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The Silk Road: An object lesson

  • Written by  Geographical
  • Published in Cultures
The Silk Road: An object lesson
18 Nov
In an epic new book from traveller and curator Susan Whitfield, 80 leading scholars detail the history of the fabled Silk Road is through its people, cultures and landscapes

Silk Roads situates the ancient routes against the landscapes that defined them, to reveal the raw materials that they produced, the means of travel that were employed to traverse them and the communities that were shaped by them. As the following extracts show, the book contains a wealth of photographs that reveal the breathtaking and often forbidding landscapes encountered by travellers and traders through the millennia as well as the many riches found along its route.

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3rd- to 4th- century Roman mosaicSea transport was more efficient and cheaper for large, heavy and fragile cargo, including metals, glass, ceramics, slaves and, as shown above, in this 3rd- to 4th- century Roman mosaic from Veii, animals such as elephants (Image: Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe)

14th-century medallionThis 14th-century medallion exemplifies the interactions of the 
Silk Roads. Made in Ilkhanid west Asia, it is a tapestry, a weave common to China, with gold thread of animal origin wrapped around cotton, a west Asian technique. The prince in the centre is flanked by a Mongol prince and an Arab or Persian minister. The iconography resembles that on Islamic metalwork (Image: The David Collection (30/1995), Copenhagen)

The story of Sukhra’s defeat of the HephthalitesThe story of Sukhra’s defeat of the Hephthalites, illustrated here in a 16th-century manuscript (Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Kunar river valley in the northeastern Hindu KushKunar river valley in the northeastern Hindu Kush. (Image: John Falconer)

Madonna and ChildFilippo Lippi’s painting of
 Madonna and Child,
c.1483–84, typical of its time for using ultramarine, a blue pigment made from lapis lazuli, for Mary’s robe (Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

12th century Iranian glazed bowlLate 12th to early 13th century Iranian glazed bowl, gilded and painted with an oud-player and audience (Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

A Child’s silk coatA child’s silk coat. The two materials of the outer part and lining used in this child’s coat, which was found with a pair of trousers, reflect the exchange and blending of silk cultures along the Silk Road (Image: Cleveland Museum of Art)

Fruit market in Samarkand taken around 1905A fruit market in Samarkand taken around 1905 by the Russian photographer, Prokudin-Gorskii,
 by colour separation negative (Image: Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

Silk RoadsSilk Roads: Peoples, Cultures, Landscapes, edited by Susan Whitfield, published by Thames & Hudson, out now: www.thamesandhudson.com

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