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The Caves of One Thousand Buddhas. Russian Expeditions along the Silk Route. On the Occasion of 190 Years of the Asiatic Museum. Exhibition Catalogue. St Petersburg, The State Hermitage Publishers 2008.


The Caves of One Thousand Buddhas. Russian Expeditions along the Silk Route exhibition is dedicated to 190 years of the Asiatic Museum, the first specialized institution for Oriental studies in the world (now, The Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences). The Museum was established in 1818 in St. Petersburg, specially for the keeping of and research into Oriental books and manuscripts, which were in the centre of scholars' interests in the 19th century. An important source in the formation of the Museum collection that grew considerably in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was numerous Russian expeditions organized by the Academy of Sciences, the Imperial Geographic Society and the Russian General Headquarters, for the exploration of the vast Central Asian territories. The latter, known in Russia as East Turkestan, became part of China in the eighteenth century (now, Xinjiang-Uygur autonomous region).

In the ancient and medieval times, a caravan route went across the deserts and oases of these immense territories. In 1877, the German geographer Karl von Richthofen called it the 'Great Silk Route'. It started near the walls of northwestern China, went across the deserts and oases of East Turkestan, via Pamir passes into Iran and Central Asia, and then farther west. In addition to being used for the East - West trade, this caravan route served as an important conductor of various cultural values, religious beliefs, writing, and artistic traditions.

The Russian expeditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the first to reveal to the world the traces of extinct peoples and civilizations, as well as the specimens of written cultures hitherto unknown. This, in turn, led to a sensational discovery of some dead languages and, through them, races and states long forgotten. Owing to the materials the expeditions brought from the Caves of One Thousand Buddhas, which they had discovered in the abandoned temples and cities lost in the sands, the almost two thousand years' history and the culture of the multilingual and ethnically heterogeneous region were reconstructed step by step. Hundreds of manuscripts and printed texts, as well as murals, silk, canvas and paper icons, and sculptures were delivered to Russia. The manuscripts and xylographs were given to the Asiatic Museum; the objects of art were kept in the Museum of Anthropology until the early 1930s, to be transferred to the Hermitage thereafter.

Besides the Russian expeditions, numerous expeditions from many countries in Europe and Asia came to explore those regions. Manuscripts, paintings and sculptures, as well as archaeological materials, documents, photographs and tracings, relating to the finds in the areas along the Silk Route, make up huge collections preserved in the British Museum and the British Library, The Guimet Museum (Paris), Museum of Indian Art (Berlin), the National Museums of Tokyo and Seoul, and many other museums of lesser significance.

It so happened that after World War II, a part of the German collection of the expedition of the renowned explorer of Central Asia, Albert Griinwedel, found itself in the Soviet Union. Some of the items of this collection are in the Hermitage today.

The murals, sculptures and archaeological finds from Central Asia are on permanent display in the rooms of the Hermitage Oriental Department. But the expedition documents, photographs, watercolours after and tracings of murals, plans, and maps - all of tremendous interest - have never been shown to the public. Nor have the priceless manuscripts.

Now, two most important cultural institutions of St. Petersburg, the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts and the State Hermitage Museum, have united their effort to show to the public, practically for the first time, materials characterizing en bloc this immense Central Asian region, its culture and art. The spectators will be able to see the wealth and variety of the wonderful collections accumulated by outstanding Russian scholars, travellers and diplomats, e. g. Dmitry Klementz, Pyotr Kozlov, Nikolay Krotkov, Nikolay Petrovsky, Sergey Oldenburg, Vasily Radloff, etc. The exhibits, some of them truly unique, representing a single extant manuscript or painting, from Khotan, Kucha, Karashar, Turfan, Dunhuang and Khara-Khoto, will tell about extinct races and forgotten states, their cultures having been formed under the influence of the world around them, viz. India and Iran, Tibet and China. The exhibition includes several murals from the German collection, restored at the Hermitage, which have supplied certain subjects to the Hermitage painting collection, otherwise incomplete, thus giving a better idea of the cultures of the Silk Route oases.

Organizing Board

Dr M.B.Piotrovsky, head of the State Hermitage,

Dr I.F.Popova, head of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Dr G.V.Vilinbakhov

Dr V.Y.Matveev

Dr N.V.Kozlova

Conception by Dr I.F.Popova

Curator of the exhibition and the editor of the catalogue O.P.Deshpande

Authors: N.G.Ptchelin, M.L.Rudova, K.F.Samosyuk, Y.I.Yelikhina (all from the State Hermitage); A.A.Kolosova, E.I.Kychanov, I.F.Popova, L.Y.Tugusheva, M.I.Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya, A.V.Zorin (all fro the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts)

Catalogue entries prepared by the IOM's researhcers edited by I.O.Volkova


The State Hermitage - P.S.Demidov, Y.A.Molodkovets, V.S.Terebenin, L.G.Heifets

The Institute of Oriental Manuscripts - S.L.Shevelchinskaya


Содержание, Пояснение к каталогу; Пиотровский М.Б., Попова И.Ф. «Вторая буддийская выставка»; Попова И.Ф., Самосюк К.Ф. «О коллекциях и выставке»; Сводная таблица хронологии экспедиций, Summary, Аннотация [size of the file — 7,9 Мб]


Buddhist art
Buddhist texts
Eastern Turkestan
Russian explorers

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