The Legacy of Genghis Khan
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The Mongols in China
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The vast Mongol empire was divided among four dynasties: the Ilkhanids in the Iranian world, the Golden Horde in southern Russia, the Chaghatay in central Asia, and the Yuan in China and Mongolia [more information on the Mongols]. The Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) was founded by Khubilai Khan (1215–1294) who moved the capital from Khara Khorum in Mongolia to Dadu (modern Beijing) in China. This transference brought about a shift in focus as Khubilai sought to strike a balance between traditional Mongol customs and Chinese culture. For example, although the Mongols practiced shamanism (in which a shaman mediates between humans and the spirit world), they maintained an open policy toward religion. Khubilai restored Confucian ritual at the court and supported his mother’s Nestorian Christian sect, while he and his successors favored Buddhism. Muslims also attained positions of power and wealth under the Yuan.

As rulers of China and in accordance with a more sedentary lifestyle, the Mongols constructed buildings and patronized art. Khubilai erected a magnificent marble palace in his summer capital Shangdu (Xanadu), celebrated in Marco Polo’s account (“the halls and rooms and passages are all gilded and wonderfully painted…”). The Mongol’s sponsorship of art and international trade—both largely a matter of self-interest—helped to propel Chinese forms, motifs, and techniques westward to Iran, where they contributed to the formation of a new visual language.

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Dragon Protome


Dragon Protome
Cenotaph detail
4   Six Horses detail
5   Textile with Griffins detail
6   Wine Jar detail
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