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The Guanyin Icon (Chinggis Khan’s Last Campaign)



The Guanyin Icon. The State Hermitage MuseumP.K. Kozlov’s excavations in 1909 revealed that the suburgan (Mongolian for stupa) outside the city walls of Khara Khoto contained both Tangut written material and Tangut art objects 1. It goes without saying that these two parts of the Tangut heritage, originating from the same site, represent a single source of information on the Tanguts and, as such, should be studied in their unity. However, to the best of our knowledge, no such study has been made so far.

This is partly due to the fact that from the very beginning in 1909, when the Tangut treasure was transferred from Khara Khoto to St.-Petersburg, the written material and the artistic and archaeological material were separated and given to different institutions: the Asiatic Museum (now the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences) and the Ethnographic Department of the Alexander III Russian Museum. In 1933, the artistic and archaeological items were given to the Oriental Department of the State Hermitage Museum.

The Guanyin Moon in Water painting held in the State Hermitage Museum (X-2439) was first published in the well-known catalogue, Lost Empire of the Silk Road: Buddhist art from Khara Khoto in 1993. Since then it has twice been described by K.F. Samosyuk 3.

Her approach is that of an art historian. Our description differs in that it is not an iconographical study but rather an attempt to connect the scenes depicted in the painting and to put the scenes into an historical context.

Despite the fact that the «Great Conqueror», Chinggis Khan, lived nearly eight hundred years ago, his personality still attracts a lot of attention. So far the main source materials used for reconstructing the life and military success of Chingghis Khan are the «Secret History of the Mongols», Chinese dynastic histories compiled in the mid-fourteenth century, and the writings of Persian historians such as Rashid al-Din and Juvaini. Indeed all the books on Chinggis Khan repeat the same facts which are known mainly from the above mentioned sources.

There is only one exception – the last period in Chinggis Khan’s life, which includes his final campaign against the Tanguts (1226–1227) and his death in course of the campaign, which appears to be rather obscure. In different sources conflicting reports are given. It is said that he was wounded in the knee, that he succombed to an unknown illness, that he was killed by a lightning strike, and that he died after he was thrown from his horse. There also exists a legend that he was emasculated by a Tangut Empress but, since it was not corroborated by any written sources, this oral tradition was not taken seriously...

(Photo at the top: The Guanyin Icon. The State Hermitage Museum)Click to enlarge the photo


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The Guanyin Icon (Chinggis Khan’s Last Campaign)

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