The Hermitage collection of artifacts covering the culture and art of Central Asia spans a period from the 4th millenium BC to the 20th century AD. There are colourful fragments of wall paintings, sculptures, woodcarvings and ivories, bronzes and rare coins, pottery and tiles, jewellery, carpets and embroidery.
Eneolithic painted pottery with geometrical designs and stylized animal figures, and clay and stone figurines, represent the earliest examples of the culture of farming and cattle-breeding tribes in Central Asia.
From the early Iron Age (1st millenium BC) comes a famous bronze sacrificial altar of the Scythian period (Sakae culture).
The major part of the collection, however, consists of objects found on the territory of the ancient states of Central Asia – Parthia, Bactria, Soghdia and Khorezm.
Rhytons made from elephant tusks, with very delicate carved designs, come from the Parthian kingdom. World famous fragments of the Ayrtam – a stone relief of half-figures of musicians set amidst a rich acanthus foliage from a temple in northern Bactria – date to the time of the Kushan Empire (1st-3rd centuries).
Sculptures created in Khorezm in the 1st to 4th centuries AD and objects of the 5th to 8th centuries AD from Pendjikent (60 km from Samarkand), the Soghdian capital, form the pride of the collection. The most renowned pieces are stone and wooden sculptures, remarkable wall paintings from the ruler's palace, from temples and houses. A 12-metre long mural with a blue ground (from the so-called ‘Blue Hall') shows scenes from the Persian epic of Rustam and continues to impress those who see it today, so many centuries after it was first created. No less impressive is the mural from the ‘Red Hall' from the palace of a ruler of Bukhara in Varaksha (7th-8th centuries). The collection of bronze vessels from Bactria, Khorezm and Soghdia of the 4th to 7th centuries is the most comprehensive in the world: these are decorated with images and inscriptions. Pottery from Afrasiab, ancient Samarkand, from the 9th to 12th centuries, is largely decorated with designs including inscriptions of ‘good wishes' and proverbs.
Of particular interest is a very unusual historical document, a stone with an inscription in Arabic and Mongolian, the words of Timur (Tamerlane) commemorating his victory over the Khan of the Golden Horde, Tokhtamish, in 1391. From the Gur-Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand, where Timur and his family are buried, comes an exquisite 15th-century door. The double door is made of juniper wood and covered with rich carving with traces of silver, copper, nacre, ebony and rosewood inlaid designs. It was Timur also who commissioned the bronze candlesticks from the mausoleum of Ahmad Yasevi in Turkestan.
The later period is covered by marvellous tiles from Uzghen, Samarkand and other towns, dating to the 12th to 17th centuries, collections of 19th-century Turkmenian carpets, and Tadjik, Uzbek and Kirgiz embroidery of the 19th to 20th centuries, as well as rich collections of side-arms and jewellery.
2nd-1st centuries BC
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