Silk Road and Beyond
The Art Institute of ChicagoThe Art Institute of Chicago  



Travel along
the Silk Road
Transfer and
of Ideas and the Arts
Global Exchange


    Delft Vase with Cover. Attributed to Greek A Factory. Dutch, 1658–1722. Anonymous gift in honor of Eloise W. Martin; Eloise W. Martin Fund.

    Silk Road Chicago is an unprecedented collaboration among the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Silk Road Project that explores the cross-cultural artistic legacy of the historic network of overland and maritime trade routes between China and the Mediterranean Sea. This collaboration occurs in the heart of Chicago, a city long renowned as a meeting place for people from all across the world.

    Silk Road Chicago will be celebrated at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 30, 2006, through October 2007. This ambitious event offers visitors a special opportunity to view cultural and artistic treasures from the museum’s vast holdings organized around the theme of the Silk Road.

    Throughout the celebration, the Art Institute will host a series of special exhibitions and present a fascinating array of performances, lectures, symposia, gallery talks, and other activities for audiences of all ages. The Art Institute will host renowned scholars, artists, and musicians, culminating in the weeklong residency of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble from April 9–21, 2007.

    We are pleased to have you join us on this incredible journey of discovery.

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    September 30, 2006–April 1, 2007
    Galleries 140–142

    Note: Some works in these galleries will change. There will be three rotations: September 30–December 3, 2006; December 9, 2006–January 28, 2007; and February 3–April 1, 2007.

    The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that extended across Asia, linking powerful civilizations such as Rome and China. Evoking images of lush desert oases and distant crossroad settlements teeming with merchants, religious pilgrims, and adventurous travelers from many regions, the Silk Road has become in our time a metaphor for cultural exchange among people of diverse societies, distant places, and different religions.

    The Silk Road and Beyond: Travel, Trade, and Transformation is an exhibition of works from the permanent collections of the Art Institute that vividly reveal cross-cultural connections. The exhibition includes a brief introduction to the technology of sericulture (the process of making silk) and to precious goods as diverse as silk, ceramics, and tulips, which were traded between Asia and Europe. Works selected were produced by artists who represent four continents and span more than 2,000 years.

    In addition to the artworks on display in Galleries 140–142, the exhibition
    continues throughout the museum, where nearly 150 artworks that demonstrate international cross-fertilization are highlighted with special labels marked with the icon on the right.
    Through their creations, these engravers, jewelers, painters, potters, print-makers, sculptors, and textile artists offer eloquent answers to the question, “What happens when strangers meet?

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    The process of making silk (sericulture) which developed in China about 5,000 years ago is illustrated by selection of 18th-century Japanese prints, including Women’s Work in Sericulture, No. 9 by Kitagawa Utamaro. An emperor's jifu is a particularly fine example of a silk garment from China. European paintings, west Asian vessels, and textiles represent and depict other commodities that were traded between the East and West. Special performances and demonstrations will take place on a specially constructed stage located near these objects.

    Contact among people of disparate cultures through travel and trade is illustrated with a range of blue-and-white ceramic wares, including a 15th-century Chinese porcelain, a 17th-century Delftware vase from the Netherlands, an 18th-century Talavera vessel from Mexico, and a 19th century painting depicting what is probably a chinese export vase. In the 17th century, the Dutch developed their own ceramic industry based on blue-and-white Chinese porcelain made for export, as seen in Vase with Cover. The central scene depicted on the side of this vase shows a mythical Chinese emperor seated among a crowded group of court officials. His hand rests idly on a globe of the world. This vase might be mistaken for Chinese porcelain, but it was made in the Netherlands.

    The use of the blue color, derived from cobalt oxide, can be traced to pottery decoration by Iraq in the 10th century. The technology then spread to China, where blue-and-white porcelain decoration was refined during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). By the 16th century, maritime trade spread Chinese export wares around the world. The Dutch began to produce their own version of blue-and-white ceramics (Delftware), and Spanish ships brought Chinese export wares to Mexico, where potters in Puebla created their own unique version (Talavera ware).

    Produced near the turn of the 16th century, a blue-and-white vessel embodies the theme of the exhibition, providing a good example of adaptation practices. The porcelain bottle was manufactured in China, probably for export to the Middle East. However, it soon made its way to England, where it was given silver mounts, including a handle, a lid, a foot, and a bird-headed spout, and was thereby transformed into a European-style wine-server. It thus serves as a particularly good example of cross-cultural conversion in function as well as appearance.

