Saturday, February 20, 2016

Chinese Textiles
Amy Clague’s Tapestry Collection (Part I)
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed below associated posts.
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part I)
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part II)
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague’s Tapestry Collection (Part II)

Amy S. Clague bought her first Chinese textile in 1989. Since then she has collected a vast array of Chinese textiles, with works ranging in date from the Song (960 - 1279) and Jin (1115 - 1234) dynasties through to the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911). Her collection therefore spans nearly a thousand years of textile development and so provides scholars and collectors a rare and continuous insight into the design of Chinese textiles over this period of Chinese history.

Men’s clothing in the Song dynasty.

Scholars have recently noted the early development of regional styles and techniques in Chinese textiles. Centers for kesi production, for example, have been noted during the Northern Song period (960 – 1127) at Dingzhou, in Hebei province and during the Sothern Song at Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, then the imperial capital.

Kesi technique being explained to students.
Kesi is not only a technique but also a kind of art. It is a type of plain weave fabric with raw silk as the warp and the colorful boiled silk as the weft and weaved through a back filling method. In ancient China, an inch of kesi was worth the same as an ounce of gold. Kesi is a traditional Chinese silk weaving technique of cut designs upon a silk tapestry.

Special weaves such as kepi also became popular among the late Ming scholars, especially those taking inspiration from woodblock-printed books (see - Three Panels with Pictorial Scenes of Flowers and Antiques below). These textiles often represent themes of particular importance to scholars emphasizing accomplishment, learning and the study of antiquity. The exquisite choices and combinations of flora may reflect contemporary developments in the art of flower arrangements.

Huang Zongxi (1610-1695), born in Yuyao, Ningbo, Zhejiang, was a Confucian classics expert, historian, thinker, geographer, astronomer and almanac expert, and educator in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. He was an early historian of Chinese textiles.

In order to put in place where Clague’s textile collection sits within Chinese history, it may be informative to give a brief chronology of Chinese history.

Chronology of Chinese History[1]
Palaeolithic: ca. 600000 – 7000 BC
Neolithic: ca. 7000 – 600 BC
Shang: ca. 1600 – 1027 BC
Western Zhou: 1027 – 771 BC
Eastern Zhou: 770 – 256 BC
Spring and Autumn Annals: 770 – 476 BC
Warring States: 475 – 221 BC
Qin: 221 – 206 BC
Western (Former) Han: 206 BC – 8 AD
Xin: 9 – 24 AD
Easter (Later) Han: 25 – 220 AD
Three Kingdoms: 220 – 265 AD
Western Jin: 265 – 316 AD
Northern and Southern Dynasties: 317 – 589 AD
Sixteen Kingdoms: 317 – 439 AD
Former Zhao: 304 – 329 AD
Former Qin: 351 – 383 AD
Later Qin: 384 – 417 AD
Northern Wei: 386 – 534 AD
Western Wei: 535 – 556 AD
Northern Zhou: 557 – 581 AD
Sui: 581 – 618 AD
Tang: 618 – 907 AD
Five Dynasties: 907 – 960 AD
Liao Dynasty: 916 – 1125
Northern Song: 960 – 1127
Southern Song: 1127 – 1279
Jin (Jurchen): 1115 – 1234
Yuan (Mongol): 1279 – 1368
Ming: 1368 – 1644
Qing (Manchu): 1644 – 1911
Republic of China: 1911 – 1949
People’s Republic of China: 1949 –

Chinese Textiles – Amy Clague’s Tapestry Collection (Part I)[1]
Rectangular Silk Panel with Decoration of Rock. Peonies and Phoenixes.

Front of the tapestry (full view).

Back of the tapestry (detailed view).

Description: Silk kesi tapestry; dyed polychrome silk yarns and gold-warped yarns in weft-faced tabby-weave fabric utilizing the kesi tapestry technique to create representational patterns.
Era: Ming dynasty, 15th Century.
Size: Length: 48.0 cm; Width: 12.6 cm, including selvages.
Comment[1]: This small, rectangular panel of boldly colored silk tapestry depicts two multicolored phoenixes (fenghuang) that hover amidst the red blossoms of a tree peony plant growing beside a blue garden rock. At the bottom of the composition, a stream with white edge ripples flows past a tall, perforated garden rock, whose lower half is medium blue and whose upper half is navy blue. Emerging from behind the rock on a sinewy stalk of pale grey, the tree peony rises to the top of the composition, its too large blossoms rhythmically placed and stretching the full width of the textile.

