Most of the exhibits are fragments of ancient silk garments and accessories, with many unearthed in northwest of China. These silk textiles unveil the glorious achievements made by the ancient Chinese silk weaving industry, with their diverse color palettes such as elegant, passionate, etc., as well as patterns revealing cultural mingling as shown by the coexistence of both traditional Chinese motifs of beaded floral medallions, confronted animals and introduced ones such as flying horses.

This is a piece of four-color weft-faced silk twill woven with warp threads inserted with Z-twist, which give the fabric a firm and thick texture. The quaint figures on it still look eye-catching, thanks to the bright palette of sage, blue and beige for motifs on a red ground, though many parts of the patterns are missing on this severely-frayed piece.

Coupled with the rich color palette and curvy lines, which contribute to a refreshing and lively effect, the vivid forms of these decorative figures unveil the glorious artistic achievements of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD).

Chinese jin-silk (jin, 锦 ) is a luxurious fabric made of refined colored silk. It is known for its rich colors, wonderful luster, exquisite patterns along with its firm yet soft texture.

Originated in the Shang and Zhou periods (ca. 1600-256 BC), Chinese jin-silk has witnessed changes and developments in terms of weaving techniques as well as pattern styles, which led to its categorization of Chu-style, Han-style and Tang-style based on varied features of the weave during different periods of history.

This piece is characteristic of fabrics from Central Asia and West Asia, with a well-designed composition and prominent main wefts.

Compared to the loosely-woven tabby for its back, this belt has a front that is made of weft-knit samite with medium thread density. One end of the belt is well-preserved while the other is incomplete.

The face samite is of a bright palette with red and beige motifs on a ground alternating grass green and indigo. These serrated patterns, abstract and highly-generalized, are placed on the face samite in a nicely-loose manner.

Warp-faced compound tabby originated in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) and Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC-220 AD) had been a major category of textiles in China until the early Tang (618-907 AD). However, compound twill emerged later thanks to the cultural exchanges between the west and the east as well as the development of China’s weaving techniques.

With the shape of an inverted trapezoid, this is a severely-frayed fragment originally from a loosely-woven five-color weft-faced samite. It has a passionate palette with dark green, navy blue and brown motifs on a ground of brick red and deep orange, two similar colors difficult to differentiate. The two incomplete motifs featuring confronted geese in floral roundels have saw-toothed edges. Below the two motifs there are ornamental strips, beads and floral patterns, which make this piece highly ornamental.

Flying horses with wings are recurring patterns on the silk fabrics unearthed in the northwestern region of China and attributed to the historical period between the late Northern Dynasty (420-589 AD) to the High Tang (618-907 AD). Studies indicate that these patterns originate from Pegasus, a winged horse deity in ancient Greek mythology.

“Intertwined Lotus Vines” is a dynamic, pleasant-looking traditional Chinese pattern known for its endless intertwined vines surrounding lotus blossoms, signifying “life in an endless succession”.

Applique Embroidery is a technique widely used in apparel making in ancient China. The artisan would first cut cloth, gauze or tabby into appliques featuring patterns they wanted, paste them onto the foundation weave, and then fix them with stitches along the edges of the patches.

The pair of golden phoenix, mythological auspicious birds in Chinese culture, is the highlight of this item. Accompanied by the smaller male phoenix standing still on the flowering branch, the female, which is known for beautiful dancing, is flying with stretched wings, posing a pleasant contrast to the former.

Jin-silk with Pavilions, Terraces and Confronted Animals.

The combination of animal patterns and a mountain-shaped image structure composed of patterns of pavilions and terraces is a continuation of the simplified patterns of mountains, clouds and animals originated in the East Jin period (317-420 AD).

Studies show that the image structure of this piece was probably designed under the influence of western architectural structures featuring columns or arches.

Yellow-ground Samite with Confronted Goats in Beaded Floral Medallions

This is a piece of silk fabric featuring confronted goats in bead-outlining floral roundels. Patterns of turquoise and brown stand out on a yellow ground. In each of the medallions there is a pair of confronted goats standing on a palm-shaped platform, and floral cruciform are seen between two rows of medallions.

The weaving technique of this piece indicates that it is a typical Central Asian silk fabric.

Samite of Everlasting Happiness and Shiny Brightness

Figures on this pieces are visible based on the color variation among blue, red, white, yellow, green and brown by warp threads on a blue foundation. This item is mainly embellished by mountain-shaped patterns, around which scatter motifs of five auspicious animals including tiger, deer, dog, winged animal, etc. A complete phrase can still be seen today, composed of nine seal script Chinese characters “大长乐明光承福受右” meaning being blessed to have everlasting happiness and shiny brightness. Everlasting Happiness and Shiny Brightness were names of palaces in the Han dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) as a matter of fact. Chinese characters alternate with animal motifs, conveying people’s wish for happiness, brightness and immortality.

The motif group of vivid animals shows just a tip of the mysterious oriental culture. The first animal with two horns from the left makes a lively gesture of climbing with its mouth wide open.

This is a horse face cover designed to prevent sand blown by winds. It applied various abstract geometric patterns such as lotus flowers, honeysuckles, animals such as frogs, cruciform, Buddha statues, etc.

This piece is in maroon for the foundation color and brown for motifs. Floral medallions are arranged in rows, each flanked by lines composed of auspicious characters alternating with beaded roundels. Threads are clearly-arranged but unfortunately most of the floral medallions are incomplete. The composition is a well-designed one, with perfect density, testifying to the thoughtfulness of the artisan. The style of the remaining motifs shows features of west China and Central Asia.

It is possible that this item was created under influence of cultural exchanges and mingling when metaphysics emerged and cultures of Persia and Greece were introduced to the Central Plain of China.

Ethnic Costume Museum, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology
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