Pages from of one of the oldest Qurans in existence, and a painting described as Uzbekistan’s “Mona Lisa,” are among the historic treasures on show at a new exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
“The Splendours of Uzbekistan’s Oases” features more than 170 works offering a glimpse into the country’s past, including celebrated wall paintings, Buddhist sculptures and everyday items belonging to ancient civilizations.
The exhibition is co-curated by archeologist Rocco Rante, who has been excavating since 2009 in Uzbekistan’s Bukhara Oasis. The area was once a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route which passed through present-day Uzbekistan hundreds of years ago, connecting the Mediterranean to the Far East.
The star attraction is two pages from the Katta Langar Quran, one of the world’s oldest surviving Quran manuscripts, dating to the early days of Islam. It was conserved for centuries in a mausoleum in a small village perched on a mountaintop.
“With the help and support of our Uzbek colleagues, we brought to light and restored one of the most ancient Qurans from the 8th century, which is a huge discovery,” Rante said.
The exhibition, created in partnership between the Louvre Museum and the Uzbekistan’s Art and Culture Development Foundation, takes visitors on a political and historical journey of Uzbek life across 1,600 years, starting from the first century BC.
According to Yannick Lintz, co-curator and former director of Islamic Art at the Louvre, the Silk Road is at the heart of the exhibition, which spotlights relics found along its caravan routes.
“Everyone knows that those roads were for economic exchanges between east and west, but they were also intellectual, artistical and technological roads,” said Lintz.
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 the 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.
Treasures brought to light
Together with experts from Uzbekistan, the Louvre conducted large-scale restoration works on many of the exhibits. Among the objects to be restored was the door of Gūr-i Amīr from the 14th Century originating from Tamerlane’s mausoleum in Samarkand, a city in southeastern Uzbekistan.
“In the door, we found large iconography representing the society of Samarkand. We found details in the center of the door where the divinity is sculpted. All around, you can see different figures offering something to this god,” Rante said.
Uzbek paintings were also preserved, including monumental murals of the princely residence of Varakhsha, dating back to the 4th century. Located in the northwest of the Bukhara Oasis, the town of Varakhsha was once occupied by the Sogdians, an ancient people who lived on the Silk Road.
Also on display is the renowned 8th Century Sogdian fresco known as “The Painting of the Ambassadors,” accompanied by 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 partly understood, but it is nonetheless regarded as a masterpiece.
“The Ambassadors painting is a national treasure for the Uzbek people,” Lintz said. “What I call the Uzbek Mona.”
“The Splendours of Uzbekistan’s Oases” exhibition at the Louvre Museum Paris runs until March 6, 2023.