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Brush and Qalam. 200 Years of the collection of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. Exhibition Catalogue. Ed. by I. F. Popova, A. D. Pritula, N. V. Yampolskaya. Saint Petersburg: The State Hermitage Publishers, 2018.


The exhibition ‘Brush and Qalam’ marks the 200th anniversary of the Asiatic Museum (the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences), one of the world’s richest collections of Oriental manuscripts. The exhibition aims to showcase the beauty of decoration as well as the variety and unique identity of different types of Oriental books from the cultural and historical perspective.

The catalogue introduces its readers to a selection of manuscripts and blockprints produced by peoples of the East, whose array of book cultures over the last two millennia spanned an area from Europe all the way to Japan. For the sake of convenience, exhibits are grouped into three big sections, each one concerned with a big region characterised by the unity of culture and history: 1) Near East and Middle East; 2) India and Central Asia; 3) Far East. Largely formal, this separation is linked not so much to geography as to the spread and movement of cultures. Thus, at different points of time, the bulk of Central Asia was dominated by different religious traditions, first Buddhism and then Islam, which gave birth to diverse book cultures, reaching back to India and the Middle East respectively. It is for that reason that the books created in this region are dealt with in two separate sections. The same applies to India of the Mughal period, which saw the bloom of the Muslim book culture, so intimately linked to the Persian one, which is described in the ‘Near East’ section.

The catalogue features 200 exhibits, among which manuscripts and blockprints from the holdings of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts as well as artefacts related to the production and use of books from the State Hermitage Museum. This relationship is interpreted as broadly as possible, embracing not only objects that are directly associated with the making and reading of books (brushes, qalams, pencases, inkwells, woodblocks), but also religious items used alongside books (icons, crosses, ornaments), visual parallels in decoration (clothes, mural fragments), objects connected with their buyers and owners (coins) and finally pieces reproducing the cultural environment of the epoch. The manuscripts from each section are put in chronological order, and the objects are grouped so as to give a better picture of the cultural and visual context within which books were made and used in the East.

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Annotation, Contents, От Азиатского Музея к Институту восточных рукописей Российской академии наук, Summary

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