Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia
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Travelers on the Silk Routes
Story of the "Silk Road" is fascinating and full of historic accounts of military conquest, fearless explorers, religious pilgrims, great thinkers, and humble tradesmen who risked their lives as they led their loaded caravans across dangerous deserts, mountains and steppes. Historical figures such as Alexander the Great, Confucius, Marco Polo, and Timur (Tamerlane) have also left there imprints along Eurasia's routes. Although the Silk Routes were more actively used until the 15th century (when newly-discovered sea routes to Asia opened up), it was after the increased ease of travel at the end of the 18th century, and after the invasion of North Africa by Napoleon and the consequent British Protectorate over Egypt, that a greater number of Europeans travelled to the Ottoman Empire and Far East, known to Westerners as "the Orient."
Throughout the centuries artists shaped the image of the East in the Western world. As more artists traveled to the East and began representing numerous scenes of Oriental culture, their works portrayed the Orient as exotic, colorful, mysterious and sensual. However, the Western perception of "The Exotic Orient" also created lasting negative portrayals of Orientals and Muslims. Due to previous Western fears of powerful nations and historic figures from the East, stereotyping is still evident today. Built on the legacies of the past, the use of the Orient as an exotic backdrop, along with the use of Eastern villains, continues to be portrayed in the media, films, advertising, and in educational institutions (popular themes include the Muslim terrorist, now a common villain figure in Western movies).
The 19th century Orientalist artistic movement began when artists, many with limited knowledge of the East, started depicting their experiences as they traveled to the Near East and Far East. The movement lasted about a century and captivated many of the major artists of the 19th century, who created detailed and realistic paintings of their new subject matter, though many did not travel east. While some artists were immersed in artistic pursuits, others had undisclosed motives for using art as a tool for conveying heroic scenes for propaganda purposes, promoting religious ideologies, depicting negative and prejudiced images of Easterners, or creating arousing nudes for odalisque seeking European audiences. Therefore, not all accounts of the East were accurate. The first evaluation and critique of the Orientalist movement were presented by Edward Said in his book Orientalism in which he states: "The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences." As argued by Said, the imaginary Orient is more preferable "...for the European sensibility, to the real Orient."
Since the 19th century, the word "Orientalist" has been the traditional term for a scholar of Oriental studies, however the use in English of "Orientalism" to describe academic "Oriental studies" is rare. "Orientalism" was more widely used to refer to the works of Western artists in the 19th century, including those who traveled East as well as those who did not. In many cases the subjects depicted were known for their beauty and exoticism, sensuality, or violence and subjugation. Orientalist works and pictures not only played a significant role in the development of 19th century European painting, but also constructed the world of the Orient according to Western eyes. Over the last few decades, in order to understand how these images have made a lasting impression on Western perceptions of the "Orient," Orientalism has been re-evaluated by historians and art critics. While underlining the importance of Orientalism in the development of European art, it is important to remember that artists who depicted the Orient often did not have first hand observations, unlike a great deal of travelogue writings that provided first-hand accounts.
The history of Eastern and Western encounters, however, dates back to the early days of the East-West network of trade routes, which developed over centuries. The routes were a vehicle for cross-culture exchange that began to be used in the second century BC. According to historical records, one of the first traveler's of the "Silk Road" was Zhang Qian, who began his politically motivated journey westward in 138 BC in order to make contact with the Yüeh-chih ruler. During the time of the Chinese Han Dynasty, this 5,000-mile stretch of trade routes can be described as the foundation of Eurasian transport and communications (see Entry: Zhang Qian of the Han Dynasty).
After this mission, for centuries various diplomatic missions and emperors sent envoys to advance and secure their interests, as well as to help develop trade. It was only in the 1870s that the geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen, gave the name by which we now know this East-West network of routes as the "Silk Road" -- the network of multiple routes that stretched from Xi'an in China, to Istanbul in Turkey (and which extended by sea routes to Rome and Venice).
And thus, from the days of travel by camel, to the Orient Express and 19th century indulgence at the luxurious Pera Palace Hotel, technological developments transformed trade and travel. To the many merchants, armies, and adventurers of ancient civilizations, the silk routes served as important means of communication between cultures and economies. The civilizations of today are indebted to the cross-cultural impact of the Silk Road's influences on China, Central Asia, the Near and Far East, Africa, and the West. The historical relationship between the "Orient" and "Occident" should be better examined by modern-day scholars in order to promote greater understanding of today's civilizations and cultures.
Categories of travelers on the Silk Routes
Religious figures and learned scholars
Military and political leaders
Diplomatic missions, emissaries, envoys...
Bandits and robbers
Intellectuals and travelogue writers
Secret agents (spies of the Great Game)
Passengers of the 19th century "Orient Express" to Istanbul
Artists that shaped the image of the East in the Western world
List of principle Artists who Travelled to the Ottoman Empire and "Orient"
|Pieter Coecke van Aelst||Belgian||16th century|
|William Henry Bartlett||English||1809-1854|
|Karl Pavlovich Bryulov||Russian||1799-1853|
|Johm Lewis Burckhardt||Swiss||1818-97|
|Charles-Emile Callande de Champmartin||French||1797-1883|
|Georges de la Chappelle||French|
|Stanislas Von Chlebowski||Polish||1835-84|
|Henri Duvieux||French||2nd half 19th century|
|Edward William Lane||English||1801-76|
|Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouy||French||1842-1923|
|Frederick Christian Lewis||English||1813-75|
|Jean Etienne Liotard||Swiss||1702-1789|
|Melchior Lorichs||Danish||c. 1527-1583/6|
|Carl Muller||Swiss||19th century|
|Nicolas de Nicolay||French||16th century|
|Ilya Yefimovich Repin||Russian||1844-1930|
|Camille Rogier||French||first half 19th century|
|Charles Emile de Tournemine||French||1812-72|
|Jean-Babtiste Vanmour||German||17th century|
|Johann Michael Wittmer||German||1802-80|
Note: Orientalism as an art movement can not be associated with any particular European country, nor encapsulated in any of the local “schools” of painting, as throughout the centuries it was exercised by different Western cultures, documenting their experiences or interpretations. For a number of centuries, Orientalism influenced the fine arts, literature, theater, architecture, music, poetry and philosophy. Its impact on academic fields and knowledge is a subject of debate. Although the Orientalist art movement was predominantly a 19th-century phenomenon, the variety of representations started during the Renaissance and continued into the twenty-first century with new forms and techniques, spanning the geographical area of the artists’ interest in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia.
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