Uzbekistan showcases its rich culture in Louvre

Monitoring Desk

ISTANBUL: From fragments of a rare 18th-century Quran to a Buddha statue, the Louvre museum features dozens of artifacts that will become the main hallmark of Uzbekistan in Europe, unveiling the country’s rich culture

The greatest art temple in the world, France’s Louvre Museum is now hosting “The Splendours of Uzbekistan’s Oases: At the Crossroads of Caravan Routes” while the Arab World Institute is also featuring “The Road to Samarkand: Miracles of Silk and Gold,” two major exhibitions depicting Uzbekistan’s rich cultural heritage.

They both opened their doors to visitors with the attendance of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, upon the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The exhibits point to the growing interest around the world, especially the West, in Uzbekistan, its economy and its culture.

The cultural project was initiated by Mirziyoyev during his first visit to France in October 2018. The event is a unique exhibit of a large-scale national exposition and is unprecedented among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries.

Both exhibitions are dedicated to Uzbekistan’s history and culture. The exhibition in the Louvre covers from the fifth-sixth centuries B.C. to the reign of the Timurids, and the Arab World Institute presents exhibits from the 19th to mid-20th centuries, as well as paintings of the Turkestan the Avant-Garde from the collection of Uzbekistan state museums.


The exhibitions are of historical significance for intercultural cooperation between Uzbekistan and France, offering a chance for a wide audience to discover the region’s unique culture.

A special commission was established to prepare both exhibitions. It was led by the prime minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan and also included the Director of the Institute of Art History of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan and project consultant Shokir Pidayev, Director of the Center for Islamic Civilization Shoazim Minovarov, ministers, scientists, archaeologists, as well as directors and curators of museums, to borrow exhibits.

168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (DHA Photo)
168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (DHA Photo)

Major restoration work began in 2018 on over 70 items to restore them for the exhibition. A team of specialists was involved in the project, including over 40 restorers specializing in paper, wood, metal, sculpture, glass and wall painting from France and Uzbekistan. The experts included prominent names such as Marina Reutova, Kamoliddin Mahkamov, Shukhrat Pulatov, Christine Parisel, Olivier Tavoso, Delphine Lefebvre, Geraldine Frey, Axel Delau, Anne Liege and many others.

Particularly difficult and interesting was the restoration and conservation of the Kattalangar Quran pages from the eighth century. This Quran has tremendous religious significance for Islam and Muslims, and it is one of the valuable items that constitute the cultural and historical heritage of all humankind.

The manuscript was written on parchment in one of the oldest forms of Arabic script – Kufi and Hijazi handwriting with an average page size is 53 by 35 centimeters (21 by 14 inches). For a long time, the Quran was kept in Uzbekistan’s Langar Ota mosque in the Qamashi district of the Kashkadarya region.

The Quran was also restored from 2019 to 2021 by the Louvre experts. The book was in poor condition due to severe deformation. The sheets had become wavy, and a lot of dust had accumulated on them. The restorers began the conservation process first by cleaning each page.

The copy of the Quran contains 208 pages, of which 17 pages are in Uzbekistan. The exhibition now presents two pages from the volume. They include Surah Al-Maidah (verses 106-120) and Surah Al-An’am (verses 1-32).

168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (AA Photo)
168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (AA Photo)

The restoration was made possible largely thanks to the personal support of Saida Mirziyoyeva, who then held the position of deputy director of the Agency for Information and Mass Communications. Initially, only two pages were to be restored, but it was Shavkatovna who insisted on restoring all 13 pages.

The National Library of Uzbekistan was named after Timurid mystic and painter Alisher Navoi. The Art and Culture Development Foundation under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan were involved in the restoration of the precious documents. The work was carried out by the restorers of the Louvre Museum Axel Delau and Aurelia Streri.

Discovery process

In 2009, archaeologist and researcher Rocco Rante led an archaeological mission in Bukhara in collaboration with the team of the Samarkand Archaeology Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Sometime later, unique Zoroastrian carved panels were discovered as part of other excavations in the Samarkand region, which were also carried out jointly with French experts.

