The Museum of Indian Art, Berlin

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The Turfan Collection:  

Early Indian Art
(primarily the Buddhist Art of Gandhara)
Himalayan/Tibetan Buddhist Art Later Indian Art

Located in the Dahlem area of southwest Berlin in the building which also houses the Museum of East Asian Art, Berlin's Museum of Indian Art (Museum für Indische Kunst) is one of the most important destinations for students of the arts of the Silk Road.  The primary reason is that it houses the Turfan Collection of objects brought back from the northern Silk Road sites in Xinjiang by the German archaeological expeditions of the early 20th century.

These materials from locations such as Khocho, Bezeklik and Kizil are unique.   While one may argue over issues of cultural property and rue the fact that some that were too large to remove from the walls for storage were destroyed in the allied bombing of Berlin in World War II, at least most have been preserved, whereas there is no guarantee they would have survived if left in situ.  In addition to the Turfan Collection, the museum exhibits a stunning array of other art objects from south Asia, including exquisite early Buddhist sculpture, some important sculptues from Nepal and Tibet, Tibetan thangkas, and much more.

The Museum recently re-opened with new installations offering what is arguably one of the most stunning presentations of Asian art to be found anywhere.  Given the attention to renovation and the new display the museum has been slow in developing a presence on the Internet.  There is a basic web page in English and German, the latter displaying a couple of images not found on the English site.

For a good overview of the concept behind the new installation, see the article by the museum's director, Marianne Yaldiz, "A New Concept for the Museum of Indian Art," Orientations: The magazine for collectors and conoisseurs of Asian art, November 2000, pp. 48-52.  That issue has several other articles on the collections, including Yaldiz's overview of the history of the Turfan Collection (cited below).

Objects in the Turfan Collection are well known, since they have been loaned for various exhibits around the world.  In the annotations below, I refer to several published sources where one may find good, studio-quality images of the most important items in the collection.  I have not conducted an exhaustive search nor attempted to include references to the original publications by the German expeditions. It is worth remembering that only a fraction of the total number of objects are on public display.

The photographs here were taken in early August 2004, most with a digital camera set for 300 dpi and the ISO equivalent of  between 800 and 1600.  The images have been reduced in size for the Internet.  Given the often low light conditions, even where the photos are quite clear, the high ISO setting means they may be grainy; so no sharpening of those images has been attempted.  Otherwise basic brightening has been done, and efforts have been made to "correct" the colors.    The qualifications about image quality noted in my introduction to our museum web pages certainly apply here. Many of the photos still display what is probably too much yellow/orange from incandescent lights.  However, the quick process of elminating such a color cast tends to have the opposite effect of overemphasizing blue.  

The current museum display cards are my authoritative source for information about the objects and are particularly valuable where they provide Carbon 14 (14C) dates.  Those dates, incidentally, tend to be earlier than the previous ones derived from stylistic and other considerations.  I have supplemented my captioning notes with information from the identifications in the books.

For the Turfan Collection, my basic organization is by location where the objects were found rather than by material (as is often the case in catalogues), date, or subject matter. For the remaining sections of Indian art, the organization follows approximately that of the order in the museum's display, beginning with the earliest items chronologically. My selection emphasizes Buddhist art.

The published references cited are:

AASR              Along the Ancient Silk Routes.  Central Asian Art from the West Berlin State Museums  (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982). This is still the most extensive catalogue of the Turfan Collection that is readily available in many libraries.

Haussman         Barbara Haussman et al., "The Conservation and Reconstruction of the Cave with the Ring-Bearing Doves," Orientations, November 2000, pp. 83-88.

IFB                  In the Footsteps of the Buddha:  An Iconic Journey from India to China 26.9.1998-15.12.1998.  Jointly presented by The Department of Fine Arts & The University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong: University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, 1998).  One of the most elegant exhibit catalogues on Buddhist art, with stunning reproductions.  The Turfan material is principally on pp. 249-296; other objects from the Berlin museum are generously represented earlier in the book.

Kezi'er shi ku    Kezi'er shi ku. Xinjinang Weiwu'er Zizhiqu wen wu guan li wi yuan hui, Baicheng xian Kezi'er Qian fo dong wen wu bao guan suo, Beijing da xue kao gu xi bian. 3 vols. (Beijing, 1989-1997) (series: Zhongguo shi ku), Vol. 3. Plates 176-228 in this volume of the three on the Kizil Caves are high quality color photographs of most of the major pieces in MIK which were taken from Kizil.

MIAB              Museum of Indian Art Berlin (=Prestel Museum Guide) (Munich etc.: Prestel Verlag, 2000).  A handy pocket-sized overview of the collection which may be purchased at the museum and is available in other languages.

Yaldiz               Marianne Yaldiz, "The History of the Turfan Collection in the Museum of Indian Art," Orientations, November 2000, pp. 75-82.