha, bodhisattva, yaksa, urna, stucco etc) are explained for anyone unfamiliar with Gandharan art. The portraits are divided into four sections; Buddha, Bodhisattva, the sangha, women, plus a section on the Buddha's life story which consists of only one portrait that clearly did not fit anywhere else. Most of the images are relatively late, and are dated by Wenzel to the 4th and 5th Century. Each portrait is typically given a double page spread. On the left a description of the portrait and its provenance. On the right the sculpture is photographed, sometimes a single large image, and sometimes a number of smaller images from different angles. Each is brilliantly shot in full colour with a remarkable artistic eye. It is these pictures, which have a quality completely different from the workman-like photography of academic works, that sets the book apart.
In conclusion this book is well illustrated and well written and on those terms can be highly recommended.
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