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Original Articles Home > Acta Via Serica > Archives > Original Articles
Title The Journey to the East: The Motif of Grapes and Grapevines along the Silk Roads
Volume Vol. 3 No. 2
Pages pp. 107~134 (all 28 pages)
Publication Date December, 2018
Keyword grapes, vine motif, viticulture, China, Iran
Abstract This paper is an art historical attempt to discuss the transfer and transmission of a certain visual idiom along the Silk Roads1 and to show the multi-dimensionality of the trans-regional, trans-cultural movement. The motifs of grapes and grapevines are discussed here for this purpose, including the grape-and-vine motif mixed with other animated figures and plants. A special emphasis is on China and its reception, but regional varieties within East Asia are also discussed. The motif is one of the most longstanding and versatile visual idioms, widely distributed along the regions of the Silk Roads. This deceptively familiar motif came to China, where grapes and viticulture were introduced far later than the West. The West developed various symbolisms ranging from manic revelry and heavenly unity with mystic beings, to royalty and power in different cultures. In China, this visual idiom was eagerly received in association with something exotic and re-interpreted in the context of Chinese culture. Without active viticulture, the motif transformed itself into beautiful design patterns and space fillers in China and East Asia. The natural appeal of jewel-like grapes acquired new meanings of fertility and happiness in the traditional East Asian cultural context. To see the cultural effect of viticulture on the visualization of this motif, the Islamic reception of the motif is briefly touched upon when countries to the West of China (서역 西域) were fully Islamized and heavily affected by the prohibition of alcoholic drinking.