Silk embroidery panel with flowers and ducks

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Tang dynasty, 9th-10th century AD

This large piece of embroidery was found folded over and sewn into a bag or cover.

The design of scrolling foliage with flowers and birds was embroidered onto floral-figured silk, backed with plain woven cream silk. Silk thread was used for the long satin stitches of the floral motifs. Subtle colour variation has been worked into the petals and leaves to suggest twists and turns. These were outlined in silver thread which has now turned black through oxidization. Only the beak, eye and upper wing of each duck was embroidered, while the rest of the bird was formed by laying thick golden thread and couching it with small stitches. At one end, the embroidery has worn away to reveal the original ink outline of the design.

This is a particularly fine example of the floral motifs that were popular during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). Meandering scrolls of flowers and birds like this were used as decoration in Chinese arts for many centuries to come.

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Silk embroidery panel with flowers and ducks

  • Detail of flowers and ducks

    Detail of flowers and ducks

  • Detail of flowers and ducks

    Detail of flowers and ducks


More information


M. Aurel Stein, Serindia: detailed report of e, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1921)

J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Stein, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 23.400 cm
Width: 91.700 cm

Museum number

Asia OA MAS 857


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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