The unique quality of Chinese embroidery has long enjoyed a national and international appreciation that spans from scholars to connoisseurs, collectors to artisans. China’s rich history of creating embroidered textiles dates to as early as 1027 B.C., at the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty, leading up to its widespread practice during the Han Dynasty. The inception of the Silk Road trade route allowed Chinese silk production to flourish and thus several embroidery styles emerged during this time period, including Yun Jin, Song Jin, and Shu Jin.
Combining a variety of stitches, colors, and motifs, Chinese embroidered textiles and tapestries have been used in a variety of ways – from clothing to religious articles to every-day items. Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery is honored to be offering two extraordinary examples of Chinese embroidery, each executed during the Qing Dynasty. The first is a Yun Jin or ‘Cloud’ embroidery panel depicting a writhing five-clawed dragon on gold silk brocade. The second is a ‘moxiu’ or hair devotional embroidery panel depicting Guanyin. Each will be offered during Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery’s three day spring sale, which will take place on March 31st, April 1 and 2, 2017.
The Yun Jin embroidery panel, which is rife with Imperial imagery, from the five-clawed dragon considered the emperor’s sacred symbol of power, to the flaming pearl of wisdom it tries to grasp, is a stunning find due to its use of motif and technique. Executed in ‘forbidden’ knots, this embroidery speaks to a rich heritage – and international confusion – of stitches unique to some of the finest examples of Chinese needlework. Also known as the ‘seed stitch,’ ‘French stitch,’ ‘blind stitch’ and ‘Chinese knot,’ this particular stitch is achieved by winding thread around the needle a number of times to form densely packed little loops that can eventually make up a pattern.
Western traders who came in contact with Chinese textiles during the days of the British East India Company in the 1690s were fascinated by this particular stitch that was popular on fanciful clothing panels. Rumors began to spread that this small knot could cause blindness in those who sewed row after row, thus allowing the stitch to become known as the ‘forbidden knot.’ Now, historians argue that the stitch was widely used in embroidery produced in the Forbidden City, hence its ‘off-limits’ status. However, this panel’s vivid imagery of the determined dragon who rises above the Three Islands of the Immortals, sewn onto a rich gold brocade with roundels, will be sure to incite feelings of desire for the most passionate of collector; nothing ‘forbidden’ about it!
The second tapestry on offer conforms to a distinct devotional practice among Chinese Buddhists which dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), traditionally known as ‘Moxiu’ embroidery. Believed to have started as a way for young Buddhist laywomen to express their piety, the ‘threads’ of moxiu embroidery are actually strands of human hair, intentionally grown to be sheared and used for sewing the religious panels. In practice, each strand represents the Buddha and acts as a continual movement towards connecting with the divine. The particular embroidery on offer does not depict Buddha, but instead the bodhisattva Guanyin, the ‘Perceiver of Sounds.’ Guanyin, although represented here as a goddess, has the unique ability to transform her or himself into roles that surpass gender differences, thus allowing for greater representation among devotees. In this work, Guanyin is seated on an elephant in a mountainous landscape surrounded by Lohans, the individual hairs stitched onto a cream silk ground. It is an incredible and moving example of a uniquely Buddhist tradition that rarely reveals itself to the Western viewer.
Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery is pleased to provide the perfect opportunity for the seasoned or newly passionate collector to acquire a piece of unique Chinese textile with both cultural and devotional significance this April.