Saturday, October 10, 2015

Chinese Textiles
Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part I)[1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

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

Amy Sanders Clague has assembled an extraordinary private collection 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).

Sally Lehmann, Amy Clague and Rich Lehmann.

Born in El Paso (Texas) and educated at Smith College, Amy Clague has lived in Phoenix Arizona for more than three decades. During that time she has been involved with the Phoenix Art Museum, first as a volunteer (1967), then as a Director (1978 – 1982) and as a member of the Board of Trustees (1983 - ). She was a founding Board Member of the Museum’s Asian Arts Council formed in 1985, and served as its President (1986 – 1988).

Phoenix Art Museum.

Amy Clague bought her first Chinese textile in 1989, a sixth century brocade altar frontal.

One of the extraordinary Chinese textiles assembled by Amy Sanders Clague. See below for more images of her collection.

Since then she has acquired a number of works, buying from dealers in London, Hong Kong and New York. Her inspiration for collecting came from the accomplishments of her late husband, Robert H. Clague, who built three separate pioneering collections in Chinese art Рthe first in Chinese cloisonn̩ enamels, the second in Chinese glass and the third in Chinese bronzes. The cloisonn̩ and the bronze collection are now permanently part of the Phoenix Art Museum collection, and the Chinese glass is now in the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

A book on the glass collection of Robert H. Clague.

Most of Amy Claque’s Chinese textile collection has been documented in the catalogue - Weaving China’s Past.

Weaving China’s Past – The Amy S. Clague Collection of Chinese Textiles[1].

Historical Journey of Chinese Textiles[1]
The study of Chinese silk textiles offers a glimpse into a complex tradition in which both industry and individual creativity played a critical role. Traditional China viewed spinning, weaving and embroidery as divinely inspired arts to be practiced dutifully at home.

Chinese antique miniature rice paper painting woman weaver at work.

Concurrently, luxury textiles were commissioned for religious, state and private use. Silk was essential in framing China’s foreign policy in order to secure and pacify borderlands. Later, silk became a major export commodity to Europe.

Map of silk route between China and Western World.

Elaborate techniques were developed for producing complex designs both in the woven cloth itself and also in embellishments worked onto the surface. Brocades – fabrics woven with the supplementary weft yarns to create complex patterns – were employed in many variations, including the complex lampas weave with its extra binding warps. Kesi (“carved silk”) - a slit tapestry weave which was perhaps originally developed by Central Asians using wool yarns - come to be highly refined in the works of Chinese weavers in the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) and later.

Hanging: Kesi slit tapestry weaving (Ming dynasty, ca. 1600).
Size: Length: 218.5 cm; Width: 173 cm.

Embroidery - a means of embellishing a woven fabric with stitches made using a threaded needle - flourished throughout the history of silk textiles in China. Artistic experimentation in textiles increased at the level commensurate with other art forms (e.g. ceramics). As in those traditions, professional designers were responsible for designing compositions and decorative patterns for weavers and embroiderers to follow.

Woman's summer robe: central embroidery detail (Asian Art Museum).

During China’s later dynasties, textile arts were pursued as fine arts, appreciated on equal footing with painting and calligraphy etc.

Chinese Textiles
Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part I)

Rectangular silk panel with Phoenix-and-cloud medallions.
Description: Silk brocade; light blue ground of dyed yarns in tabby weave, the ground interwoven in brocade with flat strips of animal substrate faced with gold leaf.
Era: Jin dynasty (1115 – 1234).
Size: Length: 96.5 cm; Width: 64.5 cm, including selvages.
Comments[1]: Even if made in Jin dynasty for the wealthy citizens of that state, the subject matter of this panel is purely Chinese in origin. By tradition, the phoenix appears in times of peace and prosperity. It numbers among the four divine creatures along with the dragon, the unicorn and the tortoise. It presides over the heavens’ southern quadrant and thus symbolizes the sun and therefore, warmth. A creature of good omen, the phoenix began to appear independently in the visual arts during the Six Dynasties period (220 – 589).

Detail front.

Detail back.

Zoomed-in front.

Zoomed-in back.

