Saturday, February 27, 2016

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

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience, I have listed below other posts in this series.
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 I)

The study of Chinese silk textiles, like the study of Chinese ceramics and metalwork, offers a glimpse into a complex tradition in which both organized industry and individual creativity played a role. Traditionally, the Chinese viewed spinning, weaving and embroidery as divinely inspired arts to be practiced dutifully in the home. Concurrently, however, luxury textiles were commissioned for religious, state and private use.

Chinese Daoist Silk Embroidered Robe from the late Ming Dynasty.

Silk was essential in China’s foreign policy, used along with gifts of tea and silver to pacify borderlands. Together with porcelain, silk became a major commodity for export to Europe. Elaborate techniques were developed for producing complex designs both in the woven cloth itself and in embellishments worked onto a surface. Kesi (“carved silk”) is a slit tapestry weave perhaps originally developed by Central Asians using wool yarns. They became highly refined in the works of Chinese weavers of the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) and later.

Court ladies making silk, painted by the Song dynasty Emperor Huizong, a remake of an 8th Century original by Tang dynasty artist Zhang Xuan.

Artistic experimentation in textiles increased at a level commensurate with that in ceramics and metal work. As in these traditions, professional designers must have worked out the compositions and decorative patterns for weavers to follow. At times during China’s later dynasties, textile arts were pursued as fine arts, and appreciated on equal footing with painting and calligraphy.

Cursive Script of Wang Xizhi (265 – 420 AD).

In order to more fully appreciate the imagery employed on these textiles an overview of Chinese terms and symbols will be informative.

Chinese Terms and Symbols
Bat: Happiness.

Buddha's Hand Citron: Happiness and longevity.

Buddhist Lion: Guardian lion (No image given).

Canopy: Spiritual authority. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Chrysanthemum: Tenth month, autumn, reclusiveness, gentility, fellowship, nobility and longevity.

Conch Shell: Voice of Buddha. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Confucianism: A moral code of behaviour based on the teachings of Confucius (551 - 479 BC). No image given.

Coral: Good fortune.

Crane: Longevity, majesty and wisdom.

Dragon: A mythical creature - the dragon roams the heavens and brings life-giving rain - represents yang, the male force. (No image given).

Endless Knot: Longevity, eternity. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Han Chinese: Indigenous peoples of China. (No image given).

Kesi: The Chinese term for slit tapestry characterized by a weave with wefts of two or more colors that do not run from one side to the other side, slits occur where colors change.

Lamaism: Tibetan Buddhism as practiced in China.

Lotus Flower: Purity, truth. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Kata: A Buddhist ceremonial scarf.

Makara: A hybrid sea creature, half dragon and half lion.

Manchu: The Manchurian people established the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911).

Mandala: A cosmic diagram used in esoteric Buddhist arts and practices.

Mantra: A mystical formula recited in prayer.

Pair of Fish: Fertility, conjugal happiness. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Peaches: Longevity.

Pearl: Knowledge.

Peony: Sixth month, spring, wealth and advancement.

Phoenix: A mythological bird with a long tail representing yin - the female force.

Pomegranate: Fertility in one's offspring, sons and a long lineage.

Prunus: First month, winter, perseverance and purity.

Qianlong Emperor: An avid collector and student of the arts who ruled China from 1736 – 1795.

Ruyi Sceptre: "May you have everything you wish".

Ruyi Sceptre With Scroll Motif: "Good wishes for a long life and all you desire".

Sacred Vase: Eternal harmony. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Shuangxi: Double-happiness.

Taoism: An indigenous belief system based on the forces of nature and teachings of Lao Tzu (6th Century BC).

Tribute System: Neighboring states submit to the Chinese Emperor by exchanging gifts for trading privileges in China.

Umbrella: Royal grace. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Vajara: A Buddhist symbol representing a thunderbolt.

Wan: Ten thousand.

Wheel of Law: The teaching of Buddha. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.

Chinese Textiles – Amy Clague’s Tapestry Collection (Part II)[1]
Eight Banners with Flowers and Narrative Scenes including Scenes from The Romance of the Western Chamber.

Front of Banner 1 (full view).

Back of Banner 1 (full view).

