The Director’s Opening Remarks
T.B. Arapova, N.G. Pchelin, Y.I. Elihina, M.L. Menshikova, curators and custodians of the collection
At the opening ceremony
Cloth with image of a landscape with boulders, birds, trees and mushrooms
Western Han Dynasty (25-220)
Monk. Wall painting
On February 14th, 2013, the State Hermitage Museum hosted the opening of a renovated permanent exhibit entitled the Culture and Art of Central Asia.
This exhibit include about a thousand items from various regions of Central Asia: Eastern Turkistan (the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the PRC), Dunhuang (Gansu Province), Tibet (the Tibet Autonomous Region of the PRC) and Mongolia.
Hall 367 is home to items from the burial grounds of Noin-Ula, Northern Mongolia in the age of the Asian Huns or Hsiung-nu (2nd century B.C.E.-3rd century C.E.) found during digs by S.A. Kondratyev and S.A. Teplouhov (the Mongolia-Tibet expedition of P.K. Kozlov in 1923-1926). Before recent discoveries by Chinese archaeologists, the Hermitage collection was unique. The finds from the kurgans of Noin-Ula are unique masterpieces by the ancient masters of China and the Huns. The most interesting are Chinese silk cloth, distinguished by a variety of ornaments and techniques, and felt carpet. This exhibit includes items from everyday life, pieces of carts, fragments of harnesses, various silver decorations, gold and jade, and Chinese lacquer. Clothing sewn by the Hsiung-nu themselves has also been preserved.
The archaeological artifacts of 13th century Mongolia presented in hall 366 include finds from Karakorum, the ancient capital of the Mongol state and the Kondui village (Chita Oblast). They were found by the expeditions of S.V. Kiselev. The most interesting of the artifacts from the Turkic Period is a stone head with a runic inscription from the 6th-8th century. This artefact is unique, since only one such sculpture with a runic inscription has been preserved in Mongolia. The inscription on this item has yet to be read. The so-called Genghis stone, which attained international fame, is an object of great scientific interest.
Halls 363 and 365 are home to works of art from Mongolia and Tibet, related to a particular Tibetan-Mongolian form of Buddhism. They were collected by prince E.E. Uhtomsky, P.K. Kolzov, A.K. Faberge, Y.N. Roerich and B.N. Pankratov.
The mass production of Buddhist sculpture began in 1801, after the summer residence of the Beijing Lama was built in Inner Mongolia in the Dolon Nor region. The Buryat clergy and the nobles presented this silver sculpture to the royal family. Silver was highly valued in Mongolia and Buryat, the seals of Mongol civil servants were made of it, as well as women’s ornaments, headgear and men’s belt gear. Small blonde sculpture from China and Mongolia and items from everyday nomadic life (belts, belt gear, including knives and chopsticks, cups and their cases, Gau reliquaries), as well as the helmets of Mongolian nobles are shown at the exhibit.
Mongolian painting makes it possible to examine the unique features of local iconography. From Mongolia, Buddhism spread to Buryatia and Kalmykia, so the exhibit will familiarize the viewer with works of Buryat art as well.
Halls 362 and 363 are dedicated to the art of the Tangut state of Western Xia (982-1227). These artifacts of painting and sculpture were found by the Mongolian-Sichuan expedition of P.K. Kozlov in 1907-1909 in the dead city of Khara-Khoto in the south of the Gobi Desert. Khara-Khoto ("black city") is the Mongolian name for the city (in Chinese, it is called "He-iche'ng" - "black water city"), is located at a once-flourishing oasis near the lower reaches of the Edzingol river on the southern edge of the Gobi desert. The history, culture and art of the Tanguts has an intermediate position "between China and Tibet". Work from Khara-Khoto is characterized by stylistic elements from three artistic traditions, Chinese, Tibetan and Tibetan-Chinese. In some cases they intersect and form a synthesis. The icons on the subject Meeting of the Holy Man in the Pure Land of the Buddha Amita-bha attract particular attention. The most important artefact is the Two-headed Buddha sculpture. The Portrait of a Dignitary was painted in the best tradition of Chinese Song Dynasty art (960-1279). Works in the Tibetan Style include the portrait of a Teacher, a state or imperial tutor, with royal Tangut donators standing before him. The Buddha in crown icon is stylistically quite different form the rest of the collection. Its most interesting feature is the coin that the Buddha holds in his right hand, which is laid across his body. The Chinese-style coin with a legend clearly dates this artefact to the time of the last Emperor of the short-loved Northern Yuan Dynasty (1376-1387).
