Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Koi-krylgan-kala (Kazakly-yatkan) Wall Paintings from ancient Chorasmia

Monumental Mural Wall painting reached an artistic peak between the 4 and 8th centuries AD best seen at sites such as ancient Afrasiab (Samarkand) and Panjikent in Tajikistan, but little previously was known about its early development.  The earliest well preserved wall paintings to date have been found in the Republic of Karakalpakstan part of the ancient empire of Chorasmia in Kazakly-yatkan which dates from the 4th- 3rd centuries BC. The murals uncovered during the excavation of the observatory-temple of Koi-krylgan-kala was a real breakthrough in the studies of the early art history of Central Asia. The find due to the work of an international research group of scientists united in the framework of Karakalpak-Australian archaeological field team that has been carrying out systematic studies on the ancient forts of the Tashkyrman oasis situated in Beruni District of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. Excavations first commenced in 1995 on the site of Koi-krylgan-kala and the subsequent finds have enabled scientists from the group to establish that this was one of the largest settlement sites within ancient Chorasmia and likely its capital after its secession from the Achaemenid Empire. Since 2004 the main effort of the field team has been focused on studying a palace-and-temple compound in the north-western section of the “sacred city”. Traces of wall painting were found both inside the temple, and on the walls of a gallery that surrounded the temple along its outer perimeter, as well as on the walls of the palace portion of the compound. In the southern half of the gallery (a 250m long corridor) a mural featuring the images of people on foot, a mounted procession and, probably, horse riders and  within the northern section of the western corridor a further 45 painting fragments with preserved images of one or several characters were discovered.In total 36 surviving paintings were found of chest-head portraits. Nearly all following a single rule: torso to the front and head in half face and turned to the left. In few instances however the head was pictured in half face turned to the right. This manner (the so-called “ancient oriental”) style of picturing a ruler was used on coins of Parsee kings and Indo-Parthian rulers starting from the 1st century BC, as well as the later coins of the Kushans, Sassanids and Euthalites.  Characters in the gallery wear neither a beard, nor a moustache, but have rich black hair neatly combed to the back of the head covering the neck but clear of the ears, which are dyed in red colour – a completely unusual feature that has no analogy. The portrayal of beardless rulers in the art of ancient Khorezm  can also be found on some Khoresmian coins, particularly on the earliest of them. Some of the characters in the portraits wear a crown, while the rest are pictured with a bare head. The crowns have two variations. The simplest style is a small round hat open at the top, and at the front, significantly protruded forward and hanging over the forehead is a protomai of a bird with round head and thick beak. The almond-shaped eye of a bird and its feathering are painted very neatly and clearly. The other style is more complex: a kind of a fabulous creature is painted on the lower part of the headdress. In some of the crowns this is a very realistic image, while in the others it is stylised to the extreme. The characters in the gallery are usually portrayed earing earrings with the neck wrapped in many coils of a string known as a grivna some with schematic images of animal heads at its ends.

  The Kazakly-yatkan murals have little similarity to other known ancient art monuments of Central Asia. However certain painting elements show its connection to both the Scythian and Sak livestock breeding tribes of Eurasia the so-called “animal style”. The Grivna wrought in that style and worn over the neck of the characters being a rather telling sign. At the same time, other features in the portraits, specifically the pose of the royal characters are instead in an oriental style. This duality determines the specificity of the portrait painting in Kazakly-yatkan, as being from border lands on the edge of both the great ancient eastern civilizations and the nomadic tribes of the great band of Eurasian steppes and deserts.

Source: Edited for brevity -  http://sanat.orexca.com/2009/2009-4/vadim_yagodin/