- Museum number
This fragment has been embroidered in satin stitch through two layers of fabrics: a white twill damask with floral pattern backed with a plain woven white silk. There is an intact selvedge, about 0.6 cm wide, on the plain woven silk. The piece was originally sewn in the form of an oblong cover, folded in half and joined along one edge and at the two ends. The main embroidered motif is an entwining flower in dark green, blue, yellow, brown, beige and orange, then outlined in silver wrapped threads, in couching stitch. Small flying birds (probably ducks) are dotted among the flowers, which are worked with gold wrapped threads couched by brown silk thread.
A. White twill damask with floral pattern
Warp: silk, untwisted, single, white, 45 ends/cm; Weft: silk, untwisted, single, white, 26 lats/cm. Weave structure: 1/5Z twill for pattern on 2/1Z twill for foundation.
B. White silk plain weave
Warp: silk, untwisted, single, white, 58 ends/cm; Weft: silk, untwisted, single, white, 26 lats/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave.
Threads: silk thread: Z twisted; Colours: dark green, blue, yellow, brown, beige and orange etc. Gold and silver threads: a silk core, Z-2S ply, white, wrapped with gold and silver foil, probably on cotton paper substrate.
Stitch: satin stitch for the silk threads, couching stitch for the gold and silver threads.
- Production date
Length: 92 centimetres
Width: 23.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1985:
When found, this panel was sewn in the form of an oblong cover, folded in half and joined along one edge and the two ends. It is embroidered on a white damask lined with plain white silk, and a selvedge is visible along one edge of both fabrics. The damask itself is in a floral design, although this is hard to see beneath the exuberant scrolling embroidered stems, leaves and flowers which are evenly disposed over the whole surface of the piece, with small ducks in flight between the stems. Apart from their eyes, beaks and wing-patches in silk, the birds are worked solid in plied silk thread rolled with strips of gold-leafed paper, the threads running in pairs and couched with fine silk. The stems, flowers and leaves are edged with a single thread similarly covered in silver-leafed paper, though this has mainly perished.
All these edges were applied as the finishing touch to the piece, after stems had been worked in split stitch and the leaves and petals had been filled in with satin stitch. In places where the indigo thread of the stems has been broken, one can still see faint traces of the ink used to outline the design. The use of the silk was very economical: often the stitches on the front are 8 or 9 mm long, and on the back barely 1 mm as the needle returns, splitting the silk, to go forward another long stitch on the front. The scrolling stems are all connected and begin in the middle on the selvedge side. Along the opposite side the design evidently continued, and there is every reason to suppose that it did so over a full width of silk, a width more than twice the present 24 cm. At the top and bottom, the stems and leaves conform with the straight line of the edge, so nothing has been lost there. The form in which it was discovered, as a bag or cover, must the have been a form of re-use, after part of the embroidery had been cut off.
Throughout, the work displays the qualities of Tang floral art at its best. In addition to the many variations of colour in the flowers, the leaves are worked in green and indigo to suggest twists and turns. For a denser treatment of the same foliage motif, one might instance the edges of the stele to the Chan Master of Great Wisdom, in the Beilin at Xi’an, which is dated the 24 th year of Kaiyuan (A.D.736).
From Whitfield 1985:
All types of textile art flourished during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906) in China. An important group of Tang textiles has recently been found in excavations at the Famensi at Fufeng, in Shaanxi province; gifts to this monastery evidently included clothing as well as glass, silver and ceramics. Embroidery also continued to be developed and was used for large images of the Buddha built up in satin and chain stitch (BM MAS.0.1129). Most of the textiles found by Aurel Stein at Dunhuang in Gansu province, including banners, altar hangings and monks' apparel, follow the Buddhist convention of being made up of small cut pieces of different cloth. These 'patchwork' items provide an invaluable cross-section of the different types of silk cloth and embroidery available at the time.
Trade along the Silk Route was at its most vigorous during the Tang dynasty, and travellers record the bazaars of the Middle East as being full of Chinese patterned cloth and embroideries. Simultaneously we are told that the Tang capital at Chang'an (present-day Xi'an) was populated by large numbers of Iranian craftsmen. A silk weave now known as "weft-faced compound twill" appears among Chinese textiles for a few centuries from about AD 700. This may well have been a technique introduced by foreign weavers, as it seems to have been developed originally in Iran. In the West it was particularly associated with repeating designs of roundels enclosing paired or single animals, with flower heads or rosettes between the roundels (BM MAS.876 and 877). The scroll design with flowers and birds occurs in ceramics and other decorative arts from the Tang dynasty onwards.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The 1917-11-28 group (with MAS numbering) refers to objects from Stein's Second Central Asian Expedition, 1906-08. As the expedition was financed 3/ 5 by the Government of India and 2/5 by the British Museum, it was agreed that the finds from the expedition should be allocated in these proportions. All the finds were shipped to London for sorting, research and publication, and subsequent distribution. The distribution of the finds between London and India was determined by specialists, appointed by the Government of India (through the India Office, London) and the British Museum, who drew up lists of the objects for approval by both sides. The specialists included: Raphael Petrucci, under supervision of Dr E Denison Ross (nominated by India Office) and Laurence Binyon (British Museum) on paintings; Dr F W Thomas, Dr E Denison Ross (both nominated by India Office) and Dr L D Barnett (British Museum) on manuscripts and written documents; Dr E Denison Ross (nominated by India Office) and Laurence Binyon (British Museum) on archaeological/other finds. Although the lists were drawn up and approved in 1915, the Government of India asked the British Museum to look after the entire collection during the First World War, and those allocated to India were eventually shipped in 1919.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.xxii.0019 (Stein no.)