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The Sogdian Paintings at Afrasyab (Old Samarkand)Concerning Chinese Subjects


Matteo Compareti
2005-09-05 23:10:28 阅读
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The Sogdian Paintings at Afrasyab (Old Samarkand)

The 7th century Sogdian paintings of the so-called “Hall of the Ambassadors” at Afrasyab have been interesting student of Central Asian art and archaeology since their discovery happened in 1965. In the last 40 years, the publication of several specific studies[1] allowed to find a solution commonly accepted by most of the scholars[2] to the general meaning of the scenes represented in the Afrasyab mural paintings. Such solution is mostly based on the observation of the same paintings and on literary texts external to proper Sogdiana since the inscriptions found at Afrasyab[3] were not enough to give a detailed meaning to the whole paintings in the “Hall of the Ambassadors”.

The Western and the Southern Walls are in fact interpreted now as correlated to the local celebration of the Iranian New Year Festival (the Nawruz). Although the paintings on the Eastern Wall were preserved in a very fragmentary state, most of the scholars identify them as a representation of Indian scenes[4]. It is not clear if also on this wall there is a celebration of an Indian festival connected to the New Year.

The scene on the Northern Wall is a very elaborated one and a probable interpretation to it was recently proposed by S. Cristoforetti and the present writer[5]. The left part of the scene on the Northern Wall is linked to the celebration of the Duanwu jie (端午节) performed personally by the Chinese Empress Wu Zetian (690-705) and her attendants. In Gregorian calendrical terms, the Duanwu Festival falls between May and June, that is to say around the Summer Solstice. In 7th century Sogdiana also the Nawruz was celebrated around the Summer Solstice. The Sogdians probably represented the Duanwu jie on the Northern Wall at Afrasyab because during the 7th century this festival fell around the same period of their Nawruz and because the Chinese themselves considered the Duanwu jie (and, in some way, they still consider it) as much important as their own New Year festivity. In few words, in the Middle Kingdom the New Year Festival and the Duanwu jie were interchangeable as importance. This point is clearly expressed by the auspicious folk pictures (Nianhua) exchanged in China during the New Year in modern times: among the scenes reproduced on the folk pictures, the usual auspicious children attired in Chinese garments are performing also the Duanwu jie[6].

The right part of the scene on the Northern Wall at Afrasyab most likely represents the celebration of an ancient aspect of the Chinese New Year Festival performed by the Tang Emperor Gaozong (649-683). His figure can be discerned very easily since he is represented bigger in size than his attendants. But, even if one should consider the Iranian or, better still, the Turco-Iranian environment for such a scene, actually, the representation of this hunt mirrors a habit fitting almost perfectly with Chinese rituals as well. In a poetic composition written by Zhang Heng (78-139), commonly known as the “Western Metropolis Rhapsody” (Xixuan fu), it is clearly reported that during the celebration of a winter festivity the emperor had to perform an elaborated ritual which included also a hunt[7]. The imperial hunt took place in a specific part of the park enclosed within a barricade prepared as to not allow the animals to escape. The “Plume Hunt Rhapsody” (Yulie fu) – also known as the “Barricade Hunt Rhapsody” (Jiaolie fu) – is another source compiled by Yang Xiong (53 BC-18 AD), a Chinese poet whose talent was so highly esteemed at court to the point that the same emperor Chengdi (32-7 BC) commissioned him to celebrate an imperial hunt which actually was performed by the Han emperor together with some barbarian (hu) guests at the Shanglin Park in the winter of 10 BC (most likely in January[8]) in poem. The accomplishment of a winter imperial hunt very similar to the one celebrated in Zhang Heng’s rhapsody had been already described by the famous author Ban Gu (32-92) in the “Western Capital Rhapsody” (Xijing Fu)[9], but even before Sima Zhangqing (179-117 BC) did the same in his poem “Rhapsody on the Imperial Park” (Shanglin fu)[10].

