This impressive over life-size terracotta head is a rare example of portrait sculpture as it developed in late Gandharan art during the 4th and 5th centuries. The subtle and realistic modeling of the features betrays Hellenistic influences. The individual, raised ridges delineating the hair and beard are often seen in mature clay and stucco sculptures of that period and it has been suggested that this more pliable medium afforded more opportunities at realism to the sculptor (Rowland, Benjamin jr.: Ancient Art from Afganistan, New York, 1966,pp. 73-74). With that the present lot is a rare example that beyond idealism conveys mood, spirit, individual characteristics following in a tradition set by Roman portraiture. The naturalism of these portraits is sometimes further enhanced through polychrome. Compare with two other but smaller terracotta male bearded heads: Kurita, Isao, Gandhara Art II: The world of the Buddha, Japan 2003, Vol. II,, nos. 368&372, pp. 132-133.
Because the head is only a fragment of a formerly larger sculpture it is difficult to say what its iconographical was originally meant to be. Most likely the head was part of an over life-size statue of an Atlas or a Centaure. Compare with a smaller full size grey schist figure of a winged Atlas Christie's, New York, 20 March 2009 lot 1201; A grey schist figure of a Centaure is illustrated in Sotheby's, New York, 24 March 2004, lot 8. Centaures were associated with the cult of Dionysius and Bacchus where they are depicted in processional pageants. While it is known that this cult was popular in Gandharan era, and the appearance of Hellenistic figures such as Heracles and Atlas is common in Gandharan art, it is rare to find such a large example of a head.
The result of Oxford Thermoluminescence test no. N104e4 is consistent with this lot.