    Travel along the Silk Road
    The Silk Road extended from China through Central Asia to the Caspian and Black Seas. (Click here for a map of the Silk Road.) Bounded by mountains to the north and south, this central corridor consisted of a broad desert punctuated by oases.

    The animal most essential in crossing the overland caravan routes was the camel. Double-humped Bactrian camels from present-day Afghanistan were the primary mode of Silk Road land transport. Ideally suited for the rough, arid desert that stretched across Central Asia, camels could tolerate the cold temperatures of mountain ranges and long periods without water. Camel with Rider was created during the Tang dynasty as a burial object. This lively and colorfully glazed ceramic sculpture was crafted for a wealthy person’s tomb. Exhibiting the camel’s notorious bad temper, the animal is shown with his head thrown back and his mouth open to bray. The bearded groom is depicted with foreign facial features and wearing a central Asian or Persian coat.

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    Powerful horses played a critical role in China’s imperial desires to expand and maintain the Silk Roads. Luxurious and practical silks, whose raw material and technology of spinning and weaving were carefully guarded by Chinese craftsmen, were traded to nomadic rulers in exchange for their resilient steeds. Those rulers, in turn, exchanged Chinese silks for other goods. Through successive networks of sale and barter, Chinese silks eventually reached Rome and other centers of the Mediterranean world as early as the 2nd century A.D. Through military conquest and commercial trade, Chinese rulers later secured superior breeds of horses from Central Asia as well as China's northern and western neighbors. Immortalized in Chinese history, literature, and art, horses were vital to China's military defense and played an important role in imperial desires to expand and maintain the overland Silk Roads.

    A Chinese sculpture, Horse, is from the early 8th century, the height of the Tang dynasty. Notice how carefully the sculptor fashioned this proud and personable animal. Such realism is typical of the art of the Tang dynasty, and it also signifies the horse’s increasing prestige. This figure was made to be buried in a tomb so the deceased might continue to enjoy life’s pleasures in the afterlife. Its colorful lead glazes were applied after the form had been created with a reusable mold, with details manually applied. This semi-mass-production technique allowed artisans to keep up with the great demand for grave furnishings.

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    Transfer and Transformation of Ideas and the Arts
    Along with various goods, knowledge, techniques, cultural traditions, and religions also traversed the Silk Road. In particular, Buddhism spread across the Silk Road from India across China.

    Early Indian representations of the Buddha and his followers, reveal influence from the West. This Bodhisattva, an elegant 2nd–3rd century A.D. Buddhist sculpture from Gandhara (a region in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) depicts a man deep in meditation. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who selflessly delays his own nirvana to be a spiritual guide to others. This bodhisattva’s jewelry and rich garments indicate that he has not fully shed the material realm to achieve enlightenment and symbolize his enduring commitment to the human world. His right hand was likely raised in a mudra, or gesture of reassurance. An object in his left hand would have identified which bodhisattva he is.

    His moustache and the skirt-like garment called a dhoti are Indian features, but the sculpture also incorporates Hellenistic elements. Hellenistic art, which coalesced in the centuries following Alexander the Great's conquests in the 4th century B.C., merged Greek and local styles. The Hellenistic influence is seen here in the treatment of the fabrics and the realistic musculature of the chest.

    Mandala Box, created in the 19th century in Tibet or Nepal, is an important symbol of Buddhism. It is a symbol of the heavenly and earthly realms and the order and harmony indicative of the way Buddhists imagine the divine realm and the state of the enlightened mind. In the center, the many-armed goddess Ushnishavijaya, a Buddhist deity of long life, sits in a temple at the center of a kind of spiritual maze. Ushnishavijaya’s ushnisha—the topknot behind her crown—signifies her enlightenment. Between the outermost square and the first circle of the mandala are four majestic architectural gates that open to the cardinal directions—north, south, east, and west. The directions probably represent the progressive stages of spiritual perfection, and the eight steps that form the mandala recall Buddhism’s eight-fold path to enlightenment. The artist created this mandala in sections, using a repoussé technique, where metal is hammered from the back and then the sections are assembled.

    While the exchange of ideas and traditions influenced the production of artworks, raw goods that were traded along the Silk Road also were often used in the production of artworks. Among the commodities traded to the West from present-day Afghanistan was lapis lazuli, a brilliant blue semi precious stone often bearing golden specks. In Roman times (1st to 4th centuries A.D.), lapis lazuli was a prized gemstone, but in the Middle Ages it was also ground to a powder and used as paint. In illustrated pages from a 15th-century Flemish manuscript of a religious text, The Book of Hours lapis lazuli is used for the blue garment worn by the Virgin Mary in scenes of the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Annunciation.

