The Journey to the East: The Motif of Grapes and Grapevines along the Silk Roads

  • Published : 2018.12.15


This paper is an art historical attempt to discuss the transfer and transmission of a certain visual idiom along the Silk Roads and to show the multi-dimensionality of the trans-regional, trans-cultural movement. The motifs of grapes and grapevines are discussed here for this purpose, including the grape-and-vine motif mixed with other animated figures and plants. A special emphasis is on China and its reception, but regional varieties within East Asia are also discussed. The motif is one of the most longstanding and versatile visual idioms, widely distributed along the regions of the Silk Roads. This deceptively familiar motif came to China, where grapes and viticulture were introduced far later than the West. The West developed various symbolisms ranging from manic revelry and heavenly unity with mystic beings, to royalty and power in different cultures. In China, this visual idiom was eagerly received in association with something exotic and re-interpreted in the context of Chinese culture. Without active viticulture, the motif transformed itself into beautiful design patterns and space fillers in China and East Asia. The natural appeal of jewel-like grapes acquired new meanings of fertility and happiness in the traditional East Asian cultural context. To see the cultural effect of viticulture on the visualization of this motif, the Islamic reception of the motif is briefly touched upon when countries to the West of China (서역 西域) were fully Islamized and heavily affected by the prohibition of alcoholic drinking.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0001.png 이미지

Fig. 1) Chalice (and its detail). Sardonyx cup with gilded silver mounting with various precious stones, 2nd-1st century BCE. Mounted in early 12th century CE, Alexandria, H 18, D 12, D (base) 11. Widener Collection.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0002.png 이미지

Fig. 2) Sandstone panel with grapevine. New Kingdom, Amarna Period (reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 BCE). Probably from Middle Egypt, Hermopolis (Ashmunein; Khemenu), H 23, W 42. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0003.png 이미지

Fig. 3b) The detail of “the banquet scene” of Fig 3a.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0004.png 이미지

Fig. 5) “Treading of grapes.” Mosaic in the Amphitheatre. Roman (2 CE) Mérida (Unesco World Heritage List, 1993), Badajoz Province, Extremadura, Spain. Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas of Wine (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2013), 10.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0005.png 이미지

Fig. 6) Statue of Dionysus found in Italy. 2nd century CE (arms and legs were heavily restored in the 18th century). Marble, H 208. Louvre Museum Ma 87 (MR 107, Richelieu Collection).

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0006.png 이미지

Fig. 11) Han brick relief of feasting and drinking. Zhiyan Li, Chinese Ceramics (New York & London: Yale University Press, 2010), 133.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0007.png 이미지

Fig. 13) Ewer with dancing females within arcades. Sasanian, ca. 6th–7th century CE. Silver, mercury gilding, H. 34 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (67.10a, b).

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0008.png 이미지

Fig. 16) Parcel-gilt silver box and cover. 7th -8th century, Tang. H. 8. Eskenazi, Early Chinese Metalwork in Gold and Silver (London: Eskenazi, 2011), 33.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0009.png 이미지

Fig. 18) Black-glazed wine jar (known as “chicken-leg jar”) and its shoulder with Chinese characters of “wine jar”(detail). Yuan dynasty, H. 43, D. 4.4 (mouth), 8.5 (base). Inner Mongolia. Annie Chow and Wee-Wan Tang, eds., The Silk Road in Inner Mongolia (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007), 173.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0011.png 이미지

Fig. 19) Celadon with sanggam and copper oxide decoration. H. 34.5, Widest dia. 14.4. Goryeo. National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0012.png 이미지

Fig. 20) Detail of a Chinese blue-and-white dish, painted bunches of grapes, 1403-24. D. 41cm. British Museum, London.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0013.png 이미지

Fig. 22) “Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness,” folio from the Divan of Hafiz, Sultan Muhammad (active first half 16th century), ca. 1531–33. Attributed to Iran, Tabriz. H 28.9, W 18.1. The Metropolitan Museum, New York.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0014.png 이미지

Fig. 23) Fritware painted under the glaze. Dish with Vine. Uzbekistan, probably Samarqand 1400-50. Victoria and Albert Museum (C. 206-1984), London.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0015.png 이미지

Fig. 24) Underglazed tile with grapes and vine leaves. Damascus, Syria, late 16th century, Ottoman period. H 25.5, W 26.5, D 2. Harvard Art Museum (1985.279).

