This volume gathers in one place three of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy’s most important writings on Buddhist art and thought in facsimile reproductions of the author’s personal copies with his annotations and corrections. Coomaraswamy rarely set aside a published work once and for all; using his publications as an ongoing journal, he continued thinking and recognizing new connections. The works here are among his greatest. “The Nature of Buddhist Art” (1938) is a classic essay, as eloquent as anything he wrote.
“[Coomaraswamy] is one of the most learned and creative scholars of the century.”
“[His] writings remain as pertinent today as when he wrote them and his voice echoes in the ears of present day seekers of truth and lovers of traditional art.”
-Seyyed Hossein Nasr
“Coomaraswamy’s essays [give] us a view of his scholarship and brilliant insight.”
“That noble scholar upon whose shoulders we are still standing”
What did Coomaraswamy really think about the content and purpose of art at its deepest and truest? The answer to that question is here, never more brilliantly stated. “The Origin of the Buddha Image” (1927) is a more strictly art-historical work, which looks at the evidence for an Indian or Hellenistic Greek origin for the central image of early Buddhist art. The volume concludes with a masterful book-length study, “Elements of Buddhist Iconography” (1935), which focuses the author’s unique blend of scholarship and spirituality on key images in Buddhist art.
From the Publisher:
Introduced by Coomaraswamy’s “The Nature of Buddhist Art” (1938), “The Origin of the Buddha Image” (1927) is crowned by a supremely important metaphysical and spiritually transformative text, “Elements of Buddhist Iconography” (1935)
Although this essay is about sacred art, it actually is sacred art itself in that it is able to transport the reader to the very threshold of an awakening. This is achieved through the etymological and artistic explication of the archetypal nature and profoundest meaning intended by the Cosmic Tree of Life (symbolizing the Buddha) and the Lotus Throne which are not actually situated in “art” but may be beheld within the human heart and found in each one of us.
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy’s The Origin of the Buddha Image is a detailed study and analysis of the controversial problem. In the present monograph, with his usual acumen and deep understanding of the subject, Coomaraswamy has laid bare the facts which clearly show that the Buddha image was a product of the Indian mind. In this detailed excurses, he has discussed the problem not only with a view to prove that the Buddha image originated out of the pre-existing Indian forms, but has also taken pains to disprove the theories of those scholars with whom “Indo-Greek art has become a veritable obsession.”
Coomaraswamy has divided the work into the following heads: (1) What is the Buddha image?, (2) The early representation of deities by means of symbols, (3) The necessity for a Buddha image, (4) Elements of the later anthropomorphic iconography already present in early Indian art, (5) Style and content: differentiation of Indian and Hellenistic types, and (6) Dating of Gandhara and Mathura Buddhas.
According to Coomaraswamy, every element essential to the iconography of Buddha and Bodhisattva figures appears in early Indian art before the Buddha figure of Gandhara or Mathura is known. For this, he says we have only to look at a sequence of examples beginning with the Parkham image and culminating in the Mathura types of the Gupta period to realize that there is no room at any point in the intercalation of any model based on the Hellenistic tradition: he has even suggested that the Gandhara iconography itself is derived from the pre-existing Indian forms, either through Mathura or otherwise.