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Buddhism Along the Silk Road: 5th-8th Century
June 2, 2012 – February 10, 2013

Location: Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South and Southeast Asia, 3rd Floor

Sculptures, paintings, and gold objects from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the western reaches of Central Asia comprise the installation Buddhism Along the Silk Road: 5th-8th Century, which sheds light on a remarkable historical moment—the sixth century, when artistic exchange occurred across these vast regions. Drawn entirely from the holdings of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this one-room installation showcases a selection of some 40 sculptures and 70 petite gold objects, as well as a few paintings and textiles. Focusing on works of art created primarily in the sixth and seventh centuries, it examines a network of interacting Buddhist communities from North India, Kashmir, and Northwest Pakistan (Gandhara and the Swat Valley).

At the roots of this trans-national connection is the empire established at the end of the fifth century by groups of Nomadic Huns extending from Afghanistan to the northern plains of India. Although the political system disintegrated into chaos soon after, this empire facilitated the consolidation of trade routes connecting India, Gandhara, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and the western reaches of the Central Asian Silk Road, and functioned to unify these distant Buddhist communities. The movement of monks, traders, and nomadic people not only facilitated ideological exchanges but also financed the production of Buddhist imagery of great artistic sophistication, examples of which are included in the installation.

Finally, an important role was played by the nomadic people who lived in the vast expanse of Central Asia that came under Tibetan rule by the mid-seventh century. These people came into contact with the trade systems that extended down into India and also with an overland network that extended from China to Iran and Iraq. Elite goods including textiles provide a glimpse into the nature of this trade and prestige objects such as gold ornaments illustrate the tastes of these prosperous nomadic communities. As these nomads did not build cities or temples, they are often overlooked; nevertheless, they played an important role in Central Asia, since they were both prosperous and militarily powerful.

The installation includes the Head of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, a magnificent sculpture with garnet eyes in its forehead that was made in Afghanistan in the fifth–sixth century.

The exhibition is accompanied by an animated map, which traces trade networks, the route of the Hun invasion, and the distribution of nomadic groups; 10 objects from the show will be illustrated in relation to the vast geographic area.

Buddhism Along the Silk Road is organized by Kurt Behrendt, Assistant Curator in the Department of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum’s website at www.metmuseum.org.

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June 4, 2012

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