St. Petersburg: tip. Imp. Akad. nauk, 1895. Item #835
, 9 pp., 44 ill. 42x29.8 cm. Period half-leather with gilt lettering on the spine. Slightly worn, but generally in very good condition.
Scarce. First edition.
This album of monochrome lithographs displays views and linguistic material collected during one of the most important expeditions to the Caucasus and the Southern shore of the Caspian Sea at the time.
In 1860 the Imperial Academy of Sciences decided to send Boris Dorn (1805-1881) - a German orientalist specializing in the history and the languages of Iran, Russia and Afghanistan – on a scientific trip to Southern Caucasus. Primary objective of the expedition was to collect information about oriental languages, culture, manuscripts, coins and other rarities: “Many secrets that cannot be explained here will be uncovered during the expedition…and many riddles that seem inexplicable will finally be solved” (B.D). Dorn left St. Petersburg on the 17th of August 1860 and embarked upon a 10-month journey to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Persia, Uzbekistan and Dagestan. A scientific report of the expedition was first published in German in a Bulletin de l’Ac. Imp. Des Sciences de St. P., 1861. The Russian translation was printed as a separate edition (A Report on a Scientific Trip to the Caucasus and the Southern Coast of the Caspian Sea) the same year. In spite of Dorn’s multiple attempts to issue an atlas illustrating scientific results of the expedition, the endeavor could not be completed during his life and the atlas was published posthumously under the supervision of the Russian Imperial Archaeological Society in 1895.
The first section of the edition features 20 positions produced by the artist Karl Gippius (he was accompanying Dorn during the expedition) and showing rare views of Baku, Madzhalis (Dagestan), Derbent (Dagestan) and Kubachi (Dagestan). The lithographs depict cemeteries in Derbent and Baku, a number of caravanserais and gravestones in Azerbaijan and Dagestan, Siniggala and Bibi-Heybat mosques and Pir Mardakan monument in Azerbaijan. There is also a lithograph displaying one of the biggest discoveries of the voyage, a grave of the German explorer Samuel Gmelin (1744-1774) who tragically died during an expedition to the Caucasus (Gmelin died of fever and starvation when his expedition was captured by the Nogai Khan Usmey-Asmir-Amzy). Dorn’s intention to “erect a monument on the forgotten grave of a worthy person who fell victim to science” was fulfilled in 1861, when he managed to find the lost grave and erected a wooden cross over it. The first section of the atlas, among other interesting materials, offers 45 Kubachian reliefs depicting figural subjects, floral ornaments and fantastic beasts.
The second section of the atlas comprises Arabic and Persian inscriptions found in Persia and Dagestan: “On our way we (Dorn and Gippius) examined Islamic monuments and wrote down inscriptions from them. The most wonderful ones my companion transferred to paper”. The dates of the inscriptions range from the 12th century to the 18th century with the earliest one of them being an Arabic inscription on the gravestone of Qadi Abu-l-Qassim in Amol, Mazanderan (1120). Majority of the inscriptions come from caravanserais and tombs and mention builders or cite excerpts from Koran. The second section of the atlas also features 8 Arabic inscriptions from Kubachi.
The third and final section of the atlas presents 14 inscriptions (in Sanskrit/Punjabi) found in the Zoroastrian Fire Temple – Ateshgah (Baku). A surviving proof of the ancient relationship between India and Azerbaijan, the old monastery traces its origins to Zoroastrianism which was practiced in Azerbaijan from the first millennium BC. The current temple was built in the 17th-18th centuries in the place of a Zoroastrian sanctuary (which existed until the introduction of Islam) by the Indian pilgrims who visited Azerbaijan for the Silk Road Trade and erected the temple as a site for practicing religious ceremonies. The inscriptions in the temple in Sanskrit and Punjabi identify the site as a place of Hindu and Sikh worship, and state it was built and consecrated for Jwala Ji, the modern Hindu fire deity. The inscriptions were sketched by Doctor Kirsten who assisted Dorn during his expedition.
Overall the atlas provides a vivid insight into the scientific outcomes of Dorn’s expedition.