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0016.png 이미지

Map 1) Principal areas of the Old World where viniculture began10

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0017.png 이미지

Map 2) The location of Palmyra in modern-day Syria, Google Maps

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0018.png 이미지

Fig. 3a) Gypsum wall panel of “the Banquet Scene.” Neo-Assyrian (654 -635 BCE), Kouyunjik (Nineveh), Iraq. L 58.2, W 139.7, D 15.24. British Museum, London.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0019.png 이미지

Fig. 4) Vaso Magico (magic vase) Terracotta, 9th -5th century BCE, Pompeii, H 35 D 14.2 (base), 30 (mouth). Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali, Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei, IBM, Rediscovering Pompeii: Exhibition by IBM-ITALIA, New York City, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, July 12-September 15, 1990 (L’Erma di Bretscheider, 1990),146, plate 12.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0020.png 이미지

Fig. 7). “The Great Dish” from the Mildenhall treasure. 4th century CE, Roman Britain. Suffolk, D 60.5. British Museum, London.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0021.png 이미지

Fig. 8a) Architectural decoration with grape motif. Palmyra Sculpture, plate 27.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0022.png 이미지

Fig. 8b) Funerary relief of Aqmat with grape earrings. Japan Exhibition of Syria, plate 222.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0023.png 이미지

Fig 9). Textile ornament (illustration), Palmyra. Andreas Schmidt-Colinet et al., Die Textilien aus Palmyra: Neue und Alte Funde, 47.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0024.png 이미지

Fig. 10a) Silver vase strainer. Late Sasanian, 6th century CE. British Museum, London.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0025.png 이미지

Fig. 10b) “The triumph of Dionysos,” silver dish. Sasainan, 3rd Century CE. British Museum, London.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0026.png 이미지

Fig. 12) Detail of halo in mandorla of a Bodhisattva outside Cave XVI at Longmen. End of the fifth century. Susan Bush, “Floral Motifs and Vine Scrolls in Chinese Art of the Late Fifth to Early Sixth Centuries AD,” fig. 31.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0027.png 이미지

Fig. 14) Glazed Earthenware of a Central Asian man (Sogdian) with wine flask. Northern dynasties (304-439), H 9.4. Unearthed in 1979 in Caochangpo, southern suburbs of Xi’an, Xi’an Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Jian Li, ed., The Glory of the Silk Road: Art from Ancient China (Dayton: The Dayton Art Institute, 2003), Plate 81.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0028.png 이미지

Fig. 15a) “Wine making,” line drawing copy of a panel. Sarcophagus (from the tomb of Yu Hong dated 592), Sui dynasty. H. 96. Shanxi Museum. James C. Y. Watt et al, China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 220 - 750 AD, 277.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0029.png 이미지

Fig. 15b) “The Banquet scene,” funerary bed (attributed), from Anyang in Henan province or from the vicinity of Zhangdefu in Hebei near the Shanxi border. Dark grey limestone. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0030.png 이미지

Fig. 17) Mirror with “lion and grape.” D 15.2cm, Tang. Private collection.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0031.png 이미지

Fig. 21a) Sake Flask, lacauer, Japan. Muromachi Period, 16th century. Cleveland Museum of Art.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0032.png 이미지

Fig. 21b) Porcelain vase, Joseon. H 53.3 cm, D (mouth) 19 cm, D (bowl) 43.3 cm, D (base) 18.6 cm. Ewha Women’s University Museum, Seoul.

E1SRAQ_2018_v3n2_107_f0033.png 이미지

Fig. 21c) Underglazed five-color porcelain vase (the detail). Second year of Emperor Xuantong reign, late Qing. H. 41.5, D. 11 (mouth), 12.8 (base). Hunan Provincial Museum.


