Pages from one of the oldest existing Korans and a painting described as the “Mona Lisa” of Uzbekistan are among the historical treasures on display at a new exhibition at the Louvre museum in Paris.
“The Splendors of the Oasis of Uzbekistan” features more than 170 works offering insight into the country’s past, including famous murals, Buddhist sculptures and everyday objects from ancient civilizations.
The exhibition is co-curated by archaeologist Rocco Rante, who has been digging since 2009 in the oasis of Bukhara in Uzbekistan. The region was once an important stop on the Silk Road trade route that ran through present-day Uzbekistan hundreds of years ago, connecting the Mediterranean to the Far East.
The star attraction consists of two pages from the Koran Katta Langar, one of the oldest Koranic manuscripts in the world, dating from the beginnings of Islam. It was kept for centuries in a mausoleum in a small village perched on top of a mountain.
“With the help and support of our Uzbek colleagues, we unearthed and restored one of the oldest Qurans from the 8th century, which is a huge find,” Rante said.
The Quran Katta Langar is believed to be one of the oldest surviving examples of the text. Credit: Li-Lan Hou/CNN
The exhibition, produced in partnership between the Louvre Museum and the Foundation for the Development of Art and Culture of Uzbekistan, takes visitors on a political and historical journey of Uzbek life through 1,600 years, to from the 1st century BC.
According to Yannick Lintz, co-curator and former director of Islamic Arts at the Louvre, the Silk Road is at the heart of the exhibition, which highlights the remains found along its caravan routes.
“Everyone knows that these routes were for economic exchange between East and West, but they were also intellectual, artistic and technological routes,” Lintz said.
Lintz hopes to transport people back in time with treasures from the periods of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Amir Timur (also known as Tamerlane), who founded a vast Central Asian empire in the 14th century .
“It was important for me to show visitors that we can have cultural, religious and artistic dialogues in this part of the world between China, India and Iran, because Uzbekistan is in the middle,” Lintz added. .
In collaboration with experts from Uzbekistan, the Louvre has carried out large-scale restoration work on numerous exhibits. Among the items to be restored was the 14th-century Gate of Gūr-i Amīr from the Mausoleum of Tamerlane in Samarkand, a city in southeastern Uzbekistan.
“In the doorway we found a large iconography representing the Samarkand society. We found details in the center of the doorway where the deity is carved. All around you can see different figures offering something to this god,” said Rante said.
Uzbek paintings have also been preserved, including monumental murals from the princely residence of Varakhsha, dating from the 4th century. Located northwest of the oasis of Bukhara, the city of Varakhsha was once occupied by the Sogdians, an ancient people who lived on the Silk Road.
The 8th century “Tableau des Ambassadeurs” was rediscovered by chance in 1965. Credit: Li-Lan Hou/CNN
Also on display is the famous 8th century Sogdian fresco known as “The Painting of Ambassadors”, along with a series of wall paintings depicting the ancient city of Afrasiab. Parts of “The Painting of the Ambassadors” are missing and its meaning is only partially understood, but it is nonetheless considered a masterpiece.
“The Ambassadors Board is a national treasure for the Uzbek people,” Lintz said. “What I call the Uzbek Mona.”
The exhibition “The Splendors of the Oasis of Uzbekistan” at the Louvre Paris Museum runs until March 6, 2023.