The Art and Culture of the Peoples of Central Asia:
4000 B.C.-early 20th century

Ground floor, rooms 34-54



The exhibitions present the most important stages in the artistic
and historical past of the Tadjik, Uzbek, Turkmen, Kazakh and Kirghiz
Soviet Socialist Republics.

Room 34. Central Asia, 4000 B.C.-4th century A.D. During recent
years Soviet archaeologists have discovered ancient relics of the culture
of farming and cattle-breeding tribes in Central Asia then at the stage of
a primitive communal system. These relics include ceramics bearing
geometric designs and the stylized representations of animals, anthropo-
morfic statuettes of clay and stone, and some bronze celts (cabinet 1). In
the first millennium B.C. some slave-owning nations lived in Central
Asia. One of these was Parthia, and in the centre of the room are displayed
some excellent examples of the Parthian art of the second and first
centuries B.C. found at the excavation site in the town of Nisa, near
present-day Ashkhabad-rhytons made from elephant tusks with a very
delicate carved design. Each vessel is horn-shaped and surmounted by
the half-figure of a centaur or griffin. Dating back to the time of the an-
cient Kushan Empire is the celebrated Airtam frieze, a stone relief of
the first century A.D. with half-figures of musicians among the rich
foliage of an acanthus. One fragment of the frieze, which long ago deco-
rated a temple in northern Bactria near the Uzbek town of Termez, was
found quite by accident by frontier guards at the bottom of the Amu-
Daria river. The excavations which were carried out after this led to the
discovery of other parts of the frieze. The acanthus leaves reveal the
influence of antiquity, although the types efface, the hair-styles, clothes,
musical instruments and finery-necklaces, earrings and bracelets-
testify to the local origin of the relic.

Rooms 35-37. Central Asia, 3rd-8th centuries A.D. These rooms
contain unique examples of the monumental decorative art of the Middle
Ages, discovered in recent years at Toprak-kala, Pyanjikent and Varakhsh.

The Toprak-kala excavations, on the lands of ancient Khwarezm,
unearthed the palace of the third and fourth century rulers of Khwarezm,
a fortified three-towered castle with state apartments and living and domestic
quarters. The rooms were decorated by tinted clay sculptures and
murals painted in mineral pigments on clay plaster previously primed
with a thin layer of alabaster. From Toprak-kala there are the statue of
a woman, fragments of sculptural groups and a fragment of a wall painting
entitled Woman with a Harp (room 35).

Ancient Pyanjikent, sixty kilometres from Samarkand in the outskirts
of modern Pyanjikent, was the capital of the Sogdian principality in the
seventh and eighth centuries. Discovered during excavations were two
temples, groups of houses belonging to noblemen, country estates and
some excellent works of art. Among these is a fragment of a large frieze
of unbaked painted clay, which apparently adorned the colonnade of a
temple dedicated to the deity of the river Zeravshan. Represented on the
frieze are the inhabitants of an underwater kingdom rising from out of
the waves-a Triton with the body of a man and a fish's tail, a dragon,
a dolphin and several others (room 35). Many examples of wooden
sculpture were also found at Pyanjikent, the highlight of the collection
being the statue of a dancing girl. The Pyanjikent murals produce an
indelible impression on the visitor to the museum. Murals in the house
of an eminent townsman completely covered the walls of a ceremonial
hall, and a fragment of one of them is displayed in room 37. It is twelve
metres long (a little over 39 ft.), up to 3.6 metres in height (11.7 ft.), and
represents scenes of a narrative character-a warrior on a bay horse leav-
ing for a military campaign, another in a duel with a mounted foe,
a third fighting a dragon, and suchlike. Fragments from other mu-
rals- The Harper, A Young Man and a Girl on Horses-further add
to one's knowledge of the great artistic skill of the Sogdians, the medi-
eval ancestors of the modern Tadjiks and Uzbeks (room 35).

