Philippe Foret and Andreas Kaplony (eds.): The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Persson, Helen
Pub Date: 01/01/2009
Publication: Name: Acta Orientalia Publisher: Hermes Academic Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Hermes Academic Publishing ISSN: 0001-6438
Issue: Date: Annual, 2009 Source Volume: 70
Topic: NamedWork: The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road (Essay collection)
Persons: Reviewee: Kaplony, Andreas; Foret, Philippe
Accession Number: 300652486
Full Text: Philippe Foret and Andreas Kaplony (eds.): The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road. Brill Academic Publishers: Brill's Inner Asian Library, volume 21, Leiden / Boston, 2008. HB: lxiv, 248 pp., 40 colour images + foldout, ca. 30 black / white illustrations and drawings. ISBN 97890-04-17165-7.

The Silk Road, coined in the nineteenth century CE, was really several routes through the arid landscape of north-western China and Central Asia to Tibet, India and Europe. Not only goods such as silk, paper, horses etc., travelled in both directions, but also imagery, design and technology and not forgetting religions and ideas. Merchants, pilgrims, local people and the odd exchange princess encountered each other on their passage. Some of the finds from this area are quite different from the civilization of the East Asian heartland, yet at the same time it is not completely unrelated to it. On the other hand, there are aspects of the culture preserved that are linked to cultures in the West.

To understand the complexity and the rich cultural melting pot of the Silk Road, it is necessary to employ transdisciplinary discussions. The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road is probably among the first publications dedicated to this.

The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road focuses on visual cultures of the Silk Road in the form of transmission of maps and images: how these were translated and adapted to new surroundings.

The publication is the outcome of a conference held at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich in May 2004. Ten conference participants expanded their papers and explored the Silk Road's uniquely long communication network and investigated the diffusion of concepts and objects related to visual knowledge. The authors are introduced in the beginning of the publication, all notably from European and American Universities.

The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road is divided into four main parts: 'The Buddhist Road,' "The Mongol Road,' 'Within the Islamic World' and 'The Mediterranean Road,' with three essays each for the first two parts and two essays for the two last. Each essay comes with footnotes and relevant bibliography, while a general bibliography is gathered at the back of the publication. An index is also provided, which is always favourable in highly factual publications like this one.

Before the main part, the reader's expectations are set by a foreword by Lorenz Hurni (Institute of Cartography, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich) and a preface 'What is a Map?' by Valerie Hansen (History Department, Yale University). The editors Foret and Kaplony then carry on introducing the book and later will conclude it, tying the ends together.

The four parts are chronologically arranged. The first part, 'The Buddhist Road,' opens with an essay about the impact of India and Central Asia on the art of Han China (206 BCE-220 CE) by Nicolas Zufferey; then Natasha Heller analyzes the tenth-century mural map of the important Buddhist pilgrimage centre at Mount Wutai in Dunhuang, and ends with a presentation of the development of Buddhist cosmology from the sixth to thirteenth centuries by Dorothy C. Wong. The three essays in 'The Mongol Road' reveal Chinese inspirations in such separate subjects as the appearance of gridded maps and plans in fifteenth-century Islamic Central Asia by Jonathan Bloom, Johannes Thomans' square horoscope diagrams in the twelfth-century Middle East and Europe; and also found in the iconography of the thirteenth century Armenian art presented by Dickran Kouymjian. The two essays in 'Within the Islamic World' start with Andreas Kaplony discussing an eleventh-century Arabic map which is the first that applied geography to linguistics (this chapter is accompanied by an appendix of the geographical nomenclature in al-Kashgari's text and map) while Yossef Rapoport has studied an eleventh-century Arabic world atlas in the Book of Curiosities where aesthetics was more important than accuracy. In the last part, 'The Mediterranean Road,' Paul Kunitzsch presents the tools of premodern Arabic-Islamic astronomers such as three-dimensional celestial globes and the astrolabe, and finally Sonja Brentjes states that elements in fourteenth-century Catalan portolan charts are similar to the late Ilkhanid school.

The sheer quantity of information here is staggering. This is a thoroughly researched book, and it is clear that each of these essays is produced by experts in their subjects. One of the 'risks' with a publication like this is also the high level of specialism. The subject matter might discourage readers not familiar with cartography, and the subject terminology could be too specialized.

I am not a historian of cartography, but textiles from the Silk Road, and overall the language and discussions are clear and concise. However, I struggled with the terminology in two essays. It is important that other scholarship research is accessible to all levels of Asian students in order to bring Silk Road research forward.

Dr. Hansen points out in her preface that the "transfers of one motif or image from one cultural context to another, where an image could take on an entirely different meaning, are among the most fascinating moments in this volume," and I genuinely agree with her.

The essays that specifically stand out exploring this transfer are Jonathan M Bloom's 'Lost in Translation: Gridded Plans and Maps along the Silk Road,' Dickran Kouymjian's 'The Intrusion of East Asian Imagery in Thirteenth-century Armenia: Political and Cultural Exchange along the Silk Road' and Sonja Brentjes's 'Revisiting Catalan Portolan Charts: Do they contain Elements of Asian Provenance?'

Bloom suggests that ideas were inspirations rather than influences in some of the long-distance relations across Eurasia. Different cultures adapted a concept to suit their needs, and something new was created. Kouymjian talks about how Armenian artists adapted selected East Asian symbols of power and incorporated them into their imagery of Christ and the royal couple, mirroring how power and authority were depicted in China. Brentje also expresses in her essay how exotic elements were adapted in a non-Asian visual context, where horses and rulers were depicted according to Iranian and Central Asian models. These essays demonstrate that a whole concept did not necessary transfer to other cultures, but only elements, cherry-picked to suit their tradition or even political allegiances. It is this diversity that makes the study of Silk Road cultures so challenging and exciting.

It is expressed from the beginning that the chapters are not a curriculum guide but rather individual essays. This enables the reader to pick out the essays most central to his or her interest. However, it also makes the publication slightly uneven. Perhaps what is missing is the crossover between the essays, so the continuity between cultures and time is somewhat lost.

A slightly annoying feature of The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road is the gathering of all the colour images at the front of the publication. The format appears somewhat old today, and it is frustrating to have to leaf back and forward to find the images the author is discussing. It is disruptive and spoils the joy of reading and exploring.

Although The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road aim for a better understanding of the interaction between the early Eastern and Western schools of cartography, and a few of the essays are intended for fellow specialists, I recommend this publication to anyone with a serious interest in the Silk Road.

The publication encourages disciplinary border crossings when studying the transmission of culture on the Silk Road and the methodologies apply to most research.

It is appropriate to congratulate Philipp Foret and Andreas Kaplony for taking on the editing of this publication. The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road is essential for everyone studying the history of the Silk Road, not only cartographers.

Helen Persson

Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.