At the Amu Darya lower reaches is located the Khorezm oasis, which blossoming lands are surrounded by deserts of Karakum, Kyzylkum and vast open spaces of the Aral – Caspian. On these fertile lands, nowadays divided among Karakalpakstan, Khorezm region of the Republic of Uzbekistan and Dashkhovuz viloyat of Turkmenistan, in far antiquity arose and blossomed the civilization of ancient Khoresm.
The lands of South Priaralia have been hiding many outstanding monuments of art belonging to these, in many respects, extraordinary and mysterious civilization. The archeologists have revealed this civilization and gave to the world the magnificent samples of ancient Khorezm’s art, which allows us to restore the lost pages of the history of ancient Khoresm, to study its material culture and even to penetrate into holy of holies of ancient Khorezmian civilization – the spiritual world of the people separated from us by the millennia. Numerous finds of ancient plastics – mini terracotta, clay bas – relief sculpture and fresco in Toprak – kala, a palace of Khoresm-shakhs dated from the 2nd century A.D., unique pieces of ancient Khorezmian architecture, the whole world of images on ancient ceramic ossuaries, made in a form of statues of people and animals and others have enabled to learn a spiritual life of ancient Khoresm’s population.
The journal article is too short to describe properly the ancient Khorezmian art in all its complexity and variety; therefore we shall try to give just the general presentation of the most important directions of its development and the most significant samples.
Painting. Many public buildings were decorated with wall painting and clay or alabaster sculpture. The most ancient sample of wall painting is a fragment of the temple – observatory of Koi – Krylgan – kala exposing an archer, a beardless young man pulling a bowstring. Just his face and a fragment of the hand have been preserved. The painting was done above alabaster primer and contoured with a black paint. The face is of pinky – orange colour, lips are red. Uncovered hair is black. Picture dating is problematic; it can be fixed within the 4th – 1st cc. B.C.
At the palace of Khoresm – shakhs of the 3rd century A.D., Toprak-kala was revealed the greatest number of fragments of wall painting, which was made in mineral paints above the alabaster primer. The black paint was widely used for contours. In general, red and brown colors prevail. Green, dark blue and ochre colours were used too.
Toprak – kala murals were both ornamental and subject, representing people, birds and various animals, including fantastic. Plots had a big thematic variety, however, due to just fragmental remains, the content is not still clear. The separate fragments are known under code names: “the priest carrying rolls”, “harp musician” and “red lady”.
The sculpture is mainly presented by the samples from Toprak – kala. The sculpture is volumetric and high relieved. Some pieces were made from loess clay on a wooden carcass and covered with ganch plaster being a primer for painting. The alabaster sculpture was usually used for external decor of the Khorezm – shakhs’ palace. Its structure is extremely various. Just lower parts of sculptures remained initial position. Torsos, heads, fragments of sculptures with fragments of clothes and adornments were found within clay blockages, filling up rooms of the palace.
Sculptures of kings, queens, guardsmen and musicians were located on walls, what determined a frontal character of compositions. In the most cases sculptors aspired to the certain art generalizations, typification and idealization of characters. The idolized governors of ancient Khoresm, courtiers and servants were exposed in frozen and solemn postures. At the same time the artists tried to refuse monumental statics of characters and to show them dynamically in the case of dancing characters and a floating figure of the goddess of victory. We suggest that wall painting and sculpture of the palace were designed as a composition connected with sacred dynasty history of Khoresm – shakhs.
The terracotta sculpture among monuments of ancient art takes a special place. It is connected with Zoroastrian burial ceremony of the cleared bones disposal in special bone – containers – ossuaries, widespread in Central Asia from the last centuries of the first millennium B.C. up to the 7th – early 8th cc. A.D. Only in ancient Khoresm in funeral practice were used the ossuaries in a form of hollow ceramic sculptures of people and animals. Their most ancient forms, which archeologists named “statue vessels “, are related to the 4th – 3rd centuries B.C. Two of them are the best known. The first one is a cylindrical vessel made on a potter’s wheel in a form of standing woman, dressed in a long dress and caftan. The caftan, along the cut and the dress round are decorated with strips of embroidery. On a surface of the vessel the hands are made as a low relief and cutting. Its cover has not been saved. Just its crowning head that was carefully modeled has remained. The hair, softly picked up on a nape, is decorated with twisted diadem. The frontal part was completely destroyed.
