- Blue Hall, Pendjikent, first half of the 8th century
(item #49 or #348)
Two of our items are from the so-called ‘Blue Hall’: the Varaksha room (item #348) or the Rustam cycle (item #49), and I am still hesitating between the two. In relation to my thematic essay on the trade in craft materials, I would like to look closer at lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone mined in Afghanistan and employed extensively as a pigment for the blue backgrounds of the wall paintings. Questions of subject matter and excavation context will also be addressed.
- Red Hall, Varaksha, late 7th – early 8th century
Also in relation to the thematic essay on trade in craft materials, I will investigate the origin of the red, yellow and blue pigments used for the background and figures of the wall paintings. The Red Hall paintings are also peculiar in having been repainted shortly after their first completion, and have a peculiar subject matter drawing heavily from Indian iconography. I will explore connections between these issues and the political situation of the palace’s patrons.
- Cup with Goats, Sogdiana, 8th century
From the description of this item, we can suppose that it was made in Sogdiana for the Türk. Its roundels and incisions are characteristic of Sogdian metalwork, while the fact that it was discovered at the mouth of the river Don, near the Sea of Azov (near Crimea), shows that it travelled along the steppe. This cup has a traditional Türk form and motifs, elements which would have appealed to the Sogdian’s northern neighbors. It is therefore likely that this cup was intended as a tribute item, which will link to my essay on tribute goods and diplomatic relationships of the Sogdians.
- Tribute bearers, China, Attributed to Ren Bowen (1254-1327); late Yuan dynasty, approx. 1320-1370
Another recipient of Sogdian tribute goods was China. In return for Tang military protection, Sogdian emissaries offered horses and other precious items to Chinese rulers. Although this diplomatic custom was central during the Tang dynasty, few paintings from that period survive. This scroll was painted in the Yuan period (1280-1368), which also saw a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas across Central Asia, and shows formulaic representations of Central Asian emissaries bringing horses, incense burners and sculptures, thus testifying to the endurance of tributary relationships in Asia.[Link to Detail of a Sogdian mural depicting members of the Chaghanian mission to the royal court at Samarkand (Afrasiab) (item #3)]
- Figurine from the tomb of Xianyu Tinghui, 723 CE
(item #19 or #29)
Both of these ceramic figurines were excavated from the tomb of Xianyu Tinghui, a Tang-dynasty general whose family was from Northeast China. One shows three musicians on a camel, while the other shows a seated camel bearing one Sogdian man raising his fist in the air. Since the tomb’s occupant was not Sogdian, I would like to assess the role of these figurines in his tomb. Were they simply regarded as court jesters? What other connotations made them appropriate for the tomb?
- Chinese wine cup in Sogdian shape, late 7th century
Due to its similarity with cups excavated from the hoard at Hejiacun, Xi’an, which are widely regarded as Chinese works in the style of Sogdian silver, I would suggest to treat this cup as Chinese. This would therefore place it within the trend of Chinese adoption of Sogdian decorative language in the 8th century. I will also explore the auspicious qualities of the grapevine, exotic birds and hare imagery.
- Sogdian wine cup, 7th century
Now thought to be a product of Sogdian silversmiths, this cup undoubtedly served as a model for later Chinese imitations (such as item #141). The cup’s beaded borders and thumb-rest are characteristic of Eastern Sogdian metalwork. It appears to have travelled, and was purportedly found in Luoyang, China. It would also be interesting to touch on banqueting customs of Sogdians.