Edwin Binney 3rd (1925-1986), whose grandfather invented and manufactured the Crayola crayons from around 1902, formed one of the most important and extensive collections of Indian paintings in the United States and donated more than 1400 works to the San Diego Museum in 1990. A man of universal mind with a doctorate in French literature, he collected with rigor and deep connoisseurship, seeking to document quality and comprehensive depth in his collection. He is also noted as an important collector of Ottoman Turkish art, Mughal paintings, French Old Master paintings subsequently donated to the Portland Art Museum, Oregon, as well as American quilts. A close friend of Nasli Heeramaneck, the famous New York based dealer in the 1960s, he acquired many pieces through him. The Binney Collection included only a small group of Indian sculptures, of which this was the collectors personal favorite and had thus remained in the family.
During the Gupta period (4th through 6th centuries), named after a succession of kings bearing the Gupta suffix, all forms of creative and intellectual expression reached an unprecedented level of sophistication. Already firmly established under the Kushan, particularly as a center for Jainism, Mathura became an ever more active and important center for all principal religions and the production of images, predominantly Buddhist and to a lesser degree Jain and Hindu, while it is also noted as the birthplace of Krishna. Employing mottled red sandstone specific to the region, the Gupta workshops under royal patronage achieved a highly refined idealized sculptural form by the mid-5th century that would forever define the ideal and iconic prototype of an enlightened being, an unquestionable high point in Indian art as well as the world.
According to the Jain tradition and its doctrine of non-violence, a Jina (also "Conqueror" or Tirthankara) represents the highest stage of a supreme being, of which there are 24 in number. This head can be identified as that of a Jina by the lack of an ushnisha, the domed protuberance on the head that is characteristic of Buddha, while all other features of an enlightened being are shared. A specific iconographic element are the half-shut eyes, shaded by the eyelids, with a gaze turned inward, reflecting a heightened mind in perfect equilibrium. According to the iconographic ideals, the hair is arranged in snail-like curls in gently undulating rows, the arched eyebrows follow the curved outline of the margosa leaves, and together with the bridge of the nose, dividing the face into equal parts at 120 degrees, the eyes are like lotus petals, the nose akin to a sesame flower (tilaphula), the lips like the bimba fruit, the elongated earlobes a reference to his former princely life when jewels had weighed them down. Nature is thus sublimated into a rythmic and sculptural form, emulating spiritual perfection in aesthetic terms.
Only a handful of other examples, both Buddhist and Jain, are in the collection of the Mathura museum as well as public or private collections around the world. Heads of Jinas being even rarer, this is arguably among the finest and largest in existence. Compare with the Gupta period sandstone figure of Buddha from Sarnath, sold at Christie's New York, 21 March 2008, lot 502.