All these sources are dated to the Han epoch and it cannot be excluded that such observance was still performed during the early Tang period even if it is not possible to demonstrate such idea in a definitive way. However, it is exactly this moment of the celebration the one which is represented at Afrasyab[11]. The key for the correct identification of the painting on the Northern Wall at Afrasyab, in fact, is represented by the hunt itself. In modern China no hunting is performed during the celebrations of the New Year and for this reason the painting of the Northern Wall at Afrasyab could not have been interpreted correctly in the past. As already observed above, according to Chinese sources several sacrifices were very commonly performed by the Emperor himself during important festivals in ancient times in order to have prosperity or just a lucky year and their memory is still preserved today. Some of these sacrifices were performed as an Imperial hunt[12]. The Sogdians were definitely attracted by the hunt which was a martial attitude particularly indicated for an aristocrat like the Chinese Emperor and one of the most usual habits of the Iranian nobles as well[13]. Furthermore, it is well known that Taizong (630-649) loved to hunt, and for this reason he was also criticized by his Chinese ministers who were scandalized by the barbaric attitude of their sovereign[14].

It is also more probable that the Sogdian artist (or artists) who depicted the scenes at Afrasyab just reproduced the Chinese celebrations on the bases of oral or written descriptions or, most likely, on the bases of one or more painted scrolls imported from the Middle Kingdom. The Chinese sources mention Yan Liben (end of the 6th century-673) among the most famous painters active at the Tang court. Most of his masterpieces have been lost, but a scroll depicting thirteen Chinese emperors from the Han to the Tang periods is today kept in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Every Chinese Emperor is represented larger in size than his attendants or other people around him. It is not possible to say if the scroll was originally comprised of more portraits, nor if the artist copied the actual figure of every single emperor or if he invented them[15]. In the former hypothesis it is obvious to consider that Yan Liben had at his disposal some ancient portraits, probably dated to the same Han period and it is not possible to exclude that one or more Sogdian artists could have seen them even if such observation is not completely convincing. In fact, in Han sources the emperor is considered to have hunted from his chariot, while at Afrasyab he is riding a horse as Taizong probably did. Then, as already observed, Gaozong tried to avoid imperial hunts. So, if the Sogdian artist (or the team of artists) at Afrasyab copied a Chinese scroll, it is more probable that such scroll was a portrait of Taizong who was fond of imperial hunts and whose “barbaric” behavior scandalized his ministers. This point does not prove, however, that the Sogdians wanted to represent exactly a specific Chinese Emperor since in Tang sources it was Gaozong to recognize Varkhuman as governor of Sogdiana. So, the supposed Chinese original could be considered preceding Gaozong’s reign, but only by a few years.

The hypothesis of a Chinese original work of art at the base of the Afrasyab paintings is furthermore supported by the existence of Han funerary reliefs (mostly dated to 2nd century) showing processions of chariots and battles of the Chinese army against barbarians (recognizable by their garments and pointed caps) on a bridge while in the water below other people are peacefully fishing, and in some cases, the ladies are enjoying boat races. Such funerary reliefs were found at Yi’nan, Dongwan, Feicheng, and Cangshan (Shandong province), and at Suining (Jiangsu province)[16]. The commentators of the scenes represented in the reliefs could not explain the apparent incongruence between the violence of the representation on the bridge and the relaxed atmosphere of the aquatic scenes[17]. It is highly probable that the scenes of fighting against the barbarians were actually just an act which took place during the imperial hunts. As already observed, the rhapsodies mentioned above record that the barbarians participated at the hunts. Then, during the periods of peace, the Chinese army was expected to exercise and to take part in the great winter hunt[18].