Front: Rectangular silk fragment with dragon-and-flaming-pearl medallions against a ground of scrolling clouds.
Description: Silk brocade; royal blue silk ground of dyed yarns in tabby weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with flat strips of double-layered paper faced with gold leaf.
Era: Yuan dynasty (1279 – 1368).
Size: Length: 22.0 cm; Width: 27.5 cm.
Comments[1]: The principal motifs of Yuan brocades typically appear within circular medallions. Often with cusped edges and wide borders, the medallions are set against a heavily textured ground. Furthermore in Yuan period, pieces both the foundation and supplementary wefts are continuous, with no floating wefts. In addition, the foundation wefts tend to be bundled in order to accommodate the wide, gold-faced supplementary wefts, resulting in a finished fabric that appears lightly ribbed.

Detail back.

Zoomed-in front.

Rectangular silk panel with a Buddhist mantra.
Description: Silk brocade; rust red silk ground of dyed yarns in tabby weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with flat strips of double-layered paper faced with gold leaf.
Era: Ming dynasty (mid 15th - early 17th Century).
Size: Length: 21.5 cm; Width: 66.5 cm, including selvages.
Comments[1]: This textile’s seven brocaded characters represent the transliteration of a Sanskrit invocation or prayer; they are written in Lantsa script, an Indic script used in Nepal and Tibet for Buddhist invocations and prayers – and also in China for Tibetan-style Buddhist invocations and prayers. The first six syllables comprise of a mantra that from left to right is conventionally translated as - “O, the jewel in the lotus”. The seventh symbol is a seed character that symbolizes the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, with whom the mantra is traditionally associated. All mantras and invocations are chanted using traditional Sanskrit sounds even when translated into Chinese, since the actual sound itself is believed to hold mystical powers, irrespective if the Sanskrit sounds is beyond the comprehensions of those who hear them.

Rectangular silk altar, table or desk frontal with pleated valance and with decoration of confronting makaras.
Description: Silk brocade; dark marine blue silk ground of dyed yarns in four-end satin weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with polychrome silk yarns and with bundle silk threads wrapped with flat paper strips faced with gold leave.
Era: Ming dynasty (late 15th - early 16th Century)
Size: Length: 84.5 cm; Width: 109.0 cm: selvage-to-selvage width of each lower panel: 54.5 cm.
Comments[1]: Popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the makaras that ornate this frontal – and the bajixiang (see below) which emblems the border in its main panel – were introduced to China from Tibet during the Yuan dynasty. The makara - a hybrid sea creature - originated more than two thousand years ago in India where it is regarded as a symbol of fertility, as suggested by the floral scrolls that issue from its mouth. Incorporated into early Indian Buddhist art, along with yaksas, yaksis, and other fertility emblems, makara imagery found its way to all the lands where Buddhism spread. In China the makara was viewed as a type of dragon – where it was variously termed yinglong or kuilong (i.e. a ying dragon or kui dragon) – so that it came to appear in religious and secular contexts alike.


Long, rectangular panel of silk with decorations of eight auspicious emblems (bajixiang) amidst scrolling clouds.
Description: Silk brocade; dark navy blue silk ground of dyed yarns in four-end satin weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with polychrome silk yarns and with flat gold leaf adhered to dark tan substrate yarns.
Era: Ming dynasty (second half of the 16th Century)
Size: Length: 266.5 cm; Width: 30.5 cm.
Comments[1]: Popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the bajixiang or Eight Auspicious Emblems, motif was introduced into Chinese Art from Tibetan Buddhism during Yuan dynasty; it appears occasionally on Jingdezhen porcelains and Longquan celadons of the day. Best known as an ornamental motif in the decorative arts, the Eight Auspicious Emblems were also fashioned independently as small sculptures in porcelain, gilt bronze, and cloisonné enamel for placement on Buddhist altars or in three-dimensional mandalas (cosmological diagrams). Although they vary considerably in Yuan-dynasty depictions, both emblems constituting the motif and their order of appearance had been standardized by Ming times as follows: (i) First emblem – the wheel - which symbolizes Buddha and his teachings; (ii) Second Emblem – the conch shell - which symbolizes the voice of Buddha; (iii) Third symbol – a canopy – which symbolizes spiritual authority, reverence and purity; (iv) Fourth symbol – an umbrella – which symbolizes royal grace; (v) Fifth symbol – a flower – which symbolizes truth, purity and creative power; (vi) Sixth symbol – a vase – which symbolizes eternal harmony, abundant blessings and ultimate triumph over the birth and death cycle; (vii) Seventh symbol - a double fish - which symbolizes fertility, abundance, conjugal happiness and protection against evil; (viii) Eighth symbol – a knot – which symbolizes longevity, eternity and receipt of Buddha’s guidance.


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

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