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    Global Exchange
    In Jacob Ochtervelt's 17th-century painting of a Dutch interior, The Music Lesson, the man and woman are posed before large map. The seated man plays a lute, which descends from the Persian oud. The other two instruments—the violin and the viola da gamba—are European inventions. The map shows Holland’s 17 provinces as they existed in the late 1600s. In this era of the lucrative Dutch East Trading Company, the demand for sea charts and accurate maps produced an age of cartography. Although the map in this painting appears faded, original maps were intricate and richly colored. Many of them depicted the East and other foreign lands, signifying Holland’s powerful shipping trade. The young woman’s silk dress and pearls also show wealth gained from trade with the East.

    Coming to power in the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire controlled much of Asia. With the Ottoman Empire occupying the middle ground of the Silk Road, trade between the farthest eastern points of the Silk Road in China and the farthest western points in present-day Europe was forced to rely on sea routes. This dependence on maritime trade spawned the European “Age of Exploration.” European monarchies began to compete for the fastest route to China; the Portuguese went east around Africa to India, while Spain sent Christopher Columbus west, ultimately leading to the realization that the world was not flat. Columbus’s exploration of the “New World” in 1492 significantly sidetracked voyages to East Asia.

    In Seventeenth-Century Interior by Chicago-born artist Charles Dyer, a blue-and-white porcelain vase from China stands on a table covered in a Persian carpet. These objects and the many other collectibles display their owner’s worldliness and familiarity with Eastern cultures. Although the title is Seventeenth-Century Interior, Persian carpets and Chinese porcelain remained desirable commodities in the 19th century. By the 1870s, American collectors began to acquire porcelain and rugs as art objects rather than household furnishings. Dyer first worked as a diplomat in Beirut and then as an artist in Munich, where this painting was created in 1877. He also traveled extensively in the Middle East. This painting is reminiscent of Ochtervelt’s The Music Lesson, but the decorative objects in the painting—the instrument and sheet music, the rich carpet on the table and the wall, the porcelain jar with a floral design—show a setting of cosmopolitan, varied objects. In its conflation of things European and Asian, the painting recalls the centuries of exchange that had taken place along the Silk Road.

    European maritime travel, combined with the rivalry between Russia and England for control of Central Asia, ultimately led to the demise of the historical Silk Road. Industrialization put the culminating stamp on the Silk Road with the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in 1905, making caravan travel across Eurasia obsolete. Nonetheless, the exchange of traditions, heritage, cultures, religions, arts and ideas over the course of the Silk Road’s 3000-year history ensure that the legacy of the Silk Road lives on today.

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    Below are some of the many additional works exhibited in the museum galleries related to the theme of the Silk Road. They are marked the icon on the right
    and will lead visitors further on an exploration of the Silk Road as a historical fact and as a metaphor for cultural exchange. Be sure to visit the information desks to pick up listings of special programs and performances that celebrate Silk Road Chicago.

    Equestrian and Figures, late 14th/early 15th century. Mali, Bougouni; Bankoni.
    Equestrian and Figures, late 14th/early 15th century. Mali, Bougouni; Bankoni.
    Gallery 124
    Between the 8th and 17th centuries, much of present-day Gambia, Mali, Niger, and Senegal was ruled by successive empires that controlled the lucrative trade between northern and sub-Saharan Africa. Caravans took salt, copper, and manufactured goods south and exchanged them for gold and slaves. Warriors on horseback helped to expand and patrol the borders. Today the image of a mounted warrior is still a potent symbol of power in the region. This mounted rider, from the period of the Mali Empire, carries a knife strapped to his arm and a quiver on his back. He is accompanied by figures wearing bracelets, pendants, and other regalia that evoke their wealth and status.

    Designed by Lockwood de Forest. Server, c. 1880/1890.
    Designed by Lockwood de Forest. Server,
    c. 1880/1890.
    Gallery 175

    During the late 19th century, American designers’ fascination with the exotic led them to explore the art of India. On a trip to the Indian subcontinent in 1880–81, Lockwood de Forest became fascinated with traditional Indian wood carving and established his own wood and metal workshop in Ahmedabad, India to promote the native craft revival. Back in New York, he began to incorporate panels and architectural elements carved in the workshop into the furniture and interiors he was designing for the American upper classes. This serving table is typical of De Forest’s work in its application of moldings and panels carved in India onto a Western furniture form.