Description: Silk kesi tapestry and painting in ink and colors on silk; dyed polychrome silk yarns and gold-wrapped yarns in weft-face tabby weave fabric utilizing the kesi tapestry technique to create representational patterns; tabby-weave openwork silk ground for painting; additional fabric of dyed blue silk yarns in a 4/1 satin weave.
Era: Qing dynasty, late 17th to early 18th Century.
Size: Length: 107 cm; Width: 36 cm (max.)
Comment[1]: The remarkable set of eight banners is constructed of kesi tapestry on the obverse and painted silk fabrics on the reverse. The weavers created the main panels of the obverse including the side streamers and the four below in one continuous weaving so that the warp threads run all the way from the top of the blue panel to the pointed bottom of each streamer.

Front of banners 1 - 4.

Back of banners 1 - 4.

The upper field of decoration, woven in kesi of identical characteristics, was produced and mounted separately. The upper segment of each banner is formed in the shape of a ruyi (a cloud shaped form of auspicious symbolism). On the obverse these are faced with weavings in kesi, each showing a narrative scene in a landscape setting. Each has two figures; four show scenes of combat, four show scenes of two figures interacting, usually one figure shown as if in supplication to the other.

Front of banners 5 - 8.

Back of banners 5 - 8.

In the large field of decoration, each banner has a shape imitating a vase decorated with narrative scenes. Each verse has a different selection of flowers. Included among the flowers are pomegranate with osmanthus, peony with chrysanthemum, camellia, hibiscus with begonia, lotus, prunus with camellia, and orchid with fungus and bamboo.


Tapestry (full view).

Tapestry (detailed view).

Tapestry (detailed view).

Description: Silk kesi tapestry of wool and linen with silk highlights; dyed polychrome wool and silk yarns in weft-face tabby-weave fabric utilizing the tapestry technique to create representational patterns.
Era: Qing dynasty, 18th Century.
Size: Length: 111.5 cm; Width: 73 cm.
Comment[1]: This large panel depicts a view of distant mountains framed by the twisting branches of a pomegranate tree on one side and the prominent blossoms of a hydrangea bush on the other. Lilies, roses, camellia and garden rocks form foreground motifs while a stream meanders through the center toward a distant mountain. A band mist, suggested by a horizontal band of light coloured yarns, partially obscures a grove of trees. Five bats fly about the sky that darkens gradually to a deep blue at the top of the panel. The five bats (wufu) symbolize the five blessing: old age, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death.

Album of Scenes of West Lake.

Cover of the Imperial Poems on West Lake Scenery (full view).

Second leaf (detailed view).

Description: Silk kesi tapestry; dyed polychrome and undyed silk yarns in weft-face tabby weave fabric utilizing the kesi tapestry technique to create representational patterns and calligraphy; minor painted details on the first leaf.
Era: Qing dynasty, Qianlong reign (1736 - 1795).
Size of Leaf: Length: 38 cm; Width: 54 cm.
Comment[1]: This album of twelve leaves was first commissioned by the imperial court. It opens with a woven landscape depicting the famous scenery of West Lake near Hangzhou and continues with eleven double leaves of the Qianlong emperor's poetry on the same theme woven in clerical script.

Woven landscape.

The cover of the album is a dark hardwood (zitan) with borders of silver wire inlaid in a key fret pattern. The title, Imperial Poems on West Lake Scenery, its characters in clerical script, is inlaid in turquoise blue enamel and surrounded by an inlaid silver border depicting two dragons encircled by clouds and stretched out along each side as if reaching for a flaming pearl at the top. A simplified representation of mountains and waves appears below.

Silk-covered Box with Dragons among Clouds.

Front (full view).

Back (full view).

Description: Silk kesi tapestry; dyed silk yarns of black, grey and taupe in weft-faced tabby-weave fabric utilizing the kesi tapestry technique to create representational patterns.
Era: Qing dynasty, 19th Century.
Front and Back Panels: 14 cm; Width: 7.8 cm.
Comment[1]: The silk cover of this small container portrays - on back and front - a dragon exhaling a flaming pearl into a whirlpool, symbolising his power to bring rain. Based on portrayals from as early as the Song dynasty (960 - 1279) the motif is rendered in shades of black, grey and taupe to simulate the colors of ink brushwork in monochromatic painting. A tiny red flame designates the symbolic power of the jewel.

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

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