  1. Allan, James. Islamic Ceramics. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1991.
  2. Allchin, F. R. "India: The Ancient Home of Distillation?" Man 14, no. 1 (1979): 55-63.
  3. Ban, Gu. Qian Han shu: The History of the Former Han Dynasty, Vol. 2. Translated by Homer H. Dubs. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1944.
  4. Bourke, Stephen. The Middle East: The Cradle of Civilization Revealed. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 2008.
  5. Bunker, Emma C. "Gold in the Ancient Chinese World: A Cultural Puzzle." Artibus Asiae 53, no. 1/2 (1993): 27-50.
  6. Burn, Lucilla. Greek and Roman Art. London, British Museum, 1991.
  7. Bush, Susan. "Floral Motifs and Vine Scrolls in Chinese Art of the Late Fifth to Early Sixth Centuries AD." Artibus Asiae 38, no. 1 (1976): 49-83.
  8. Cammann, Schuyler. "The Lion and Grape Patterns on Chinese Bronze Mirrors." Artibus Asiae 16, no. 4 (1953): 265-291.
  9. Carswell, John. Iznik Pottery. London: British Museum, 1998.
  10. Chang, K. C. "Ancient China." In Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives, edited by K.C. Chang, 23-52. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
  11. Chow, Annie, and Wee-Wan Tang. The Silk Road in Inner Mongolia. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007.
  12. Deuchler, Martina. The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1992.
  13. Distelberger, Rudolf, Alison Luchs, Philippe Verdier, and Timothy H. Wilson. Western Decorative Arts. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1993.
  14. Eskenazi. Early Chinese Metalwork in Gold and Silver; Works of Art of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. London: Eskenazi, 2011.
  15. Ettinghausen, Richard. From Byzantium to Sasanian Iran and the Islamic World. Leiden: Brill, 1972.
  16. Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and M. Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
  17. Flood, Finbarr B. The Great Mosque of Damascus: Studies on the Makings of an Umayyad Visual Culture. Leiden: Brill, 2001.
  18. Franck, Irene M., and David M. Brownstone. The Silk Road: A History. New York: Facts on File, 1986.
  19. Freeman, Michael. "Sung." In Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives, edited by K. C. Chang, 141-192. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
  20. Gombrich, E. H. The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art. Oxford: Phaidon, 1984.
  21. Gunter, Ann C., and Paul Jett. Ancient Iranian Metalwork in the A M Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington: Smithsonian Institute, 1992.
  22. Hames, Gina. Alcohol in World History. London: Routledge, 2012.
  23. Higuchi, Takayasu, and Kiyohide Saito. Tomb F, Tomb of BWLH and BWRP: Southeast Necropolis Palmyra, Syria. Nara: Research Center for Silk Roadology, 2001.
  24. Hill, D. R. "Physics and Mechanics: Civil and Hydraulic Engineering Industrial Process and Manufacturing, and Craft Activities." In History of Civilizations of Central Asia, edited by C. E. Bosworth and M. S. Asimov, 249-274. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 2000.
  25. Hourani, George F. Arab Seafaring: In the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1951.
  26. Jiang, Qiqi. "Tang Sancai." PhD diss., University of Oxford, 2009.
  27. Johnson, Hugh. Vintage: The Story of Wine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  28. Johnson, Hugh and Jancis Robinson. The World Atlas of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2013.
  29. Knechtges, David R. "A Literary Feast: Food in Early Chinese Literature." Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no. 1 (1986): 49-63.
  30. Knechtges, David R. "Gradually Entering the Realm of Delight: Food and Drink in Early Medieval China." Journal of the American Oriental Society 117, no. 2 (1997): 229-239.
  31. Laufer, Berthold. Sine Iranica. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1919.
  32. Lee, Sungwoo. History of Food in Korea. Seoul: Kyomun-sa, 1994.
  33. Lewis, Bernard. The Middle East: 2000 Years of the History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2000.
  34. Li, Jian, ed. The Glory of the Silk Road: Art from Ancient China. Dayton: The Dayton Art Institute, 2003.
  35. Li, Zhiyan. Chinese Ceramics. New York: Yale University Press, 2010.
  36. Liu, Xinru. "Viticulture and Viniculture in the Turfan Region." The Silk Road 3, no. 1 (2005): 23-27.
  37. Maenchen-Helfen, Otto. "From China to Palmyra." The Art Bulletin 25, no. 4 (December 1943): 358-362.
  38. Mallory, J. P., and Victor H. Mair. The Tarim Mummies. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.