Ogival Throne Cover with Decoration of a Dragon Coiled about a Flaming Pearl amidst Scrolling Clouds.

Front of the tapestry (full view).

Front of the tapestry – four clawed dragon (detailed view).

Back of the tapestry – four-clawed dragon (detailed view).

Description: Silk kepi tapestry; dyed polychrome silk yarns, gold-warped yarns and peacock-feather-embellished yarns in weft-faced tabby-weave fabric utilizing the kesi tapestry technique to create representational patterns.
Era: Ming dynasty, first half of the 17th Century.
Size: Length: 84.0 cm; Width (max.): 94.0 cm.
Comment[1]: In the form of an ogival arch, this throne cover was fashioned by stitching together seven pieces cut from a Chinese kesi silk tapestry (see diagram below).

The seven pieces stitched together to form an ogival arch.

The two sides, each with three rounded lobes, rise from the flat base to terminate a lotus-petal point at the top. Looking directly out at the viewer, the four-clawed dragon dramatically coiled around a flaming pearl and surrounded by scrolling clouds of varied hue dominates the decorative scheme. The dragon is green in color and thus symbolizes the East, with which it is traditionally associated. Horned, whiskered and maned, the dragon rises above the rolling, variegated waves at the bottom, its lower paws firmly planted on the triangular peaks of blue and green that jut from the white-capped waters.

Rectangular Sutra Cover with the Eight Auspicious Emblems (Bajixiang) Set within a Border of Ten Striding Dragons Pursuing Flaming Jewels.

Tapestry (full view).

One of the ten striding dragons pursuing the flaming jewels (detailed view).

Canopy (chuang) – symbolizing spiritual authority, reverence and purity (detailed view).

Description: Silk kesi tapestry; dyed polychrome silk yarns and gold-warped yarns in weft-faced tabby-weave fabric utilizing the kesi tapestry technique to create representational patterns.
Era: Qing dynasty, probably Qianlong reign (1736 – 1795).
Size: Length: 14.5 cm; Width (max.): 52.5 – 53.5 cm.
Comment[1]: Designed as a sutra cover and woven in kesi tapestry technique, this horizontally orientated, rectangular panel of silk features as its principal decorative motive the Eight Auspicious Emblems (bajixiang) set within a border motive of ten-clawed dragons, each in pursuit of a flaming jewel. Reading from left to right the auspicious emblems appear in the following order:
(i) Umbrella (san or gai) symbolizing royal grace;
(ii) Double Fish (yu) symbolizing fertility, abundance, conjugal happiness and protection against evil;
(iii) Vase or Jar (ping) symbolizing eternal harmony, abundant blessings and ultimate triumph over birth and death;
(iv) Flower (hua) symbolizing truth, purity and creative power;
(v) Conch Shell (luo) symbolizing majesty, felicitous travel and the voice of the Buddha;
(vi) Endless Knot (jie) symbolizing longevity, eternity and receipt of Buddha’s assistance;
(vii) Canopy (chuang) symbolizing spiritual authority, reverence, and purity;
(viii) Wheel (lun) symbolizing the Wheel of Law (falun) and thus the Buddha and his teachings.

Three Panels with Pictorial Scenes of Flowers and Antiques.

Panel A (full view).

Panel B (full view).

Panel C (full view).

Description: Silk kesi tapestry; dyed polychrome silk yarns and gold-warped yarns in weft-faced tabby-weave fabric utilizing the Kesi tapestry technique to create representational patters; minimal painted details.
Era: Qing dynasty, 17th - early 18th Century).
Size: Length: 32.3 cm; Width: 21.5 cm, including selvages.
Comment[1]: Three panels, each with a dark blue silk ground, depict refined groupings of flowers and antiques. Panel A represents a branch of blossoming prunus in a vase of square section, standing on a small base. Panel B depicts three elements. At lower left, a footed rectangular tray holds two cups for tea or wine. At lower right, a squat bowl holds an orchid. Above and just left of the center is a bowl containing three fragrant fruits of the type called finger citron (foshou: Buddha’s hand fruits) displayed on high pedestal of red lacquer. Panel C depicts a large porcelain vase of meiping shape holding a flowering branch.

[1] C. Brown et al., Weaving China’s Past, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix (2002).

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