The second statue – shaped vessel represented a man, sitting in the armchair. The lower part of the vessel is made on a potter’s wheel. The low relief marks the legs of the armchair. Feet of the figure are made by means of a relief stamped out from within. The top part of the figure was cut off before kilning and was a cover of the vessel. The man wears a short caftan, closed to the left. Its side edges and cuffs are decorated with fur in a form of a low roll with notches. Hands were modeled separately and stuck to the vessel before kilning. The head is disproportionately big, the face – flat with big almond-shaped eyes without pupils. A thin nose with a small hump, thin lips of a small mouth are tightly closed, short tuft under the lower lip and a broad beard created the cold, passionless image released from the world that quite was in harmony with funeral function of “statue vessel”. A diadem formed a basis of a headdress and had such curious detail as animal ears.
Another type of the early sculptural things connected with a burial cult are ceramic masks. Their function remains obscure. According to some suggestions, they could be a part of the statue made from any other material, according to the other, it could be somehow joined with a burial vessel. One of such masks, having the best condition, was found by archeologists not far from the famous monument, the temple – observatory of the 4th – 1st cc. B.C., Koi – Krylgan – kala. The mask represented the sculptural image of a male face with the big oval eyes without pupils and iris, short snub nose, chubby lips, small tuft under a lower lip and a broad beard. On the head there are remains of a sharp – edged headdress of Parthian kulokh’s type. Traces of paint allow assuming, that separate details were painted. The figure has soft modeling.
Statue ossuaries present the art phenomenon that is later, than statue vessels and masks. Assume that genetically they go back to statue vessels. Burial ritual in statue ossuaries occurred not earlier than the 2nd century A.D. and had been in practice in Southern Priaralia up to the 2nd c. A.D. Ceramic statue ossuaries sometimes have painting traces. Usually they are made as a hollow female figure sitting on the rectangular box – basis, or as a sitting man with feet crossed.
The most integral is the ossuary in a form of sitting male figure with crossed legs on a low support found in ruins of rural manor in the vicinities of Koi – Krylgan – kala. The low relief, tracing and painting give the details of costume as a short caftan and a raincoat fastened on the left shoulder with round fibula. Adornments, a necklace with central roundish medallion and two mountain argalis, flying in gallop and touching the medallion by breasts, a plate armour and hanging at a belt a short sword in sheath with a ram head at the end. The head of the sculpture is uncovered. Carefully cut hair, falling aside from “the top”, hang above a forehead, ears and close a nape. Eyes are big, almond – shaped. A pupil and iris are slightly marked. The large humpbacked nose is bent to a mouth. The mouth with narrow lips tightly closed is bossed. Above the upper lip there is a narrow strip of moustaches as a low relief. A short beard frames the law jaw.
One of most fully kept ossuary, representing a woman, also was found at Koi – Krylgan – kala. It is a hollow ceramic sculpture about 70 sm in height, representing a young hippy woman sitting on rectangular seat. The head is uncovered, hair are thrown behind the ears and close a nape. From the middle of the nape, down the back is falling a wide flat plait. The face is broad. Eyebrows are closed above the nose bridge. An aquiline nose. Eyes are almond – shaped without pupils drawn. In lobes there are holes for earrings. Hands have not been not kept, however some signs point out to possibility that semi – closed hand could be used for some subjects to be put in. The woman is dressed in a wide dress with a wide edge stretched on the seat and decorated with a wavy frill. Atop of the dress, probably, was dressed a long caftan or a broad long scarf. Details of clothes can be only guessed by a low relief and poorly drawn lines. It is possible to assume, that originally they were accented by painting on alabaster primer.
There are also finds of statue ossuaries in a form horsemen sitting on a horse or a camel. Spreading of statues – ossuaries of both male and female, probably, could be caused by the fact that ancient sculptors followed some initial canon. However, a face of each statue remained strictly individual, portrait features of the dead, which bones were put in ossuary.
Architectural ossuaries. The ancient Khorezm people used in their burial ritual practice so – called “architectural ossuary”, which reproduced really existing architectural structures – mausoleums. Construction of the mausoleum was not accessible to each inhabitant of ancient Khoresm, and architectural ossuaries served some kind of substitution of similar actual tomb. One of such ossuary was found at the archeological excavations of rural manor № 4 at Djanbas – kala settlement, dated from the 1st – 2nd A.D. It was formed on a potter’s wheel as an ordinary vessel, architectural elements were finished then on crude clay and then the product was kilned. Ossuary had a form of cylindrical tower-shaped building. Its external surface is separated into equal sites by eight vertical pilasters. Along the top perimeter of external walls the building is contoured by an eaves, which supporting part consists of rectangular merlons of a width equal to intervals between them. Under the eaves, on each section between pilasters the wall is cut by square windows and in the top part of a tower under the windows by a double belt the arrow – shaped loopholes are installed in chessboard order. However, on pilasters, the loopholes are located one above another.
