Art History

A Strange Connection

I’ve always seen parallels between Indian or Southeast Asian and ancient Egyptian statuary. The styles, poses, clothing, and modes of representation all seem very similar to me, yet no one has ever been able to give me a satisfactory explanation as to why. When I was at the Met last week, I saw the Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture in Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century exhibition (which has since closed), and I was struck once again by how much these two diverse traditions have in common across so much time and space.  Searching for these images, I realized that there are even more similarities than I first realized. I don’t feel that I currently have the necessary background knowledge to come to any meaningful conclusions on the issue, so I put this to my readers: what’s the connection? Do any of you know more about this than I do? Do you even see the same parallels that I do? Please help me figure this out!

Facial similarities:

Buddha Calling the Earth to Witness, 9th–early 10th century, Northeastern Thailand, sandstone; lent by National Museum, Bangkok. Featured in the Lost Kingdoms exhibition.
Head of the god Amun, New Kingdom, Post-Amarna Period, reign of Tutankhamun ca. 1336–1327 B.C., probably from Upper Egypt, Thebes, granodiorite, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund

Similarities in clothing,and method of representing the body:

Vishnu, first half of the 9th century, central Cambodia, sandstone; lent by Musée National des Arts Asiatiques–Guimet, Paris, featured in the Lost Kingdoms exhibition.
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, first quarter of the 8th century, Northeastern Thailand, sandstone; lent by Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1965. Featured in the Lost Kingdoms exhibition.
Harihara, pre-Angkor period, late 7th–early 8th century, southern Cambodia, sandstone; Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase, Laurance S. Rockefeller Gift and Anonymous Gift, 1977, featured in the Lost Kingdoms exhibition.
Statue of Ity-sen, c. 2500-2350 BCE, Egypt, limestone, Brooklyn Museum, gift of Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, Theodora Wilbour, and Victor Wilbour honoring the wishes of their mother Charlotte Beebe WIlbour, as a memorial to their father Charles Edwin Wilbour.
Statue of a family group, limestone, Egypt, Old Kingdom, c. 2371-2298 BCE; Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund.
Torso of a High General, Late Period, 4th century B.C., Egypt, meta-greywacke; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996

Similarity of poses:

Enthroned Buddha, late 6th–7th century, Southern Vietnam, sandstone; lent by National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City. Featured in the Lost Kingdoms exhibition.
Nikare with his Wife and Daughter, Old Kingdom, ca. 2420–2389 B.C. or later, Egypt, Memphite Region, limestone, paint; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1952

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5 thoughts on “A Strange Connection

  1. I am not an expert in the field, however I like Ancient culture and art. Maybe the missing link between the Egyptian and Indian civilizations is another civilization. Ancient Greeks were very close to Ancient Egyptians. Fore example, it is well known that many ancient Egyptian cities had pure Greek names. Even the name Egypt is a Greek one. The connection between Ancient Greek and Egyptian sculpture is also well documented by experts.

    But Ancient Greeks were also having connections with India during both the prehistoric and historic eras. At historic era with Alexander the Great who invaded India and at prehistoric era with Dionysus who according to classic Greek literature arrived at and conquered India long before the Alexander. The latter is also documented by Arrianus who wrote the history of Alexander: When Alexander invaded India met a tribe at a place called Nyssa (Greek name). The people belonging to this tribe asserted that they were descendants of Dionysus and they offered to Alexander many proofs of this, asking from him not to fight against them. Alexander accepted their request and a celebration followed in honor of Dionysus.

    Ancient Greeks were masters of sculpturing and of making statues.
    Please, watch the Buddha head. You can obviously see the spirals representing his hair. Spirals are very common in Ancient Greek art.
    The ancient Greek spirals in art evolved to squared spirals commonly known as “Greek keys” or “meanders”.
    You can see in the following links, spirals to represent the hair of Ancient Greek statues, sculptures and paintings:

    The following link shows another Greek statue, located in Italy, with spirals representing its hair:

    Representation of Ancient Greek spirals:

    There are also other very interesting connections between Ancient civilizations.
    The Ancient Greek author Plutarch in his book “On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon” describes how the Ancient Greeks arrived at the golf of Mexico through the Atlantic ocean at the era of Heracles (prehistoric era). He names the Atlantic ocean as sea of Saturn and the golf of Mexico as the great golf which lies in the other continent beyond the other side of the sea of Saturn. It gives details about the related sea travel.
    This can explain the pyramids, the buildings and the astronomical knowledge of Mayan civilization. It must be noted that there are also pyramids in Greece but of smaller size. Experts say that they are dated back at an era earlier than that of the Egyptian pyramids. The word pyramid is a Greek one: it means the fire (= “pyr”) at the apex.
    There is another important coincidence: The Mayan buildings are full of “Greek key” representations.
    Watch the upper part of the external wall of the “Governor’s palace” at Uxmal Maya ruins. You can see that it is full of “Greek key” representations:,_Governor%27s_Palace.jpg

    The following web page shows a Mayan passage with a triangle in its upper part and two “Greek key” representations at its left and its right:

    Again a similar Mayan structure: A triangle in the upper part and two classic “Greek keys” at its left and its right:

    Another Mayan passage with a triangle in its upper part:

    Now a classic Ancient (prehistoric) Greek entry (passage) to the building known as Atreus thesaurus, having triangle in its upper part:

    The Ancient (prehistoric) Greek entry (passage) to the Mycenae palace.
    The entry has an upper triangle formed by the famous “lions of Mycenae”:

    Ancient Greek image with “Greek keys” around it:

    Jewels representing Ancient “Greek keys” are very popular even today in Greece:

    Greek jewels with spirals are also very popular today in Greece:

    Spirals and “Greek keys” ornament the popular houses today in Greece:

    It seems that there are no coincidences. Everything has an explanation, which might not be recognized at first sight.

  2. In addition to my previous post, I note that the influence of the classical Greek culture and art over the Buddhism is well documented by experts. The following links give plenty of information:

    The influence of the Bactrian-Greek (Indo-Greek) art on the sculpture of colossal images of the Buddha in Sri Lanka:

    I hope that my posts might help a little.

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