Source: China Daily | 2020-12-23 | Editor:Alison
Ladies and Children, China, Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), 19th century, silk panel, 179cm x 126.7cm, gift of Mr and Mrs Wellington Yee, HKU.T.2005.1595 [Photo/Courtesy of the University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU]
When Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci set foot in Nanjing in 1582, he was struck by the aesthetic splendour he encountered. "There are 200,000 weavers here and they weave a cloth made entirely of silk," he wrote. To Ricci, the long, loose sleeves worn by the Chinese were redolent of Venetian fashion and style. Yet silk wore multiple silhouettes in China that surpassed the physical appearance of dress.
Gathering of Immortals, China, Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), 18th century, kesi (silk tapestry) with metallic threads, hanging scroll, 124.8cm x 61.5cm, gift of Dr Lam Kwok-pun, HKU.T.2008.1671 [Photo/Courtesy of the University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU]
Prized by Chinese and foreign merchants as an essential commodity on a vast trade network, silk had numerous purposes: as fabric for garments, as a form of currency (until the introduction of silver in its place), as a method of tax payment, and as a medium and subject matter for professional artists and the literati. What Ricci couldn't appreciate was just how rich and pervasive silk's influence would become.
Orioles and Magnolias, China, late 19th or mid-20th century, kesi (silk tapestry), hanging scroll, 120cm x 47.5cm, gift of Dr Lam Kwok-pun, HKU.T.2008.1675 [Photo/Courtesy of the University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU]
Originating in the Song Dynasty (960–1279) – though a Chinese legend credits Leizu, the wife of the mythological Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, who taught the Chinese the art and invented the silk loom in the 27th century BCE – and flourishing into the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), China's craftspeople used shuttles and needles as their brushes and silk threads as their pigments, creating meticulous, exquisitely woven and embroidered works.
Dragon robe, China, Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), 19th century, silk with metallic threads, 130.5cm x 198cm, gift of Dr T T Tsui, Tsui Art Foundation Ltd, HKU.T.1996.1096 [Photo/Courtesy of the University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU]
Kesi (weft-woven silk tapestry) and cixiu (embroidery) became elevated into an interdisciplinary art form – a fusion of painting, calligraphy, and hand-weaving or embroidering. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), kesi panels were even being exported to Europe, where they were being incorporated into cathedral vestments.
Spanning the Qing Dynasty to the mid-20th century, the exhibition Pictorial Silks: Chinese Textiles from the UMAG Collection, showing at the University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), encompasses a diverse range of subjects and formats that include 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century hanging scrolls, framed panels and banners, along with 19th-century dragon robes. Each work exemplifies the sophisticated craftsmanship of the artisans and the collective stories of the Qing Dynasty's textile industry. It's on until March 14, 2021 – and it's not to be missed.
Embroidered calligraphic panels, China, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), late 19th or early 20th century, silk, upper scroll: 169cm x 41cm, lower scroll: 169.5cm x 40.8cm, gift of James W. C. Hong, HKU.T.2008.1787 [Photo/Courtesy of the University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU]
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