The Gupta Period represented the culmination of all the trends and tendencies of the artistic pursuits of the earlier decades, as Indian art entered upon the classical phase of sculpture. The Gupta Empire ruled from the 4th century C.E. to the late 6th century C.E., and art, science, and literature flourished greatly during this period. It was also in this time that the iconographic canons of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist divinities were standardized, serving as the ideal models for later interpretations of artistic expression. In addition, a new canon of beauty emerged as the human form, especially the female figure, became a focus of attraction, and the inherent softness and suppleness of the body became the human ideal in the smooth and shining texture of Gupta sculpture.
Even though the main religion of the Guptas was Hinduism, the Gupta Period has often been described as the golden age of Buddhist art in India. The Buddhist iconography was developed from the Gandhara style of northwest India. Between the 2nd and 5th centuries C.E. Gandhara art, named after the Gandhara region of what is now Pakistan, was greatly influenced by Hellenistic art, as can be seen by the relief friezes showing figures in classical poses with clinging drapery on the stupas and monasteries. However, during the Gupta Period, the Gandhara style gained new power and sophistication in that “it is noted for the full, sensuous modeling of faces and bodies, for a subtlety of expression and for the harmonious proportions of its figures” (“The Gupta”).
One example of the powerful works of the Gupta Period is at the Ajanta Caves, where Buddhist sculptures and wall paintings depict not only the various lives of the Buddha but also the daily life of Indians at the time.
Another example of Gupta Period sculpture exists in the Elephanta Caves on an island in the Sea of Oman close to Bombay. Hindu spiritualistic beliefs and symbols are incorporated in the overall layout of the caves, and the large reliefs and sculptures depict Hindu divinities.
As can be seen by what remains at the Ajanta Caves and Elephanta Caves, under the influence of the Gupta dynasty, Indian art reached its apogee, and Gupta sculpture remains the model of Indian art to this day.
“The Gupta Style of the Buddha & Its Influence in Asia,” Victoria and Albert Museum, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/g/gupta-style-of-the-buddha-and-its-influence-on-asia/.
“Gupta Sculpture,” Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, http://ccrtindia.gov.in/guptasculp.php.