ORIENTAL ART IN THE HERMITAGE 2014-2015
As the Hermitage celebrated the 250th anniversary of the foundation of the museum in 1764, one of its most recent departments – that of Oriental art and culture, founded as late as 1920 – embarked on its own year of exhibitions and events.
Since autumn 2014, many of the displays of the Hermitage’s Oriental Department have been reworked and represented, given new cases, lighting and labelling. Text panels provide information about the excavations and travels by those great scholars of the past who made the Russian school of Oriental studies famous throughout the world in the twentieth century.
Bahram Gur at the Princess's in the Green Pavilion, miniature from a manuscript of the Khamsa by Nizami, 1541
A series of temporary exhibitions surrounded the Eighth European Conference of Iranian Studies which the Hermitage hosted in September. A small exhibition, “Forget not when dear friend to friend returned…” 80 Years since the Iranian Congress in the Hermitage, looked back to the Third International Congress on Iranian Art and Archaeology, held in the museum in 1935.
Also in September came a superb exhibition dedicated to the fourteenth-century traveller Ibn Battuta and his book, A Gift to those who contemplate the wonders of cities and the marvels of travelling (9 September – 13 December 2015). Battuta’s book of travels is a multi-layered and curious compendium of information on ‘wonders and marvels’. After performing his first hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) at the age of twenty-one, Battuta developed a taste for travel that led him to spend nearly thirty years on the road. He visited Iran, Iraq, Yemen, the eastern shore and central part of Africa, Asia Minor, Crimea, the Golden Horde, Constantinople, Central Asia, India, China, the Maldives and Spain. In 1354 Ibn Battuta returned to Morocco where, by order of the Marinid ruler Abu Inan Faris the traveller’s reminiscences were dictated to the secular scholar Ibn Juzayy.
Continuing this flurry of events, the Oriental Department now presents “The Abode of charity.” Tibetan Buddhist Art in the rooms of the Winter Palace (10 October 2015 – 17 January 2016). So dominant were the teachings of Buddha, with their call for spiritual self-improvement and the rooting outof one’s own weaknesses and faults, that from the seventh century until the middle of the twentieth century all art in Tibet was Buddhist: there was no secular art at all. Tibet is thought to be the home of Avalokiteśvara, bodhisattva of charity and compassion,and under his patronage Tibet produced its own unique spiritual culture, becoming in effect ‘The Abode of Charity’, the centre of Buddhist culture for the rest of the world.
There is more to come: by the end of 2015 Olga Deshpande's catalogue of the art of Southeast Asia will be published in the Hermitage's series of Collection Catalogues. Familiarly known in the Hermitage as 'the green catalogues' from the uniform colour of their binding, these catalogues have been coming thick and fast in recent years. Several have been translated into English or Italian, making the Hermitage's scholarship more accessible.