Head of the Buddha

Historical period(s)
2nd century
Schist with traces of gold leaf
H x W x D (head): 32.1 x 19.2 x 24 cm (12 5/8 x 7 9/16 x 9 7/16 in)
Pakistan or Afghanistan
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone

Buddhist sculpture

Afghanistan, Buddha, Buddhism, Pakistan, Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection, ushnisha, WWII-era provenance

From around 1967
Mr. Richard Gross Kopf, from around 1967 [1]

To 1998
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (born 1929), New York City, to 1998

From 1998
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in 1998


[1] Mr. Richard Gross Kopf brought the object into the United States around 1967 (according to Curatorial Note 3, Vidya Dehejia, April 21, 1998, in the object record).

Previous Owner(s)

Richard Gross Kopf
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 1929-2014


This exquisitely modeled head, with its classical youthful features and wavy hair, incorporates two signs of superhuman perfection that set a Buddha image apart from any other. The ushnisha, or cranial bump on top of the head, a sign of the Buddha's omniscience, has been transformed into an elegant top knot, while the urna, originally a curl of hair resting on the forehead and symbolizing his renunciation, appears as a rounded dot between the eyebrows. The head still carries traces of the gold leaf with which it was once covered, and its brown surface coloring is a ground that was applied to the stone so that the gold leaf would adhere. 

This head was once part of a Buddha image clad in a monastic robe reminiscent of a Roman toga, which must have been installed in a major monastic center in the ancient province of Gandhara. The art of Gandhara may be understood in the context of the many Greek outposts founded across Asia by Alexander the Great (reigned 336-323 B.C.E), who reached India in 327 B.C.E. The Gandharan style exemplifies Indian Buddhist ideals combined with the Greco-Roman artistic tradition.

Published References
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. pp. 162-163.
  • Donald S. Lopez Jr, Rebecca Bloom. Hyecho's Journey: The World of Buddhism. Chicago, IL, December 2017. p. 187, fig. 20.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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