The scene represented in one relief from the west wall of the main chamber of the tomb recovered at Cangshan appears particularly interesting because it is accompanied by an inscription which describes what is actually happening[19]. In this panel a noble procession of chariots and riders are crossing a bridge while below two ladies are on a boat in the middle of a fishing crew exactly as reported in the rhapsodies. The scene appears peaceful but a rider dressed as a barbarian in the higher left corner turns himself in the act of the so-called “Parthian shot” in the direction of the main parade. It is not possible to exclude that the barbarian is probably shooting at an almost indiscernible spot in the relief which could be a bird. In any case the inscription does not leave to intend that he has an unfriendly attitude towards the group. In fact, most likely, this is once more just the reproduction of an act. Moreover, the inscription mentions also the name of the river crossed by the military parade: Wei. It is worth remembering that the Wei River is also the one which flows in the northern fringes of the Shanglin Park where the imperial hunt took place in Han times[20]. The scholars who made comments on these works considered them generic funerary processions and this is in part correct because in Han China at the imperial hunts’ conclusions there was the presentation of the sacrificial meat at the ancestors’ temples or tombs[21]. Such an identification could constitute another clear parallel with the Afrasyab paintings: in this way the actions of the Chinese people on the Northern Wall would balance not only the celebration of the Nawrūz on the Western Wall but also the funerary procession on the Southern Wall.

It is quite probable that the Sogdians had several Chinese scrolls at their disposal and for this reason there is some confusion in the paintings at Afrasyab. In fact the Sogdian artists most likely confused the two Chinese festivals which comprised an imperial hunt (in the case of the autumn one the preys are explicitly defined as felines). Moreover, the painters probably confused the final part of the festivals just mentioned with the Duanwu jie because they very much resembled each other if one considers the aquatic games, and also because the Duanwu jie fell in the same period of the year when the Sogdian Nawrūz was celebrated during the 7th century. It is then worth noting that, judging from the literary texts considered in this study (all dated to a period preceding the Tang epoch), the same Chinese in some case were not completely able to recognize their own ancient festivities[22]. In this way, the Sogdian artists who wanted to represent a Chinese New Year celebration (as we can now consider likely) could have added some confusion to a situation already not completely clear for its continuous hints to a more ancient period.

 

Bibliography

 

L. I. Al’baum, Zhivopis’ Afrasyaba, Tashkent, 1975.

F. Blanchon, Arts et histoire de Chine. Vol. II, Paris, 1999.

D. Bodde, Festivals in Classical China. New Year and Other Annual Observances During the Han Dynasty 206 B.C. - A.D. 220, Princeton, 1975.

E. Chavannes, Documents sur les Tou-kiue (Turcs) Occidentaux, Paris, 1903.

M. Compareti, “Introduction to the History of Sogdiana”, The Turks. Vol. 1. Early Ages, ed. H. C. Güzel, C. C. Oğuz, O. Karatay, Ankara, 2002: 373-381.

M. Compareti, “Remarks on the Sogdian Religious Iconography in 7th Century Samarkand”: http://www.eurasianhistory.com/data/articles/a02/422.html, 2004.

M. Compareti, “A Reading of the Royal Hunt at Afrāsyāb Based on Chinese Sources”, in: Nawruz in Venice. New Perspectives on the Pre-Islamic Paintings at Afrasyab (Samarkand), eds. M. Compareti, É. De La Vaissière, Roma, 2005, forthcoming.a.

M. Compareti, “Literary Evidence for the Identification of Some Common Scenes in Han Funerary Art”, Sino-Platonic Papers, forthcoming.b.

M. Compareti, S. Cristoforetti, “Proposal for a New Interpretation of the Northern Wall of the «Hall of the Ambassadors» at Afrasyab”, in: Central Asia from the Achaemenids to the Timurids: Archaeology, History, Ethnology, Culture. Materials of an International Scientific Conference Dedicated to the Centenary of Aleksandr Markovich Belenitsky, ed. V. P. Nikonorov, St. Petersburg, forthcoming: 205-210. Online publication at www.cinaoggi.it/storia/tipica-festa-cinese.htm (in Italian).

F. Grenet, “L’Inde des astrologues sur une peinture sogdienne du VIIe siècle”, in: Religious themes and texts of pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia. Studies in Honour of Professor G. Gnoli on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, ed. C. G. Cereti, M. Maggi, E. Provasi, Wiesbaden, 2003: 123-129.