In general we can present the real architectural prototype of this ossuary as two – storied cylindrical tower – shaped, compositionally perfect construction, which top floor consisted of the covered shooting gallery belting an internal premise. The last one was crowned with the open flat platform surrounded with a merlon parapet. The mausoleum we described was not only variant of such type construction. In particular, are known the finds of “architectural” ossuaries copying square tower – shaped mausoleum.
Terracotta. In ancient Khoresm terracotta figurines appeared in the 4th century A.D. It was time when Khoresm separated from the Achaemenid empire and became the independent state. It is quite possible that in that period there were running some changes in the field of ideology too that resulted in occurrence and mass distribution of kindred tiny anthropomorphic and zoomorphic statues of ancient Khorezmian deities.
Among the anthropomorphic the female figurines prevail. The most part of them is made of clay by means of a stamp in a special form – kalyba. From the 3rd century A.D. came in use the figurines from gypsum. From the end of the 4th century A.D. the tradition of mass manufacturing of small figurines of deities stopped almost completely.
The most popular iconographic type was the image of so – called “goddesses with a scarf “. The tradition of these figurines manufacturing had been keeping stably during all antique period. By all basic attributes: pose, details of clothes, a hairdress, position of hands etc., this iconographic type goes back to more ancient Middle Eastern types of small plastics.
The terracotta reproducing the image of the naked goddess was not less popular. Though these figurines appeared in the 4th century AD, they came into wide use later. A line of details pulls together both types of figurines, in particular, in late antique time they are reproduced in identical headdresses, that caused some researchers to suggest that “the goddess with a scarf ” and the naked goddess are a hypostasis of one female deity (fertility and water element) – Anachita.
Other types of the terracotta representing women, for example, “goddesses with a mirror ” are known also. At the end of the antique period occurred new types of terracotta. Among them it is necessary to note the figurines representing a woman, sitting with legs tucked under one, having a long dress and with uncovered head. These figurines partly superseded the figurines of “goddesses with a scarf”.
Extremely strong impression is left with terracotta known in the literature under the name “a head of the old woman “. It is dated from the 3rd – 2nd centuries A.D. and marked the tendency of transition from creation of generalized and idealized images to revealing of individual, characteristic features of a person. In spite of that this terracotta could expose some deity from chthonic circle, it is a fact that as a model for the sculptor was taken quite real person.
Sculptural figurines of animals also are numerous, especially of horses, however, in comparison with anthropomorphic figurines, stamped in forms, the zoomorphic terracotta was modeled by hands. On early antique vessels there are sculptural heads of lions (“lion – head shaped handles”), as well as protoma of horses on ceramic rythons. Heads of horses often decorated fireplace supports. Later the small plastic forms were enriched by such exotic for ancient Khoresm animals as the monkey and elephant, which, probably, appeared not without influence of ancient Indian art. Images of animals on vessels and fireplace supports could carry out a role of protection.
Relieves. The characteristic of ancient Khoresm’s art would be incomplete if not to mention numerous art relieves on the ceramic flasks for transportation of water and wine. The tradition to decorate a flat side of a flask goes to the epoch of early antiquity and in later periods did not practice any more. As flasks were subjects of mass using, relieves were made not individually, but stamped on wet clay.
Subjects, stamped on flasks, are various. For example, mythological, representing complex multifigured scenes. One of such scenes, kept fragmentary, exposes a man laying on the bed and a person behind him with a musical instrument like harp in hands. Cosmogonic pictures were exposed also. So, on one of flasks there is a griffin tormenting a fantastic bird, on the others – a fallow deer standing before the tree of life, a grape collector, a horseman with a spear, etc. There are flasks with a relief vegetative ornament. We have described just few samples of ancient Khorezm art bearing a seal of the creative genius of the peoples living at the lower reaches of the Amu Darya in antiquity, and occupying a due place in a line of outstanding monuments of ancient art of Uzbekistan. These monuments give bright realizing of contribution to a treasury of world art, which was done by the ancestors of the peoples of Uzbekistan.
Author: Vadim Yagodin