Saturday, February 27, 2016

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

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Preamble
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 Claguue's Tapestry Collection (Part I)


Introduction
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.

Landscape.

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.


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

Saturday, February 20, 2016

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

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Preamble
For your convenience, I have listed below the first two parts of this post.
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)


Introduction
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.


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