Of great interest is the splendid mural painting in the Hall of the
Elephants from the palace of the seventh to eighth century ruler of
Varakhsh (near Bukhara), an ancient Sogdian town now buried in sand.
This painted frieze depicts a file of men mounted on elephants and the
tigers, leopards and griffins that are attacking them (room 36). The
Varakhsh murals, like those from Pyanjikent, are extremely rare examples
of Central Asian monumental art, and were found in a very damaged
condition. That the visitor to the Hermitage can admire them on the
walls of the museum is to the great credit not only of the archaeologists,
but also of the restorers who with tremendous skill and precision and by
means of extremely complicated operations, brought back to life these
remarkable relics.

In 1932 on the mountain of Mug on the upper reaches of the Zerav-
shan river, a Tadjik shepherd by chance came across a manuscript writ-
ten on hide, the first Sogdian document to be found on the territory of
Sogdia. In the following year an expedition discovered there the remains
of a fortress belonging to prince Divastich, who led the struggle of the
Sogdians against the Arabs at the time of the latter's conquest of Central
Asia. In the year 722, despite desperate resistance on the part of the
Sogdians, the Arabs took their last stronghold, the citadel on Mount
Mug. The objects discovered in the citadel are displayed in room 37 and
include local and imported silk and cotton materials, parts of a wooden
weaving-loom, a delicately made wicker hair-net, the painted shafts of
reed arrows, and utensils. A unique relic from the early eighth century,
a fragment of a wooden shield covered with leather and bearing a painted
design representing the figure of a Sogdian horseman, is on view in room
36, case 3. A great deal is learnt of life in Central Asia during the Middle
Ages from written relics (room 37 ). In a horizontal case near the window
is a letter written in Arabic by Divastich to the Arab military leader
Al-Djarrakh concerning the fate of the two sons of the Sogdian ruler,
who had himself committed suicide. There is also here a small stick
bearing an inscription which indicates a path through the mountains.
Cabinet 3 contains a large silver vessel with an ancient Turkish inscrip-
tion: "A present in exchange for the youngest daughter, Giriunchuk,
the bride", reminding us of the custom according to which fiances
brought "gifts" to the parents of the bride.

Rooms 38-40. Central Asia, 9th- 12th centuries. This exhibition
covers almost four centuries, extremely tempestuous in the history of
Central Asia. The establishment of Islam after the Arab conquest exercised
a pronounced influence upon the nature of art; the realistic representa-
tion of man, animals and plants, customary in the art of the pre-Islamic
era, gradually gave way to decorative designs, either geometric or
stylized floral patterns, with the inclusion of Arabic inscriptions. Similar
designs adorned the objects produced by the art crafts which had devel-
oped in the towns of Central Asia, prosperous centres of craft industry,
trade and culture in the East during the Middle Ages. Among the spec-
imens displayed in rooms 38 and 39 are ceramics unearthed during
excavation work on the sites of ancient towns in Central Asia-Paikend,
Afrasiab, Munchak-tepe and Taraz. Exhibited in room 39 are examples
of ninth to twelfth century bronze, silver and. glass ware. Room 40 is
devoted to architecture, and of particular note are some unglazed carved
tiles which adorned the gates of Samarkand and Uzgent, a manner of
decoration widespread in the Central Asia architecture of the tenth to
twelfth century. Towards the end of the twelfth century glazed tiles
appeared on the scene, one of the earliest examples of which, with a relief
Arabic inscription beneath a turquoise glazing, can be seen in the exhibi-
tion (board 4).

Rooms 46 and 47. The Golden Horde, 13th-14th centuries. The
Golden Horde came into existence in the thirteenth century after
Batu-Khan's excursion westwards. It reached the summit of its power in
the fourteenth century during the time of Uzbek-Khan; in the fifteenth
century it split up into separate khanates. A great many of the items in
the exhibition come from the capital of the Golden Horde, Sarai-Berke,
the ruins of which are near Volgograd on the banks of the Akhtuba.
Excavation work was carried out there between 1943 and 1947. Room 46
(cabinet 7, case 4) contains items of warrior's equipment and weapons,
which were of great importance in a warlike nation such as the Mongol
state (see the helmet, sabres, battle-axe, arrowheads, rings made of bone
and used for tightening bowstrings, and the equine apparel).

