The Musée Guimet, Paris
The Musée Guimet, the French national museum of Asian art (i.e. from Afghanistan eastwards) houses one of the best collections of its kind in the world. Of particular interest to students of the Silk Roads is its displays of materials from the Franco-Afghan archaeological excavations which began back in the 1920s and its collection of banners from the "Secret Library Cave" at Dunhuang and other Tarim Basin artifacts brought back by the Pelliot Expedition in 1906-1909. The Guimet has in recent years displayed in special exhibitions some of the most important archaeological artifacts from Afghanistan, many of which miraculously survived the Civil War and Taliban rule. The museum re-opened a few years ago after extensive renovation and re-mounting of the collections. Objects are displayed beautifully; my only complaint is that the captions are in very small type and often not very informative. If a Silk Road enthusiast were to visit Paris, the Guimet should be at the top of his/her museum list (ahead of the Louvre)-that is saying a lot!
The museum's website (available in French, English. Chinese and Japanese) has developed rapidly and has some of the technically most innovative features of all museum sites. Note that the multiple language support is not uniform across the site-often the links will take you to a page in French which has not yet been translated; for certain of the features, there are many more choices from the French pages than there are from, e.g., the English. The website includes:
- A virtual tour that lets you "walk" through the galleries and focus in on individual works of art. For each gallery there are multiple viewpoints accessible from the accompanying floor plans. An earlier version of the technology allowed one to read some captions and hear some audio descriptions, but apparently those functions are not in the visually more effective newer version yet. You may need to enable the computer software in your browser for this to function properly (a query box will likely ask whether you want to proceed by enabling AciveX). The results are stunning, since you can view the galleries in full screen mode and with high resolution. Left click and hold down on your mouse to pan 360 degrees. The "shift" key lets you zoom quite close to objects of particular interest; the "control" key is for the zoom out.
- Access to the "Collections" section of the website is via an image map of Eurasia: one can for example pick Afghanistan/Pakistan, or Art of the Himalayas or China, etc. For each of these areas there is an overview, links to a glossary of terms, and a relatively small selected group of objects, for each of which there is descriptive text and a high-quality enlargeable picture.
- There are some pages with images and descriptions of important recent acquisitions, and a selection of objects for which one can, in the case of a sculpture, "walk around" the object to view it from all sides and focus in closely on details.
- A promising set of interactive exercises for children, including a remarkably stunningly innovative exploration of themes/motifs under the title "Dragons et compagnie.
The image galleries presented here on Silk Road Seattle extend considerably the number and range of objects available in digital form from the Guimet collections. Most of the images are of high quality, some slightly less than sharp but still serviceable. The selection is far from comprehensive. For the most part textiles or paintings cannot be easily photographed, due to reflection on the glass cases. Furthermore, due to time restrictions when I was there, I did not even attempt to photograph in the Japanese, Korean or, for the most part, the Indian and Southeast Asian collections, all of which are outstanding. There is very little here from the ceramics/porcelain collection. My selection includes a major part of the Afghanistan, Pakistan/Gandhara, and China (from the Han to the Ming) materials, and a sampling of the Nepal and Tibet collections. I have provided links to images on the Guimet website for objects I also photographed; of course for others not displayed here, one simply needs to search their website. For the most part I have not systematically searched for references to published images; so my captioning relies in the first instance on the captioning in the museum itself. A careful correlation with the numerous publications containing the archaeological reports and overviews of the museum's collections (I cite some of the most important of these but have not examined them) would turn up published images and descriptive detail for much of what is presented here.
All photographs were taken in March 2007 and are copyright © Daniel C. Waugh. They may be used for non-profit educational purposes, but please ask permission first, since that helps me track the value of this material. I am generally not in the business of selling rights to higher resolution images even where I have them; for such queries, please contact the Museum's permission department and obtain photographs directly from them.
Last modified April 2007.