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

  • Published : 2018.12.15

Abstract

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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).

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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).

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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