According to archaeologists, the find was a world-class discovery. It is assumed that the country palace of the rulers of pre-Islamic times (until the eighth century) was located at the excavation site.

The front rooms were discovered in the citadel, most of which were occupied by a three-tiered podium, where, according to scientists, the ruler sat on the throne, and the panel adorned the walls of the hall. It became clear that Uzbekistan could show the world something precious from a historical and cultural point of view: A carved charred panel from the settlement of Kafir-Kala dating from the A.D. seventh and eighth centuries.

168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (AA Photo)
168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (AA Photo)

During the excavations of the Kafir-Kala citadel in the Samarkand region, a parade-monumental complex richly decorated with paintings and wooden details was revealed. The citadel was destroyed by a devastating blaze that occurred between 712 and 738 during the conquest by the Arabs.

In 2017, a Japanese-Uzbek archaeological expedition, while studying the small throne room, discovered large parts of the decor made of carved charred wood. The panel was in poor condition but was restored by a Louvre expert from 2019 to 2022 and is currently in stable condition.

What are the exhibitions offering?

According to the curators of the exhibition, the wooden panel is a unique masterpiece of Sogdian art. A composition of 46 human figures arranged in four tiers is carved on the boards on the front side. The main theme of the composition is a mass ritual of deity worship. There is a large figure of the goddess Nana in the center of the two upper tiers, sitting on a throne like a lying lion.

The scientific curator of the exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, Rocco Rante, believes that the display of hundreds of rare exhibits will allow “Europeans and Americans to have a better understanding of what Uzbekistan is like.”

“The exhibition has two main goals. First, it is to show the civilization and culture of Central Asia in Europe. And Paris is the best place for this because here is one of the leading museums in the world – the Louvre. The second goal is to show the close historical connection between Central Asia and Europe. After all, these two regions have a lot of common historical moments. In addition, the exhibition has an educational meaning for European and French societies to get to know Central Asia better. After all, its culture has an important place in human civilization and is rich in significant historical figures,” Rante said, explaining the emphasis of the exhibition.

Dedicated solely to Uzbekistan, Rante emphasized its uniqueness and said: “We are featuring such rare exhibits from Uzbekistan in France and Europe for the first time. There are over 130 artifacts, and some of them were found quite recently. This exhibition is the result of great effort, restoration work and scientific research. I think that such an exhibition will not be repeated in the next 30 years.”

The team came up with special effects that will immerse the audience in its atmosphere. For example, the first thing a visitor will see from the exposition is a seventh-century wall panel from Varakhsha. It depicts an elephant with riders being attacked by two tigers as the viewer hears the sounds of the wind and the roar of animals.

Historical monuments of Samarkand architecture, such as the Bibi Khanum Mosque, the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, the Shakhi-Zinda memorial ensemble and the Ulugbek Observatory, will also be presented. Their images will be projected onto the wall while music will play in the background, and the lights will dim, according to Rante.

“We managed to bring together the best specialists from France and Uzbekistan to realize this exhibition. Covering a period of almost two millennia, the exhibition reveals our country’s rich history and heritage to an international audience. The exhibition is the main form of international cultural exchange. It is a dialogue and integration of different cultures in a global context. Exhibitions in Paris naturally expand the mission of the Foundation to preserve and promote our culture and also lay a solid foundation for our bilateral cooperation in the future,” Gayane Umerova, the executive director of the Art and Culture Development Foundation, noted.

Center for Islamic Civilization in Uzbekistan Director Shoazim Minovarov also spoke about the importance of the exhibition and said: “60 million tourists visit France a year. Over 10 million people visit the Louvre. The fact that Uzbekistan will be represented at such a large-scale exhibition will make our country more recognizable and increase interest in it, its culture and its history.”

As Saida Mirziyoyeva noted, Uzbekistan has always been a place of cultural exchange and trade, and the Great Silk Road has become the first global economic project.

“Covering about 2,000 years, the exhibition at the Louvre will provide a multifaceted view of the culture of various civilizations that existed on the territory of present-day Uzbekistan and will also show the country’s unique heritage in the global cultural context, which is one of our main tasks,” Minovarov said.

