Landlocked at the center of Central Asia, hidden behind the Iron Curtain as part of the Soviet Union, then ruled by a former Communist Party boss for a quarter-century until 2016, Uzbekistan is largely unknown in the West today. A sweeping new exhibition in Berlin aims to change that. Following outreach by Uzbekistan's current government in late 2018, negotiations that included a state visit to Tashkent by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and years of planning, "Archaeological Treasures of Uzbekistan: From Alexander the Great to the Kushan Empire" will open in two venues on Berlin's Museum Island on May 6.
Buddha with Monks
At Berlin's nearby James-Simon-Galerie, the exhibition's second part presents what Mr. Nawroth calls "overwhelming artworks" made by the Kushans, a nomadic people from northwest China that founded an empire in what is now Uzbekistan. Among the many notable items, all dating from around the 1st century B.C. to the 1st century A.D., is a carved limestone "Seated Buddha With Monks" in excellent condition. It portrays the Buddha sitting placidly in a lotus position, looking down in meditation, at the center of a pointed niche that is decorated with a shrub, almost giving him a halo. He is flanked by two small, standing monks. Another piece, the fragment of a larger sculpture, shows a weathered, half-length Bodhisattva with draped clothing and designs around his collar.
From the gallery of kings
As at many ancient finds, archaeologists at Uzbek sites also discovered gold. A settlement called Dalvarzintepa, near the present-day city of Denau, yielded a trove of jewelry, engraved ingots and other small items totaling about 80 pounds. Some of the items have traveled to Berlin, including an outstanding necklace formed of round, gold ribbons and a clasp inlaid with turquoise and almandine.
The exhibition ends with painted, unfired clay sculptures of men, probably warriors or rulers, found in a palace in Khalchayan. One, wearing his hair long and sporting a pointed beard, is believed to be a ruler from the Parthian dynasty; another, with slicked-back black hair and a distorted face, looks like a wounded warrior. They have been partially destroyed by time and nature, Mr. Nawroth said, but they are still "so accurate you can see faces. You can see beards, noses."