Bukhara’s Art of jewelry

Issue #4 • 1274

(to semantics of the forms)

The 19th century in Bukhara was marked by the blossom of art crafts – hammering work and manufacturing of jewelry pieces, weaving, embroidery and gold embroidery, carving and painting on ganch and wood. Bukhara had become the largest school of the craft that greatly influenced the work of masters from the other cities and settlements. Through ages the art evolved in the cities of Muslim East, including the capital of the Bukhara Emirate, had been integrated by a common style, which was caused and determined by the Islamic concepts about the beauty gravitating to extreme aesthetization of a form and to refinement of lines, what was also characteristic for the jewelry pieces. Their style was distinguished by the division of a form, the plenty of pendants and flexible joints, which gave property of airy, by means of filigree, open cutting, granulated metal and semi-precious stones – amethyst, beryl, tourmaline and corals.

The jewelry craft in Bukhara was in a focus of attention and reflected eagerness of the society to luxury and affluence: at the central market of the city the jewelers occupied a special place – Toki Zargaron – a cupola of jewelers. We know that in the 19th century four hundred jewelers lived in the city (1, p. 194). The Uzbeks and Tadjiks, Indians and Persians plied this trade. The Indians, for example, owned small shops for polishing and cutting of precious stones (1, p. 176). Thanks to the jewelers from the Caucuses niello became popular (2, p. 237). In general, Bukhara’s jewelry art, as D. Fahretdinova noted, “was a complicated syncretic phenomenon where on the Tadjik-Uzbek basis and ancient traditions merged many features the other ethnos brought in” (3, p.72). At the same time, it is necessary to point out that adopted forms greatly transformed under the influence of the local fashion. In the polyethnic city, which was Bukhara, had formed an integral complex of adornments reflecting characteristic features of the urban fashion independently from its ethnic features.

To a group of the traditional Bukhara jewelry are related head adornments “tillya – kosh” (bride’s diadem), temple pendants “mohitillo (bibshak) and kadjak, pectorals “zebi – gardan” and “nozi – gardan”, ear rings “barg”, “kundalsoz”, “khalka” and others, bracelets decorated with cutting in a style of islimi, belts for aristocrats with large silver clasps and others. Many of these adornments were also manufactured in the other cities, for example, “zebi-gardan” and “tillya – kosh”. Pectorals “zebi – gardan” are complicated sets consisting of a large central medallion – pendant and additional small rectangular medallions joined together by means of a few lines of cellular chains. They were enameled, decorated with semi-precious stones or colored glass, filigree and numerous pendants. The analogues of such adornments are known in Tashkent, Samarkand and the other big cities. Head diadems “tillya – kosh”, which form, probably, is going from the Indian tradition, were popular both among the Uzbek and Tadjik population. They also were analogous with Samarkand, Tashkent and Kokand jewelry pieces.

In a focus of scientific interest always was a problem of a semantic content carrying by the forms. The specificity of this issue is caused by a fact that even the latest, by dating, forms are often linked with archaic, cultic and astral concepts of sedentary agricultural population, or with the totemic ideas of the steppe dwellers, which were such ancient that their meaning was forgotten long ago. The analysis of the form and searching for its analogues give a chance to reconstruct a picture of its genesis.

For example, “sanchok” – a fragment of the Bukharian hair pin (the bottom in a form of crescent, the top – in a form of a star; in Khorezm this variant is known as “bodom-oi”, a frontal – temporal adornment) is linked with astral symbolics (motives of the sun (star) and moon) that was popular both in the art of sedentary farming and nomadic population. Symbols of the sun and crescent are popular among many oriental peoples and go back to the ancient astral cults – worship to the Sun and Moon. The moon is connected with Yin, and the Sun – with Yang (4, p.35). The Sun is a supreme deity, a great inseminating force; it has been always associated with the idea of Life in general. The crescent in its own turn symbolized the birth of new life cycle. The picture of crescent as if provided further happy development of the life, and of the sun – protection of the life itself. Two symbols taken together stressed the circulation and continuity of the vital process and, probably, reflected the idea of equinox connected with the beginning of a new year upon the oriental calendar – the holiday of Navruz. In general, the symbolics of such adornments is associated with the idea of fertility and implication in the creative forces of the nature. Astral theme was wide spread in Bukhara, where, before Islam coming, was popular Zoroastrianism, worship to spheres, and in particular to the Moon – Mokh; later on the place of the Lunar temple was constructed the first city mosque Maghoki Attari. Another evidence for the stability of the astral cult became a name of a country residence of the Bukhara emir – Sitorai mohi khosa – House of the Moon and Star.