‘The Road to Samarkand’

The exposition of this exhibition, comprising over 300 exhibits from nine museums of the Republic of Uzbekistan, includes objects of applied art, which are important elements of Uzbek identity and diversity.

Visitors can become acquainted with samples of national textiles, costumes, hats, jewelry of the 19th to mid-20th centuries, gold-embroidered chapans of the era of the Bukhara Emirate, carpets and much more, made with various techniques.

168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (AA Photo)
168 historical artifacts, which started to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum of France, reflect the 2,000-year history of Uzbekistan, Paris, France, Nov. 27, 2022. (AA Photo)

The exhibition also presents 23 paintings, including works of the Turkestan the Avant-Garde from the collection of the State Museum of Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan named after Savitsky IV in Nukus. Between 1917 and 1932, Turkestan was a popular geographical destination among Russian Avant-Garde artists. When Matisse was discovering Morocco, the Avant-Garde artists in search of “local color” found for themselves a unique source of inspiration in the richness of landscapes, forms and faces of Central Asia.

One of the most interesting exhibits is the “tobelik,” a traditional headdress of a Karakalpak woman in the 17th-18th centuries. Tobeliks have a cylindrical shape, assembled from silver plates with coral and turquoise inserts. It is believed that it served as an additional decoration, a kind of crown, which was worn on a saukele – a wedding headdress.

Kimesheks are also presented here. This is also a women’s national headdress. Kimesheks completely cover the head, while the face remains open. It looks like a hood. Married women wore kimesheks of specific colors, emphasizing their marital status.

Undoubtedly, the attention of visitors will be attracted by the “arebeks” – small nose rings. They were made of gold and decorated with spiral curls and small turquoise and coral beads. Arebeks were worn on the right nostril by young Karakalpak women, and these decorations are not found anywhere else on the territory of Uzbekistan. If you draw parallels, they can be recognized as an analog of modern piercing.

Among the selected paintings are works by Ural Tansikbayev, Victor Ufimtsev and Nadejda Kashina. There are paintings by Alexander Volkov, Alexei Isupov and others. Despite their unique styles of writing, all the paintings are inspired and united by one theme – the East and its color palette. So, having seen, the painting by Nikolai Karakhan for instance, the viewer can immediately understand how people of that time dressed, their way of life and the surrounding nature.

Another dazzling painting featured is Victor Ufimtsev’s “Oriental Motif.” A native of Siberia, the artist, as he became acquainted with Central Asia, gradually mastered the traditional art of Islam. This work is a free modernist stylization of a Muslim miniature, which reproduces the classic banquet scene. The painting depicts two women resting, toward which a man with a vessel is moving. It seems that the Western viewer, looking at this canvas, will be able to appreciate how high the respect for women has always been in the East.

It should be noted that the entire collection presented by the Savitsky Museum is designed to reveal all the diversity, originality and charm of oriental culture and Uzbekistan in particular.

One of the curators of the exhibition, the head of the French publishing house Assouline Publishing, Yaffa Assouline, and photographer Laziz Hamani, helped to create the exposition. For three years they traveled across the region to search and collect materials for publications about Uzbekistan. The exhibition “The Road to Samarkand: Miracles of Silk and Gold” became a living illustration of their work.

All works presented in Paris will be returned to their homeland. Their safety and security are guaranteed by the French Ministry of Culture. They are also insured under the “nail-to-nail” system, with comprehensive coverage for collections at premises or in transit, on exhibition, loaned, in storage, on consignment or otherwise.

Similar exhibition to be held in Berlin

It should be noted that on Oct. 25, an agreement was signed between the Art and Culture Development Foundation and Berlin State Museums and Uzbekistan to organize the “Uzbekistan – from Alexander the Great to the Kushan Empire” exhibition. The exhibition will be held at the James Simon Gallery from April 21 to Oct. 1. It will present a collection of 270 artifacts from various museums of Uzbekistan.

Courtesy: Dailysabah