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Battle-Axe with Dragon Head

Shared motifs and designs in the art of diverse cultures along the Silk Route provide some of the most visible evidence of cultural transmission between China and the Islamic world. Through trade, tribute, gift exchange, and the spread of religions such as Buddhism, Manichaeism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, imagery associated with one artistic tradition was often adapted or incorporated in another cultural context. Motifs that appear across the arts of China, Central Asia, and the Islamic world include fantastical animals such as dragons and phoenixes; cloud bands and cloud collar motifs; and flowers such as lotuses and peonies. Yet the meanings linked to these motifs often did not transfer from one context to the next. Similar imagery could exist simultaneously in several regions while signifying different things.

The dragon represents one of the enduring motifs of Chinese art; it has acquired a range of auspicious meanings over time, symbolizing creation, life-giving rain, and the benevolent power of the emperor.

Dragons were also familiar to Iranian, Anatolian, Central Asian, and Indian cultures and were represented as peaceful and benevolent or terrifying and violent depending on Manichaean, Soghdian, Khotanese, or Armenian mythology. The dragon decorating the back of an Ottoman axe might have served as a fear-inducing and simultaneously protective image.


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