Sogdians in China: Jewelry, Heavenly Horses, and Iconographic Crossroads
The three themes I will focus on for my object analysis fall under an umbrella theme—Sogdians in China. From the class readings and sessions we’ve engaged with thus far, Lerner’s texts and the Chinese-Sogdian archaeological oeuvre captivated my interest. For this project, I will delve into this broader interest via a honing in on the following subthemes—Sogdian Jewelry, Heavenly Horses, and Objects as Iconographic Crossroads—each of which will focus on archeological and/or art historical Sogdian objects excavated or had once resided in China.
As an undergrad, I’ve taken various art history classes and have always been fascinated by ancient jewelry—particularly Hellenistic and Islamic jewelry. This project provides a chance to discover the cultural, aesthetic, and industrial significance of Sogdian Jewelry in China and the ‘Silk Road’ at large. With my chosen objects for this theme, I will expand upon the precious stone and lapis lazuli industries as well as the influence of Sogdian accessories on Chinese culture and fashionware.
I will also choose two objects that speak to the cultural and political importance of Central Asian horses and horsemen in China, the concept and iconography of ‘heavenly horses’, as well as the Shi family’s horse breeding, training, and trading legacy.
Lastly, Objects as Iconographic Crossroads explore the symbolic and iconographic inconsistencies of Sogdian art-historical works found in China. For example, the panels of the Miho couch visually depict funerary rites only previously read about in Zoroastrian texts. While at the same time, however, they depict practices that strictly go against Zoroastrian tradition (i.e., burying of the deceased, wounding of faces, emotional mourning). Additionally, the Miho funerary couch panels allude to Indian and Byzantine iconography and aesthetic motifs—both of which my chosen objects will illustrate.
My preliminary list of bibliographic sources is as follows:
Étienne de la Vaissière, Sogdian Traders: A History, trans. James Ward (Leiden: Brill, 2005),
Chapter 3, 5, and 7.2 “The Horses of the Ordos: The Shi Families: sabao, Translators and Horse Breeders
Frantz Grenet, “Religious Diversity among Sogdian Merchants in Sixth-century China:
Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, and Hinduism,”Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27/2 (2007): 463-478.
Julano, Annette L., Judith A. Lerner, and Michael Alram. 2001. “Monks and Merchants : Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China Gansu and Ningxia 4th-7th Century.” Harry N. Abrams with the Asia Society.
Lerner, Judith. “Zoroastrian Funerary Beliefs and Practices Known from the Sino-Sogdian
Tombs in China.” The Silk Road 9 (2011): 18-25.
“Lin Ying – Sogdian and Imitations of Byzantine Gold Coin Unearthed in the Heartland of China – Transoxiana Eran Ud Aneran.” 2016. Accessed February 26. http://www.transoxiana.org/Eran/Articles/lin_ying.html.
“Types and Forms of Ancient Jewelry from Central Asia – Neva – Transoxiana 10.” 2016. Accessed February 26. http://www.transoxiana.com.ar/0110/neva-jewelry.html.
“The Impact of the Horse and Silk Trade on the Economies of T’ang China and the Uighur Empire: On the Importance of International Commerce in the Early Middle Ages on JSTOR.” 2016. Accessed February 26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3632244?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.