Treasures from the Silk Road are revealed at the Louvre exhibition of Uzbek art

Written by Rochelle Beighton, CNN

Pages from one of the oldest Korans in existence and a painting described as Uzbekistan’s “Mona Lisa” are among the historic treasures on display at a new exhibition at the Louvre museum in Paris.

“The Splendours of Uzbekistan’s Oases” features more than 170 works that provide insight into the country’s past, including famous murals, Buddhist sculptures and everyday objects belonging to ancient civilizations.

The exhibition is co-curated by archaeologist Rocco Rante, who has been excavating since 2009 in Uzbekistan’s Bukhara Oasis. The area was once a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route, which passed through what is now Uzbekistan hundreds of years ago, linking the Mediterranean to the Far East.

The star attraction is two pages from the Katta Langar Koran, one of the world’s oldest surviving Koranic manuscripts dating to the early days of Islam. It was preserved for centuries in a mausoleum in a small mountaintop village.

“With the help and support of our Uzbek colleagues, we brought to light and restored one of the oldest Korans from the 8th century, which is a huge discovery,” Rante said.

The exhibition, created in collaboration between the Louvre Museum and the Art and Culture Development Fund of Uzbekistan, takes visitors on a political and historical journey through 1,600 years of Uzbek life, starting from the first century BC.

According to Yannick Lintz, co-curator and former director of Islamic art at the Louvre, the Silk Road is at the heart of the exhibition, which focuses on relics found along its caravan routes.

“Everybody knows that these roads were for economic exchanges between East and West, but they were also intellectual, artistic and technological roads,” Lintz said.

Lintz hopes to transport people back in time with treasures from the periods of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Amir Timur (also known as Tamerlane), who founded a vast Central Asian empire in the 14th century.

“It was important for me to show the visitors that we can have cultural, religious and artistic dialogues in this part of the world between China, India and Iran, because Uzbekistan is in the middle,” added Lintz.

Treasures brought to light

Together with experts from Uzbekistan, the Louvre carried out large-scale restoration work on many of the exhibits. Among the items to be restored was the 14th-century Door of Gūr-i Amīr, which originates from Tamerlane’s mausoleum in Samarkand, a city in southeastern Uzbekistan.

“In the door we found large iconography representing the society of Samarkand. We found details in the center of the door where the divinity is sculpted. All around you can see different figures offering something to this god,” said Rante.

Uzbek paintings were also preserved, including monumental murals of the princely residence Varakhsha dating back to the 4th century. Located in the northwestern part of the Bukhara oasis, the city of Varakhsha was once occupied by the Sogdians, an ancient people who lived on the Silk Road.

Also on display is the famous 8th-century Sogdian fresco known as the “Painting of the Ambassadors”, accompanied by a series of murals depicting the ancient city of Afrasiab. Parts of “The Painting of the Ambassadors” are missing and its meaning is only partially understood, but it is nevertheless considered a masterpiece.

“The ambassadors’ painting is a national treasure for the Uzbek people,” Lintz said. “What I call the Uzbek Mona.”

The exhibition “The Splendours of Uzbekistan’s Oases” at the Louvre Museum Paris runs until March 6, 2023.

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