The numerous objects of art and articles of domestic life were created
by craftsmen who had been moved to the Golden Horde capital by force
from the conquered lands, including Central Asia, and because of this
the Sarai-Berke relics bear a very close resemblance to the relics of
Central Asian culture.

The ceramics from Sarai-Berke-glazed pottery (room 46) and
brightly coloured mosaic tiles for the facing of buildings (room 47)-are
the work of Central Asian potters, a fact which is evident from the shape
of the objects, the decorative designs, the colours, and the way in which
they were made. The caravan route from Europe to the East passed
through Sarai-Berke, and some fragments of Chinese ceramics, Syrian
glassware and a marble candlestick from Egypt are among the items reflect-
ing the trade connections of the Golden Horde (room 46). Of great
interest is the silver safe-conduct pass (paitsza), which dates back to the
fourteenth century and was found in the province of Dnepropetrovsk
(room 47, case 7). It is a permit for unhampered travel on the territory
of the Golden Horde, such as was usually given to ambassadors, merchants
and foreign travellers.

Rooms 48 and 49. Central Asia, 14th- 15th centuries. In the second
half of the fourteenth century Central Asia became the centre of the power-
ful state of Timur (Tamburlaine), and Samarkand the capital of this most
formidable conqueror. Room 48 contains a very unusual historical doc-
ument, a stone with the inscription in Arabic and Mongolian. The stone,
which was found in Kazakhstan, had been placed on the top of a burial
mound erected by order of Timur to commemorate his victory over
Tokhtamish in 1391. Artists, architects and craftsmen brought from the
conquered lands adorned Samarkand. On display in the exhibition
are some tiles and carved slabs of marble and limestone-details of the
architectural ornamentation of the Bibi-Khanym madrasah, the most
beautiful building in Samarkand at that time, erected at Timur's orders
between 1399 and 1404 (room 48). There are-also some tiles, made in
different ways, which embellished the walls of the mausoleums in the
famous Samarkand Shah-i Zindeh complex.

In room 49 there is a wonderful piece of fifteenth century art-the
door of the Gur-Emir mausoleum in Samarkand, where Timur and
members of his family are buried. The double door, which is made of
juniper wood, is covered with the most exquisite carving and bears
the remains of silver, copper, nacre, ebony and rosewood incrustation.
Room 48 contains an enormous cast bronze cauldron. It weighs two
tons, is one hundred and sixty centimetres high (63 in.) and has a
diameter of two hundred and forty-five centimetres (96 in.). The
decorative Arabic inscription which encircles the cauldron in three bands
states that it is for water, and it was a gift presented by Timur to the
mosque of Khwaja Ahmad Yasevi in the present-day town of Turkestan
in the Kazakh Soviet Republic. The words "Bless thee" are repeated
below ten times; the year in which the cauldron was made, 1399, is
indicated, and the craftsman concerned was a certain Abd al-'Aziz from
Tabriz. The inscription on the third band is completely taken up by the
repeated Moslem dictum "The kingdom belongs to Allah".

Rooms 51-54. Central Asia, late 18th-early 20th centuries. These
rooms contain some splendid examples of craft work-famous Central
Asian rugs, ceramics from the workshops of Kokand, Khiva, Bukhara
and Samarkand, side-arms made by Bukhara and Khiva craftsmen,
jewellery, clothes embroidered with gold, and leather goods.







The Art and Culture of the Peoples of Central Asia
The Art and Culture of the Peoples of the Caucasus
The Art and Culture of Egypt
The Art and Culture of Babylon Assyria and Neighbouring Countries
The Art and Culture of Byzantium
The Art and Culture of the Countries of the Near and Middle East
The Art and Culture of India
The Art and Culture of China
The Art and Culture of Mongolia
The Art and Culture of Japan
The Art and Culture of Indonesia

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- The Hermitage - The Department of the Art and Culture of the Peoples of the East -
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