Lilla Russell-Smith: Who or What Determines the Formation of Regional Arts in the Medieval Period: Tracing Cultural Interaction on the Silk Road in the 10th-12th Centuries


The Eastern Silk Roads (today in Xinjiang and Gansu in China) acted as transcultural links from the earliest times according to recent archaeological excavations. Later contacts reached even as far as Rome or the Byzantine Empire. This is well known through looking at trade goods and objects that ended up far away from where they were made, or by observing stylistic influences. Equally interesting is to look at the interaction between the many regional centres in the area itself. Each oasis had its own unique combination of religions, languages, artistic influences brought from far and developed locally. Even though much excavated material from the early medieval period is fragmentary, our understanding of the culture of this area is becoming much clearer in recent years, thanks to international team-work, digitisation and new excavations in China. Berlin has one of the best collections in the world to research the languages, religions and art of this region, with manuscripts in over 20 languages and scripts. Religions to be discussed will include Buddhism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, Eastern (Nestorian) Christianity, and Islam. The art and religions developed as a result of interaction on the Silk Road influenced the formation of art and religions further afield in China, Japan and Korea.

The lecture will focus on the 10th-12th centuries, a period when China was divided after the fall of the Tang Dynasty and before the rise of the Yuan Dynasty. In this period the interaction of regional centres (Chinese in Dunhuang and beyond, Turkic Uygurs, Iranians in Khotan, Tibetans, Tanguts etc) defined the cultural scenery. Traces of these spectacular regional cultures will be investigated for clues to understand more about the development of medieval art in this region.

Lilla Russell-Smith studied Chinese language and Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (PhD 2001), her dissertation was published as 'Uygur Patronage in Dunhuang: Regional Art Centres on the Northern Silk Road in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries' (Brill, 2005). She co-founded the Circle of Inner Asian Art at SOAS (1995) and has been co-editor of the 'Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology' (2006-today). She coordinated the digitisation of the paintings from Dunhuang in the Stein Collection at the British Museum and catalogued the historical photo collection of Aurel Stein at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest as part of a British-Hungarian project (vol. 1: 2002, vol. 2: 2007). Since 2007 she has been Curator for Central Asian Art at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

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