  39. McGovern, Patrick E. Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  40. McGovern, Patrick E., Juzhong Zhang, Jigen Tang, Zhiqing Zhang, Gretchen R. Hall, Robert A. Moreau, Alberto Nunez, Eric D. Butrym, Michael P. Richards, Chen-shan Wang, Guangsheng Cheng, Zhijun Zhao, and Changsui Wang. "Fermented Beverages of Preand Proto-Historic China." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101, no. 51 (2004): 17593-17598.
  41. Melikian-Chirvani, A. S. "Iranian Silver and Its Influence in T'ang China." In Pottery and Metal in T'ang China, edited by W. Watson, 12-18. London: Percival David Foundation, 1977.
  42. Melikian-Chirvani, A. S. "Iran to Tibet." In Islam and Tibet: Interaction along the Musk Routes, edited by Anna Akasoy, Charles Burnett, and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, 89-115. Burlington: Ashgate, 2011.
  43. Michaelson, Carol. Gilded Dragons. London: British Museum, 1999.
  44. Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali, Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei, IBM. Rediscovering Pompeii: Exhibition by IBM-ITALIA, New York City, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, July12-September 15, 1990. L'erma di Bretscheider, 1990.
  45. Moriyasu, Takao. A Study on the History of Uighur Manichaeism. Osaka: Osaka Daigaku Bungakubu, 1991.
  46. Painter, K. S. The Mildenhall Treasure. London: British Museum, 1977.
  47. Pierson, Stacey. Designs as Signs: Decoration and Chinese Ceramics. London: Percival David Foundation, 2001.
  48. Rawson, Jessica. Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon. London: British Museum, 1984.
  49. Riegl, Alois. Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts. Translated by Jacqueline E. Jung. New York: Zone Books, 2004.
  50. Rowland, Benjamin. "The Vine-Scroll in Gandhara." Artibus Asiae 19, no. 3/4 (1956): 353-361.
  51. Scaglia, Gustina. "Central Asians on a Northern Ch'i Gate Shrine." Artibus Asiae 21, no. 1 (1958): 9-28.
  52. Schafer, Edward. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.
  53. Schmidt-Colinet, Andrea, Annemarie Stauffer, Khalid Asad, and H. Bohmer. Die Textilien aus Palmyra: Neue und Alte Funde. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern, 2000.
  54. Shepherd, Dorothy G. "Iran between East and West." In East-West in Art: Patterns of Cultural and Aesthetic Relationships, edited by Theodore Bowie, 84-105. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966.
  55. Sima, Qian. Shi Ji. Beijing: Guo li Beiping yan jiu yuan shi xue yan jiu hui, 1936.
  56. Sima, Qian. Records of the Grand Historian of China. Han Dynasty, Vol. II. Translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  57. Simpson, St. John. "The Royal Table." In Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia, edited by John Curtis and Nigel Tallis, 104-111. London: British Museum, 2005.
  58. Sun, Seunghye. The Lure of Painted Poetry. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2011.
  59. Tanabe, Katsumi. Sculptures of Palmyra. Tokyo: Ancient Orient Museum, 1986.
  60. The Secret History of the Mongols. Translated by Won-Su Yoo. Seoul: Sakyejul, 2004.
  61. Toynbee, J. M. C., and J. B. Ward Perkins. "Peopled Scrolls: A Hellenistic Motif in Imperial Art." Papers of the British School at Rome 18 (1950): 1-43.
  62. Wang, Rensheng. Culinary History of China. Translated by Yong-ha Ju. Seoul: Minumsa, 2004.
  63. Watson, William. The Arts of China to AD 900. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
  64. Watt, James C. Y. China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 220-750 AD. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004.
  65. Wulkan, Reba. "The Grape and the Vine: A Motif in Contemporary Jewish Textiles." Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings 217 (1998): 369-377.
  66. Xuanzang. The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions by the Tripitaka-Master Xuanzang under Imperial Order. Translated by Rongxi Li. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation & Research, 1996.
  67. Yang, Xiaoneng, ed. New Perspectives on China's Past - Chinese Archaeology in the Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
  68. Yarshater, Ehsan. "The Theme of Wine-Drinking and the Concept of the Beloved in Early Persian Poetry." Studia Islamica 13 (1960): 43-53.
  69. Yarshater, Ehsan. "IRAN ii. IRANIAN HISTORY (1) Pre-Islamic Times." Encyclopaedia Iranica, XIII/2, 212-224 and XIII/3, 225. (accessed December 30, 2012).
  70. Yi, Kyu-bo. "Tongjaegi (通齋記)," Dongmunseon (東文選, Anthology of Eastern Poetry), Book 66, Institute for the Translation of Korean Classics,
  71. Young, Gary. Rome's Eastern Trade, International Commerce and Imperial Policy. London: Routledge, 2001.