The Afrasiab painting, also called the Ambassadors' Painting, is a rare example of Sogdian art. It was discovered in 1965 when the local authorities decided the construction of a road in the middle of Afrāsiāb mound, the old site of pre-Mongol Samarkand. It is now preserved in a special museum on the Afrāsiāb mound. It is the main political painting we have of ancient Sogdian art.
The painting dates back to the middle of the 7th century CE. On the four walls of the room of a private house, three or four different countries neighbouring Central Asia are depicted. On the northern wall China (a Chinese festival, with the Empress on a boat, and the Emperor hunting), on the Southern Wall Samarkand (i.e; the Iranian world: a religious funerary procession in honor of the ancestors during the Nowruz festival), on the eastern wall India (as the land of the astrologers and of the pygmies, but the painting is much destroyed there).
The topic on the main wall, the western wall facing the entrance is debated between specialists. Turkish soldiers are escorting ambassadors coming from various countries of the world (Korea, China, Iranian principalities etc.). There are three main hypotheses. The leading expert on Sogdian painting, the excavator of Panjikent, B. Marshak points out that Sogdian painting, gods are always depicted on the top of the main wall. However, as the Turks are guiding the embassies but are not themselves ambassadors, it has been suggested also that the Turkish Qaghan, then lord of inner and central Asia, might be depicted there. A Chinese text is indeed saying that the idea of the "Four Lords of the World", here China, India, Iran and Turks, is depicted on the walls of palaces near Samarkand precisely during this period, and this would perfectly fit the four walls of this room. The last hypothesis makes use of an inscription mentioning the king of Samarkand to propose the idea that the ambassadors are presenting their gifts to him.
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Royal Nawrūz in Samarkand: Acts of the Conference held in Venice on the Pre-Islamic Afrāsyāb Painting, ed. M. Compareti and E. de La Vaissière, Rome, 2006.
- Court art of Sogdian Samarqand in the 7th century AD - images and commentary at the University of Halle
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