6 Stunning Examples of SIlkwork

For thousands of years, silk has been harvested, spun, and woven into shimmering, sheer, and surprisingly strong textiles

By Google Arts & Culture

Silk Painting of Man Riding on Dragon (-221) by UnknownChina Modern Contemporary Art Document

Silk, the strong yet soft fibre produced by the larvae of the silk moth, was first cultivated in neolithic China, around 3000BCE. Silk was, and remains, a valuable commodity. For thousands of years, its manufacture was a closely guarded secret.

This simple silk banner, painted with ink, was found in a tomb near Changsha, Hunan Province, China. It depicts a high ranking aristocrat riding a dragon, accompanied by fish and a crane. It may have been intended to help guide the soul of the deceased to the afterlife.

The Coronation Mantle (1133/1134) by UnknownTreasury, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Silk was traded westwards from China, along a trade route that became known as The Silk Road. In central Asia and Europe it was reserved for the most important uses, such as this coronation mantle, created some time around 1100CE, and owned by the Norman king Roger II of Sicily.

This fascinating piece of fabric combines Chinese silk, Persian-style imagery of palm trees, camels, and lions, and Kufic Arabic script along its lower edge. This mantle shows how valuable silk tied together cultures in trade and fashion.

Armor of an Officer of the Imperial Palace Guard Armor of an Officer of the Imperial Palace Guard (18th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This ceremonial uniform was made for a palace guard in Qing Dynasty China. The silk has been dyed a rich, deep navy, and embroidered with gold and silver threads. The dragon motif is typical of clothes like this, and recalls the historic association of royalty with these beasts.

A costume such as this represents years of highly skilled labour. It would be immediately apparent to any onlooker that the wearer of this fabulous outfit was a high-ranking figure at the imperial court.

Dress (robe à la française) (1775 (fabric: 1760s))The Kyoto Costume Institute

The European taste for silk grew in the 18th century, following increased contact with China. A growing appreciation for Asian aesthetics led to the creation of gowns such as this, made for Madame Oberkampf when she had an audience with Queen Marie Antoinette in 1775.

This dress demonstrates a variety of different threads including chenille, silk floss and twisted yarn. It shows of the outstanding skill and creativity of the Lyonnaise silk weavers - famous across Europe - who made it.

Folding stool (pliant) (one of a pair) Folding stool (pliant) (one of a pair) (1786) by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Sené|Nicolas François Vallois|Louis-François Chatard|ChaudronThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Silk wasn't just for clothing. This upholstered folding stool, or pliant, was made for Marie Antoinette's Salon des Jeux at Compiégne. In total, 24 matching pliants were made for this gaming room, where extravagant fortunes were won and lost.

The firm of Pernon in Lyon wove the fabric for the original upholstery and the matching wall hangings, a ribbed silk chiné embellished with a bower of trees, floral garlands, and hollyhocks on a white ground.

Silk Log Cabin Quilt (1850) by Marie Wagemann PechmannSan Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles

Not all silks were made for royalty. This log cabin quilt was made around 1850 by Marie Wagemann Pechmann, a 24 year old German immigrant to the United States.

Quilting is a technique that makes the most of small pieces of fabric. Here, the precious silk has been cut into strips and applied to make a dazzling design of varying colours. This is a simple piece of folk art that connects an immigrant's home to the wider world.

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