Mandira Chhabra

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Mandira Chhabra

PhD student

Thesis: A Technical Study of Dress in the Kushan Art of Gandhara and Mathura (1st – 3rd century CE) Materials, Techniques, Influence and Exchanges

Primary Supervisor: Dr Giovanni Verri

Secondary external supervisor: Rosemary Crill

Funded by The Robert H. N. Ho. Foundation

A profuse representation of dress and textiles can be observed in the Buddhist art of Gandhara and Mathura. Historians have time and again turned to the various components of dress, alongside other iconographic forms, to assist in the identification of religious and secular figures or for their classification into stylistic typologies. Dress has also been used as evidence of the stylistic exchange between the workshops of Gandhara and Mathura, to underscore the inclusivity practised in Gandhara or to suggest a Gandharan or Mathura provenance to an object. Despite its significance, there exists no comprehensive study, to date, devoted to the origin, materiality and construction of dress from this period. The absence of technical studies of dress does not apply to Kushan art alone but to dress represented in ancient Indian art altogether. Although previous studies on ancient Indian dress relate representations of dress in sculpture with references in classical Indian texts, however, unlike the interdisciplinary studies of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan dress, there exists no indigenous practice of studying garment construction and drapery alongside sculpture, textual and archaeological data.

The proposed research will undertake a technical study of dress represented in Kushan art from both its sculptural schools—Mathura and Gandhara.  It will examine all elements of the dress, as well as aspects of the costume that have a textile component. Religious and secular figures common to both schools will form the base of the study. It will endeavour to categorise the different pieces of dress that constitute the ensemble, for each of the figures, into typologies as well as determine how they were constructed, draped or arranged around the body, so as to produce the effect in the sculptures. The research will adopt a comprehensive approach that combines art historical enquiry, literary sources, archaeological evidence, and a technical study of materials with the methodology of physical reconstruction. The fundamental idea behind this approach is that the study of dress in art cannot be confined to stylistic analysis based on visual examination alone, or for that matter purely technical studies of garment construction, but needs to benefit from the synthesis of both these aspects, so as to maximise approaches and context towards this subject.


2018-present: The Courtauld Institute of Art, PhD Candidate

2016-2017: MA Buddhist Art: History and Conservation, The Courtauld Institute of Art

2011-2012: Post Graduate Diploma in Museology and Conservation, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, University of Mumbai

2003-2005: MA Global Order Studies, Dept. of International Politics, University of Mumbai

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