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In Paris, another look at the Roman Empire's influence -- this time, on Buddhist art

May 6, 2010 |  2:30 pm

GandharaParismatchhebdo048 While visitors to the Getty Villa are exploring surprising connections between ancient Rome and Mexico in "Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire," Parisian museum-goers are checking out Greco-Roman influence on 1st century to 6th century Buddhist art from Gandhara, a kingdom that spanned part of today's Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Pakistan, Land of Encounters," advertised on posters in the Metro and on the streets of Paris, has brought about 200 stone sculptures, bronze reliquaries and pieces of jewelry from museums in Pakistan to the Musee Guimet, an elegant showcase in the 8th arrondissement that claims to be the world's largest museum of Asian art outside Asia. Organized with two German institutions, the show will be on view in Paris through Aug. 16.
The Getty exhibition reveals how Mexico’s Spanish conquerors “interpreted the Aztecs as the Romans of the New World,” as Getty antiquities curator Claire L. Lyons has said. "Pakistan" explores an actual cultural merger. Gandhara, where Buddha was given a human form, was a melting pot of Greek, Roman, Indian and Persian influences. In Gandharan art, Buddha and bodhisattvas often wear Roman-style drapery and sandals, and their facial features and curly hair recall classical Greek and Roman statuary. Most works in the exhibition depict Buddha and stories of his life, but there are also sculptures of Greek gods, including Athena and Atlas.

Some of the most impressive examples at the Guimet traveled across the U.S. in 1960 in a major exhibition organized by New York’s Asia Society that appeared at nine institutions including the Los Angeles County Museum in Exposition Park -- five years before its art branch became the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard. “Pakistan” isn’t coming to L.A., but examples of Gandhara art can be seen in the permanent collections of LACMA and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. And now that the Getty Villa has expanded its exhibition program beyond the classical Mediterranean with its Aztec show, Gandharan art at the seaside retreat is a possibility.

-- Suzanne Muchnic in Paris

Photo: "Athena," schist sculpture. Credit: Musee Guimet


Art Review: “The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire”@ Getty Villa,

The Aztecs, in old-world eyes,

Bearing a Timeless Quality,