F. Grenet, “The Self Image of the Sogdians”, Paper Presented to the International Conference: The Sogdians in China, Beijing, 2004, forthcoming.

F. Grenet, M. Samibaev, “Hall of Ambassadors” in the museum of Afrasyab (Middle of the VIIth Century), Samarkand, 2002.

E. Kageyama, “a Chinese Way of Depicting Foreign Delegates Discerned in the Paintings of Afrasiab”, in: Iran. Questions et connaissances. La période ancienne, Vol. I, ed. Ph. Huyse, Paris, 2002: 313-327.

D. R. Knechtges, The Han Rhapsody. A Study of the Fu of Yang Hsiung (53 B.C.-A.D. 18), Cambridge, 1976.

D. R. Knechtges, Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature. Volume One: Rhapsodies on Metropolises and Capitals. Xiao Tong (501-531), Princeton, 1982.

D. R. Knechtges, Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature. Volume Two: Rhapsodies on Sacrifices, Hunting, Travel, Sightseeing, Palaces and Halls, Rivers and Seas, Princeton, 1987.

V. A. Livshits, Nadpisi na freskah Afrasiaba, Leningrad, 1965.

Liu Yuntao, “Funerary Reliefs of the Han Period Excavated at Dongwan, Shandong Province”, Wenwu, 3, 2005: 81-87 (in Chinese).

Liu Junxi, Gao Feng, Excavation of a Northern Wei Tomb with a Painted Coffin”, Wenwu, 12, 2004: 35-47 (in Chinese with an English summary).

G. Majtdinova, “On the Interpretation of the 7th Century Painting at Afrasyab”, Izvestija otdelenija obshchestvennih nauk Tadzhiskoj SSR, 2, 1984: 20-27.

Mao Min, “The Scene of Bathing horse at the «Hall of the Ambassadors» in Afrasyab (Samarkand): Its Iconographic Influence from China and Its Cultural Link with the Nawruz Festival”, forthcoming.

B. Marshak, “Le programme iconographique des peintures de la «Salle des Ambassadeurs» à Afrasiab (Samarkand)”, Arts Asiatiques , XLIX, 1994: 1-20.

B. I. Marshak, “Central Asian Metalwork in China”, in: China. Dawn of a Golden Age 200-750 AD, J. C. Y. Watt (curator), New Haven, London, 2004: 47-55.

M. Mode, Sogdien und die Herrscher der Welt. Türken, Sasaniden und Chinesen in Historiengemälden des 7. Jahrhunderts n.Chr. aus Alt-Samarqand, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, New York, Paris, Wien, 1993.

M. Mode, “Reading the Afrasiab Murals: Some Comments on Reconstructions and Details”,in: Nawruz in Venice. New Perspectives on the Pre-Islamic Paintings at Afrasyab (Samarkand), eds. M. Compareti, É. De La Vaissière, Roma, 2005, forthcoming.

YU. A. Motov, “The Representation of the Misteric Festival of Mihragan on the Wall-Paintings in the Palace at Afrasyab”, Istorija i arheologija Semirech’ja, Almaty, 1999: 57-81.

M. L. Rudova, “Simvolika v kitajskom iskusstve po narodnym novogodnim kartinam «njan’hua»”, Trudy Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, X, 1969: 249-266.

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Xin Lixiang, “Studies on the Chariot and Horse Procession in Han Dynasty Illustrations”, China Archaeology and Art Digest, 4, 1, 2000: 300-302.

S. A. Yatsenko, “The costume of foreign embassies and inhabitants of Samarkand on wall painting of the 7th c. in the «Hall of Ambassadors» from Afrasiab as a historical source”, Transoxiana, 8, Online publication at: www.transoxiana.com.ar/0108/yatsenko-afrasiab_costume.html , 2004.