In a list of the popular Bukharian adornments is bibishak – the adornment reminding a crescent with highly bent points, and above it – a motif of a flower-bud. It was fixed on a forehead (single variant) and nearby the ears (double). Bibshok have some other names – “mohi tillo” (gold moon), “at – tueghi” (horse hoof). D. Fahretdinova analyzed the semantics and proposed some variants of interpretation, among which there are – attributes of fruiting goddess-mother – double picture of birds, crescent and opening flower – bud; or “horns of mother” (literally translation): horned headgears for women were symbols of fertility.

Considering the form (star and crescent), symbolics of this subject also goes back to the solar cult. At the same time, the Turkic variant of its name – “at – tueghi” gives the opportunity to find analogues of this form in the Turkic midst. In the art of the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz this form is characteristic for ayak kaly (a bag for a cup which the rich persons always had at them) and kuigur (leather vessels for kumis). In a course of time, probably, this form had lost its initial semantics and obtained the associations with abundance and riches what became a decisive factor in its success in the art of jewelry.

This example gives evidence for that in spite of the Bukharian jewelry presents the samples in typically urban fashion, the nomadic steppe influenced much the entire complex of jewelry. Influence of the nomadic tradition caused appearance of numerous amulets (tumars) in the city jewelry art. They originally played not just decorative role but first and foremost the protective role – into the amulet was put a sheet of paper with words of some pray. The tumars made by the city masters had been considerably transformed – massive closed forms, typical of the steppe aesthetic ideals, had been substituted by light models decorated with patterns in islimi style, words from Koran and by exclusively decorative tumars made in a technique of filigree, light and airy.

Among the Bukharian jewelry pieces there are analogues with Turkmen asyks, for example, female silver nape adornment, usually having a size of a hand, which is worn on the back between plaits. According to the folk ideas, asyk plays a protective role for the young woman breeding a baby. By a form, asyk reminds a heart and therefore considered as a symbol of truelove. However, this form has another, ancient proto type: asyk is genetically linked with female terracotta statuettes having slim torso and wide heaps, which were spread in Margiana in the 3rd – 2nd millennia B.C. A center of the anthropomorphic shape of asyk is encrusted with cornelian, sui generic symbol of conceived and bred child. In general, its semantics is connected with the idea of fertility. Asyks were given to a bride before a wedding; this as if strengthened and protected her reproductive function. On a wave of popularity this adornment came to the city.

However, transformation of the Bukharian variant was significant: here this is not a closed massive form that is fixed on a nape but a pectoral pendant made in a technique of lattice carving added with motives of islimi along a contour of “female” figure. Numerous examples of borrowings, which occurred at the result of long contacts and neighboring of urban and steppe peoples, are rather contextual. Trade relations connected the Bukhara emirate with the nomadic steppe. The goods of Bukhara artisans were very popular in the nomadic midst. In its own turn, in Bukhara became in use and popular woolen and felt subjects manufactured by the nomadic Kazakhs: dressing, carpet – subjects for storage of household utility etc. These forms – migrants had such stable and deep filling with ideas about their protective and successive force that they became popular in the other cultural but ethnically related midst where survived transformation in a style and form under the influence of aesthetic canons existing in the urban midst receiving them.

Decor of the Bukharian bracelets draws the interest, as it is later by origin and appeared already in the period of Islamic art blossoming. Openwork and perforating cutting in a style of islimi form its basis. The semantics of such patterns is well known – they should transfer the idea of ideal and beautiful world, the Paradise created by the God. However, hardly the jewelers gave any meaning to these patterns, for them – islimi is just a traditional decorative technique, popular in many art crafts.

Thus, the semantic analysis of the Bukharian jewelry pieces revealed their connection with pre-Islamic concepts, what proves ancient and traditional features of their forms. Their long, for many centuries, being has led to the loose of initial conceptual meaning and to the dominant of decorative aspects. However, stability of the forms gives the opportunity to reveal the sense, which initially was the immanent attribute of these wonderful art works.

Author: Elmira Gyul

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