Elongated locks of hair, which provide a touch of decorative naturalism, frame this bodhisattva head. It is topped by a tiara formed from three medallions with ornamental pearl borders. Two of the medallions have lotus-flower rosace motifs while the third features a floral decoration reminiscent of some the motifs found in Gupta halos. Such tiaras, introduced from Gandhara and India, were widespread in the oases of the Tarim Basin (Chinese Turkestan). Here, the facial features are typical of a late period, and are more elaborately stylized than in earlier periods, emphasizing the pure, almost circular « moon-faced » oval shape. The bridge of the nose is also more angular and pronounced, the eyeballs more protruding, while the arches of the eyebrows are much less prominent on the brow. Although the skillfully modeled mouth has been reduced in scale, it still expresses an ecstatic half smile in true keeping with the traditional iconography of the figure. Destined to achieve great popularity in Serindia, this new style was less concerned with anatomical accuracy than with a visual formalism appropriate to a more expressive rendering of a bodhisattva’s idealized features.
The use of casts, introduced from Gandhara, allowed the addition of individually distinctive hairstyles and ornament; nevertheless the finishing touches to such figures were carried out by hand.
This type of bodhisattva head may be considered to have belonged to a group of religious statues framing Buddha whose head has been discovered. The vestiges of three plinths substantiate the hypothesis of a triad. The piece comes from the Toqquz Sarai monastery in Xinjiang, the major Western Serindian Buddhist center in the kingdom of Kucha on the Northern Silk Road. From the 1st century CE, Buddhist missionaries traveled along these trade routes converting the Indo-European peoples of the Tarim Basin and bringing with them Greco-Buddhist art.