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    Greek. Pair of Griffin Protomes, late 7th/early 6th century B.C.

    Greek. Pair of Griffin Protomes, late 7th/early 6th century B.C.
    Gallery 155
    In the 7th century B.C., a Greek traveler to Central Asia encountered nomads, who told of ferocious griffins with feline bodies and bird heads that guarded gold. Though the story may have concocted to frighten away treasure hunters, it is not entirely fantastic; in their travels, these nomadic peoples probably came across well-preserved fossilized remains of beaked and horned dinosaurs (protoceratops) in fields strewn with gold nuggets eroded from local mountains. Admired for its protective properties, this monstrous creature entered the Greek visual repertory; here it appears in a pair of protomes (attachments) that were once fastened on the shoulder of a ceremonial vessel.

    Charles Henri Joseph Cordier (French, 1827–1905). Portrait of Saïd Abdullah of the Darfour People, 1848.

    Charles Henri Joseph Cordier (French, 1827–1905). Portrait of Saïd Abdullah of the Darfour People, 1848.
    Gallery 222
    Sculpted images of Africans were rarely shown in public galleries before the 19th century, but Cordier’s bust of Saïd Abdullah had a tremendous reception when it was displayed in the Paris Salon of 1848. The bust reflects the growing interest of the French in non-Western cultures. Works that reflected and emphasized those non-European elements (physiognomy, costume, physical environment, and customs) of their subjects came to be known as Orientalist. The topical issues of slavery and emancipation in European culture at the time stimulated particular interest in examples of Orientalist art such as this sculpture. Bronze casts of this portrait and a companion female bust were placed in the Museum of Natural History in Paris and shown at the Great Exhibition in London the 1851, where they were admired by Queen Victoria. Cordier later referred to these busts as “putting a new value into sculpture and creating the study of races, widening the scope of beauty by finding it everywhere.” They represent encounters with a variety of peoples which took place along the Silk Road and through the Middle East as a whole.

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    Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863) The Combat of Giaour and Hassan, 1826

    Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863) The Combat of Giaour and Hassan, 1826
    Gallery 221
    Although Eugène Delacroix did not visit North Africa until 1832, early on in his career he painted Romantic-Orientalist canvases, including this colorful scene inspired by a poem from Lord Byron’s Oriental Tales. Here Delacroix employed jewel-like colors to describe the shimmering, gold-braided vest and billowy fabrics, which contradict the violent action of the Christian known as Giaour (a Turkish term for non-Muslim), who avenges himself against the Muslim Hassan. Delacroix’s French audience would have been receptive to his choice of exotic costuming and weaponry. Indeed, far from accurately describing the attire of the 17th-century combatants described in Byron’s poem, Delacroix drew upon styles worn by the Turko-Eygptian Mameluke warriors during the military campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt.

    Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). Woman Before an Aquarium, 1921–1923

    Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). Woman Before an Aquarium, 1921–1923
    Gallery 242
    In 1906 Matisse visited Algeria and was deeply affected by the brilliant color he discovered there. Later in Munich he saw an important Islamic art exhibition, which fueled his interest in non-Western art, especially that of Northern Africa. From January 1912 through February 1913, Matisse stayed for periods in Morocco, attracted by the intense light that seemed to break apart forms and flatten perspective.

    Back in Paris, and later Nice in the 1920s, these experiences continued to transform Matisse’s ways of working. The haiti (pierced, arcaded textile) in the background of this painting is a clear example: it is one of the many objects the artist collected and incorporated in his works. More subtle is the visual experience of his travels, which, translated through time and memory, gives this picture its inner luminosity and sensual effect.

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    Art of the Islamic World: Unity and Diversity
    September 30, 2006–June 30, 2007
    Gallery 131A

    This exhibition features forty highlights from the Art Institute’s collection of Islamic art. The first installation, from September 30–April 2, 2007 focuses on objects from Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Persia. The second installation, from April 2–June 30, 2007, focuses on earlier Islamic art and explores its role as an intermediary between the East and West.

    Tang China and the Silk Road
    September 30, 2006–June 30, 2007
    Gallery 105
    Both overland and maritime networks of trade and cultural exchange interconnected Tang-dynasty China (A.D. 618–907) with major cities that extended west to the Mediterranean coast and east to Japan. Exhibited are burial, religious, and luxury goods displaying cross-cultural perspectives.