[1] Al’baum, 1975; Majtdinova, 1984; Silvi Antonini, 1989; Mode, 1993; Marshak, 1994; Motov, 1999; Kageyama, 2002; Grenet, Samibaev, 2002; Grenet, 2003; Silvi Antonini, 2003: 172-185; Yatsenko, 2004; Compareti, Cristoforetti, forthcoming; Compareti, 2004; Grenet, forthcoming.

[2] The main disaccording hypothesis in respect to the one commonly accepted was advanced by: Mode, 1993.

[3] Livshits, 1965.

[4] Grenet, 2003.

[5] Compareti, Cristoforetti, forthcoming; Compareti, forthcoming.a.

[6] Rudova, 1969: 258-261.

[7] Knechtges, 1982: 181-241.

[8] Knechtges, 1976: 63; Knechtges, 1987: 119-245. On the barricade hunt see also: Schafer, 1968.

[9] Knechtges, 1982: 98-144.

[10] Knechtges, 1987: 73-113.

[11] For a detailed study on this topic see: Compareti, forthcoming.a.

[12] Bodde, 1975: 57, 161, 327-339, 357. On a probable connection between the Duanwu jie and a kind of hunting: Compareti, Cristoforetti, forthcoming: 206, n. 3.

[13] It should not be forgotten that during 7th century, the Tang extended their protectorate (more or less nominally) over the whole of Central Asia and Sogdiana was annexed as well: Compareti, 2002: 376-377. Between 650 and 655 Gaozong recognized Varkhuman as ruler of Sogdiana: Chavannes, 1903: 135.

[14] Wechsler, 1979: 192; Marshak, 2004: 47. The Emperor Taizong (626-649) was criticized by his ministers because of his love for hunts performed according to the habits of the Central Asians: Marshak, 2004: 47. Gaozong is normally considered in Chinese historiography a weak Emperor not adapt for hunting. As Mao Min kindly suggested to me, it could be argued that for this reason the figure of the Chinese Emperor at Afrasyab could be considered the portrait of another Emperor like Taizong, who, as just already observed above, loved imperial hunts, see: Mao, forthcoming. See also: Mode, forthcoming. So, if the royal figure at Afrasyab was copied from a painted scroll, this one could have been dated to the period of Taizong and it could be considered actually a portrait of Taizong himself. According to the sources, in his first ten years of reign Gaozong does not appear like a particularly weak Emperor even if he avoided systematically to perform the Imperial hunts as his predecessor did: Twittchett, Wechsler, 1979: 242.

[15] Sirén, 1956: 99-100.

[16] Shih, 1959; Wu, 1995: 248; Wu, 1998: 22-24; Liu, 2005. The scene of the chariot parade passing a bridge while ladies are depicted below in the water can be observed also in mural paintings in a Han period tomb in Helingol (Inner Mongolia): Blanchon, 1999: fig. 68. A Northern Wei painted wooden coffin from a tomb excavated at Zhijiabao (Shanxi province) with the reproduction of a procession, hunt scenes and acrobats dated to the 5th century could be added to this group of representations: Liu, Gao, 2004. Traces of an object which could be recognized as a boat can be observed in a part of the paintings where the coffin is particularly ruined: Liu, Gao, 2004: pls. 5, 8. If the identification with an imperial hunt (so common in Chinese funerary sphere) was proved to be correct, then the painting from Zhijiabao could be considered the latest evidence for the celebration of such festivity in the Middle Kingdom.

[17] Shih, 1959: 292-293; Wu, 1995: 248; Wu, 1998: 22-24; Xin, 2000. For a recent proposal of a probable identification on these sources: Compareti, forthcoming.b.

[18] Wechsler, 1979: 208.

[19] Wu, 1995: 244-246; Wu, 1998: 22.

[20] See for example in the Western Capital Rhapsody and in the Western Metropolis Rhapsody: Knechtges, 1982: 99, 183, 185. For Markus Mode in the Northern Wall at Afrasyab the Chinese ladies are represented in the boat while racing on a river and not on a pond: Mode, forthcoming.

[21]Knechtges, 1982: 139 L. 390.

[22] Compareti, forthcoming.a.

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