Exhibit: Tree & Serpent: Early Buddhist Art in India, 200 BCE–400 CE

(New York City)

This is the story of the origins of Buddhist art. The religious landscape of ancient India was transformed by the teachings of the Buddha, which in turn inspired art devoted to expressing his message. Sublime imagery adorned the most ancient monumental religious structures in ancient India, known as stupas. The stupa not only housed the relics of the Buddha but also honored him through symbolic representations and visual storytelling. Original relics and reliquaries are at the heart of this exhibition, which culminates with the Buddha image itself.

Featuring more than 125 objects dating from 200 BCE to 400 CE, the exhibition presents a series of evocative and interlocking themes to reveal both the pre-Buddhist origins of figurative sculpture in India and the early narrative traditions that were central to this formative moment in early Indian art. With major loans from a dozen lenders across India, as well as from the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States, it transports visitors into the world of early Buddhist imagery that gave expression to this new religion as it grew from a core set of ethical teachings into one of the world’s great religions. Objects associated with Indo-Roman exchange reveal India’s place in early global trade. The exhibition showcases objects in various media, including limestone sculptures, gold, silver, bronze, rock crystal, and ivory. Highlights include spectacular sculptures from southern India—newly discovered and never before publicly exhibited masterpieces—that add to the world canon of early Buddhist art.

If you follow the link there are wonderful photos of the exhibit items.

Looks like it may be based on the book by the same title by John Guy?


Thank you a lot, I’m truly appreciated. But is there any more websites that exhibit arts from early Buddhist archeology?

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The Mett actually has a huge collection, not just what is in this exhibit. And the photos are usually high resolution and in the public domain. So it’s possible to get in and look at detail that one might not otherwise see.

Perhaps @Khemarato.bhikkhu can share other websites.


NY Times has a nice review, including a pic of monks chanting for the opening.
The show is of artwork loaned from India, not the Met’s permanent collection.


I’ve happily spent hours virtually visiting Buddhist caves via the Google Arts and Culture app:

Lots more than just that article if you follow the links:


Looks amazing! Maybe @Suddhaso or @ayyasoma might be able to visit.

If anyone’s interested, I discussed some of this imagery in my White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes.

(You can also buy it in paperback from Lulu.com!)


Thanks for this information. It seems the works of early Buddhist art in India are useful to understand early Buddhist adaptations of some Vedic religious myths presented in EBTs.


Thanks for posting about this. I was at the show last week, it is worth a visit if you are near NYC. It focuses on several aspects of early Buddhist art, in particular the idea of the stupa (with some relics from Piprahwa), nature deities, aniconism of the Buddha, trade with the Greek and Roman world, discussions of Buddhist patronage, and some examples of early figural representations of the Buddha.

I would have liked to have seen more about the role of Gandhāra, which is relatively absent, as well as more about the development of iconography of the Buddha. I’ve published a paper very recently on the earth-touching gesture, so I was hoping for discussion and examples of gestural representations but they weren’t mentioned.

One of my favorite pieces of early Buddhist art is a 1st-2nd c. CE Gandhāran bronze in their permanent collection, which unfortunately wasn’t included in this exhibit:

Hopefully the Met will consider doing more such shows in the future!


I guess this is because the show is highlighting the Indian loans?

Me too! Clearly the best “statue of liberty” in New York! :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


This page lists past exhibits. There is usually a pdf of the exhibit book:

They had this one 10 years ago:


Yes, that was a fine exhibit. One of my favorites was this from 2014: Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century


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A mustached Buddha! :smiley:

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I wonder what led it to be considered Buddha. The 1st to 2nd century Roman influence? The topknot, ok, I get that. The “halo”, amount and style of hair, mustache, perhaps the robes, don’t seem to fit with other Buddhist depictions.

These are good questions. I imagine the wheel on the palm would be one indication. Still, this would have been made at a time in which images of the fully enlightened Buddha were contested, so it’s likely intended to be an image of prince Siddhattha, and not of the fully enlightened Buddha. Thus (perhaps) the hair and mustache.

I would also imagine that the non-standard nature of the depiction is one reason why scholars consider it particularly early: it was made before images of Siddhattha became standardized.



Photos on Bhante Ānandajoti’s photo site.


Thanks for posting the website.

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