Cultural Selection: Chinese Influences in Anatolian Arts
Anatolian people had steady contacts with Chinese culture thanks to the constant flow of exchanges along the Silk Roads. Their reciprocal relationships resulted in the intensification of commerce, and thus valuable merchandise – especially artwork – originating from the Far East were carried to Western regions, and became fashionable.
The synthesis with Chinese arts started by the 9th century CE, and was reinforced during the 12th centuries with Anatolian Seljuk art. The Seljuks (1037-1194) who belonged originally to Oghuz tribes in Central Asia, introduced a union of Turkish, Far Eastern, and Arab arts. Moreover in the 13th century, with the Mongolian presence in China, a new era of Central Asian and Chinese relations began resulting in a blending of Sino-Turkish-Mongolian arts. At the same time, the Mongols brought Chinese influences to Anatolia as well.
Chinese artistic influences are notably displayed in Anatolian paintings on tiles. The Seljuk Sultans are portrayed by far-eastern faces and features in tiles of famous Seljuk Palaces such as Kubadabad Palace in western Anatolia. On Kubadabad tiles, there are people illustrated with full cheeks, drawn eyes, slim noses, and small mouth, while women are represented with long hair. There are also illustrations of people wearing ornamented kaftans most likely made of Chinese silk, and typical Chinese rings which were common design elements.
Moreover, dragon features – generally in pairs – in Anatolian arts would be one of the main influences of Chinese culture, such as the ones in the Konya Fortress or at the theological school of Erzurum (Çifte Minareli Medrese). In Chinese culture, dragons were protecting fertility symbols as Chinese believe that dragons live in clouds and control the rain, and the fertility of earth. They were often represented in stone and stucco reliefs, and are sometimes found on arabesques. Various dragon patterns also existed in Anatolian minor arts where they were illustrated with planet symbols, lion heads, or zodiac signs, or in metalwork. These Seljuk dragons comprised Far-Eastern beliefs, astral mythological beliefs, as well as shaman traditions.
Other decorations representing eagles, phoenixes, peacocks, lotus flowers, and clouds, all witnessing the Far Eastern artistic influences, were also displayed in Anatolian tiles and ceramic. Most of the porcelains in Anatolia belonged to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and reached Ottoman palaces (1299-1923) through gifts or trade, therefore influencing Anatolian wares. This is why even today, the Turkish word for porcelain remains “çini” (meaning “Chinese”).
Moreover, Anatolian carpets known as “Usak” famous between the 16th and the middle of the 18th centuries, contain Chinese features. Besides, the Chinese motifs are identified in high quality silk brocade and velvet fabrics. For instance, Royal kaftans of the Ottoman Empire (produced in Bursa) were made of Chinese imported silk, some Anatolian fabrics and were decorated with Chinese designs.
Chinese influence on Anatolian arts lasted for centuries, and lived through diverse rulings of Anatolia thanks to the exchanges along the Silk Roads. A true blending of two different worlds is displayed by Anatolian arts.
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