The exhibitions presents 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, 4,000 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, anthropomorfic 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 Par-thia, and in the centre of the room are displayed some excellent examples of the Parthian art of the first and second 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 ancient 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 decorated 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 iniluence of antiquity, although the types of face, the hair-styles, clothes, musical instruments and fin ery – 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, Pya-njikent and Varakhsh.

Airtam frieze. Detail. Central Asia, 1st century A.D.

The Toprak-kala excavations, on the lands of ancient Khorezm, unearthed the palace of the third and fourth century rulers of Khorezm, 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 leaving for a military campaign, another in a duel with a mounted foe, a third fighting a dragon, and suchlike. Fragments from other murals-The Harp.?r, A Young Man and a Girl on Horses – further add to one’s knowledge of the great artistic skill of the Sogdians, the medieval ancestors of the modern Tadjiks and Uzbeks (room 35).

Mural from the house of an eminent townsman. Pyanjikent, Central Asia, 7th-8th century

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 Zeravshan river, a Tadjik shepherd by chance came across a manuscript written 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 Youth and a Girl on Horses. Mural. Pyanjikent, 7th-8th century

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 inscription: A present in exchange for the youngest daughter, Glrlunchuk, 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 representation 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 developed in the towns of Central Asia, prosperous centres of craft industry, trade and culture in the East during the Middle Ages. Among the specimens displayed in rooms 38 and 39 are ceramics unearthed during excavation work on the sites of ancient towns in Central Asia – Peikend, 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 Asian 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 exibition (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 1843 and 1847. 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, arrow-heads, 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 reflecting 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. 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. The inscription on the paitsza reads: By the power of the eternal Heavens. With the protection of the great power. Whosoever does not regard with reverence the edict of Abdullah-Khan shall be liable to punishment and shall die (room 47, case 7).

Rooms 48 and 49. Central Asia, 14th-15th centuries. In the second half of the fourteenth century Centrall Asia became the centre of the powerful state of Timur (Tamburlaine), and Samarkand the capital of this most formidable conqueror. Room 48 contains-a very unusual historical document, a stone with the following in scription in Arabic and Mongolian: In ths summer of 793, in the year of sheep, in the middle spring month, the sultan of Turan – Timur-bey – set in out with two thousand troops, for his honour’s sake, against the khan of the Golden Horde-Tokhtamish. 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, built 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 Zindah complex.

Bronze cauldron. Presented by Timur to the mosque of Khwaja Ahmad Yasevi. Central Asia, 14th century

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 inlaid design. 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. In the last roorns of the exhibition there are 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.


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3 May 2007

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