Halls 360 and 361 host part of a collection gathered by S.F. Oldenburg during the second Russian-Turkistan expedition of 1914-1915 in the Mogao Buddhist cave monastery, located near the city of Dunhuang (Gansu province, PRC). This included coloured wall paintings, moulded and painted sculpture, painted scrolls made of canvas, silk and paper, and cloths. A landscape showing the Jataka story of the good son, a painting with a scene of the Pure Land and Buddha Amita-bha, flags with images of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara ("Guanyin" in Chinese), paintings and sculptures of other Bodhisattvas and monks, and a pilgrim with Buddhist scrolls deserve particular attention. Aside from Buddhist images, one can see images of donators, people who gave gifts to the monastery. This exhibit gives viewers a sense of artistic artifacts and the development of Buddhism in Thousand Buddha Cave in the vicinity of Dunhuang.
A separate gallery (hall 359) is dedicated to artifacts from East Turkistan, which was the centre of attention for European scientists in the late 19th and early 20th century. A series of expeditions from various countries conducted archaeological digs and research in this area, which led to the discovery of many artifacts, dated to various times and belonging to various cultures and peoples. Russian scientists and travellers also made a significant contribution to the study of the art and culture of Eastern Turkistan. The items presented at the exhibit come from the materials of the expeditions of M.M and N.M. Berezovsky in 1905-1907 at the Ku`che- Oasis and the first Russian Turkistan expedition by S.F. Oldenburg in 1909-1910. Some items were collected by Russian diplomats and collectors. The exhibit includes wall paintings from the collection of the famous German researcher Albert Gru"nwedel, which were held in the Museum of Ethnography in Germany before the end of the Second World War.
The exhibit includes artifacts of the culture and art of Hotan, and the Ku`che-, Karashar and Turfan oases, which were adjacent to the Great Silk Road, which received that name in the 19th century. It was a system of roads connecting China with Central Asia and the Western World. Merchant caravans move along the Silk Road, and with them went missionaries of various religion. The entire first millennium was marked by the spread of Buddhism into India from China through Central Asia. It is Buddhism that had a major influence on the culture of the oasis city-state or, more accurately, the kingdoms of Eastern Turkistan.
Hotan is one of the southern oases, populated by various peoples, Iranians, Indians, Chinese, Turks, and Tibetans, whose image was left behind in Hotan terracotta. The vases with text and ornaments enjoy significant fame. Clay and stucco relieves of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were widespread in the art of Hotan, from miniature images to large sculptures.
One famous landmark of the art and culture of Turfan in the Uyghur period was the Bezeklik ("shining") court cave monastery. The wall paintings of the cave temples had bright, colourful compositions; the artists used a great deal of gold and the grand de'cor of the temples demonstrated the wealth of the Uyghur rulers. At this exhibit , one can become familiar with examples of art from other complexes at the Turfan oasis; the Talaijk-bulak (Sasik-bulak), Tuuk-Mazar and Sengim-agiz Buddhist monasteries.
The art of Karashar can be divided into three stages: Tocharian art (5th century-first half of the 7th century), the period of Chinese influence (7th-8th centuries) and Uyghur art (9th-12th centuries). The painting on the subject of the Jakata of the Tigress is probably the earliest 6th century painting artifacts presented at the exposition. The paintings entitled Siege of Kushinagara, as well as the Boddhaistvas and Monks from a Missionary Scene and Weeping Tocharian Lady with Funerary Urn show the Chinese domination of the style of painting, its similarity of the art of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Uyghur layer of the oasis’ culture is represented by paintings with scenes of monastery life and portraits of Uyghur donators, later artifacts dated as no earlier than the 9th-10th century, when Karashar became part of the Turfan Uyghur kingdom.
The exhibit was prepared by the Head of the Department of the East, N.V. Kozlova and the curators/custodians of the collection, Y.I. Elihina, E.A. Kii, M.L. Menshikova, K.F. Samsuk, M.L. Pchelina, and N.G. Pchelin.