    The Art of Buddhism
    September 30, 2006–June 30, 2007
    Galleries 101A and 109
    The objects in Gallery 101A draw attention to the contributions of teachers and students in the spread of religion, focusing on Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet and Nepal. Gallery 109 explores Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan as artistic subject matter as well as a medium for cultural transmission.

    Icons of Divinity
    September 30, 2006–June 30, 2007
    Gallery 135
    The interactions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism in South and Southeast Asia are explored through images of religious devotion.

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    Illustration by Helen Cann from We're Riding on a Caravan written by Laurie Krebs. Copyright 2005. Published by Barefoot Books.

    Stories of the Silk Road
    August 26, 2006–May 28, 2007
    Kraft Education Center

    Take a picture-book journey on the Silk Road and experience the cultures, landscapes, and peoples of different lands. This exhibition features original illustrations from books about the people who traveled the Silk Road, including Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta, Ghengis Khan, and Marco Polo. Illustrations from Chinese and Indian folktales will also be on view. Artists included are Helen Cann, Demi (Charlotte Dumaresq Hunt), Yumi Heo, James Rumford, Peter Sis, Leonard Everett Fisher, and Ed Young.

    Renaissance Europe and the Ottoman Empire
    October 21, 2006–April 2007
    Gallery 209A
    Prints and drawings examine the relationship of 15th- and 16th-century Europe to Persia and the Ottoman Empire. This display, including selected works by Delacroix of North African and Arab subjects, addresses diplomatic relationships and their influences

    Eugène Delacroix and North Africa
    October 21, 2006–April 13, 2007
    Gallery 221A
    A strong groups of prints and drawings by Eugène Delacroix considers the theme of Orientalism in the Romantic period, particularly in his portrayal of North African and Arab subjects as well as his interest in depicting savage battles and wild beasts.

    Western Viewers, Eastern Subjects: Scenes of Empire from the Illustrated Plate Books in the Mrs. James Ward Thorne Collection
    January 2–June 30, 2007
    The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries
    The Franc-British Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, gave Britain control over India, and a publishing industry grew around British interest in the region. Featured in this exhibition are images of the “exotic” from 19th-century Britain.

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    Focus: Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev
    February 1, 2007–May 6, 2007
    Gallery 139
    In their U.S. debut, Kasmalieva and Djmaliev present the multichannel video installation Trans Siberian Amazons (2004), a work that follows two women traders hauling domestic goods by train across Central Asia. The work asks pressing questions about national identity, nostalgia, and global politics.

    Perpetual Glory: Medieval Islamic Ceramics from the Harvey B. Plotnick Collection
    March 31–August 12, 2007
    Gallery 108

    This exhibition will highlight approximately 100 examples of the Islamic West Asian lands of modern Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Drawn from the Harvey B. Plotnick collection, one of the finest in the United States, this exhibition presents extraordinary examples of this important and long-treasures western Asian artistic tradition.

    France in the Eighteenth Century: The Allure of China and Persia
    April 21, 2007–October 2007
    Gallery 220A

    A small but choice group of prints from the Dorothy Braude Edinburgh collection and a sheet of studies by Nicolas Lancret reveal the fascination with which 18th-century France contemplated the “exotic” cultures of the East. In this period, the tremendous taste for Chinese and Persian luxury goods ignited curiosity about the people and lifestyles of Eastern cultures.

    Japonisme: The Impact of Japanese Prints in Nineteenth-Century Europe
    April 21, 2007–October 2007
    Gallery 202A
    Adjacent to the Impressionist and Postimpressionist galleries, a focused selection of prints and drawings present late 19th-century Japonisme, demonstrating the impact of Japanese prints on European artists. Works by Bonnard, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Whistler will be juxtaposed with works by Japanese artists such as Utamaro, Hiroshige, and Hokusai.

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    Silk Road Chicago at the Art Institute is made possible by:
    E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
    Ford Motor Company Fund
    Lloyd A. Fry Foundation
    Polk Bros. Foundation
    The W.L.S. Spencer Foundation
    William Randolph Hearst Foundations
    American Airlines

    Silk Road Ambassadors
    Marilynn B. Alsdorf
    Mr. and Mrs. John W. Jordan II
    Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols

    Opening Celebrations for Silk Road Chicago at the Art Institute are made possible by
    Ford Motor Company Fund.

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