The lion is an important subject in Chinese art, appearing in paintings, sculpture, ceramics and textiles as well as carpets: he is emblematic of courage and a guardian against evil, a symbol of spiritual strength. As a motif he is also very auspicious, with multiple associations; shizi, Chinese for lion, is also used as homophone, meaning ‘sons in every generation’. One of the earliest appearances of lions is in stone as guardians for the tomb of Yang Tong, Sichuan province, Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 CE); see Hwee Lie Thè (2000), p. 20 and fig. 1. By the at least the 8th century, in the Tang dynasty, lions can be found decorating embroideries and metalwork. In the 15th and 16th centuries, during the Ming dynasty, the lion begins to incorporate some of the playful characteristics of the Pekinese dog, and can be found in opposing pairs, chasing a brocade ball with whirling streamers on stonework, cloisonné and ceramics, see Hwee Lie Thè, ibid., figs. 8-11, p. 22. This personality - the ‘lion-dog’ or ‘dog of fo’ - can be seen here in the medallion of this carpet, where a pair of these lively animals confronts each other over a ball with coloured ribbons. With one coloured in darkest blue and the other in light gold, they also recall the yīn and yang. For further discussion of the development of the lion dog motif, please see Hwee Lie Thè (2000). Here the lion-dogs are framed by a lobed ‘cloud-collar’ medallion, which floats on a blue field which also supports a series of ‘hundred antiques’ motifs, unusually, arranged in pairs.
One hundred antiques
The ‘hundred antiques’ design emerges in the mid-17th century, signifying the continuity of Chinese culture during the turbulent years marking the transition between the Ming and the Qing dynasties. The motifs depict ‘culturally significant objects’, (Dickinson 2000, p.57) , objects related to the attributes of scholarship, to rituals, the ‘eight precious things’ and musical instruments, representing values associated with Confucian orthodoxy, as described in the Da Xue, (Great Learning). “Those who wish to make their intentions sincere would first extend their knowledge: the extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things.” (Dickinson, 2000, p. 59). The format of the ‘Hundred Antiques’ carpet is more usually for a kang, where the disposition of the symbols across the plane of the carpet recall actual objects laid out on the scholar’s table, referring to the tradition of the display and shared admiration of objects with important visitors, a ritual recorded in a hanging scroll, Enjoying Antiquities, by Du Jin (active 1465 – 1509), see Franses (2000), fig. 26 and still a customary activity in the second half of the 18th century, as noted in Franses, ibid, p.67 and reflected in the portrait by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), Emperor Qianlong Looking at a Painting, new York (1996), p. 63, fig. 5.
In the example offered, the symbols depicted, as noted unusually mainly in pairs, include: a bolt of silk, the qing stone chime, a flower basket, a miniature Scholar’s table with zhuan and vase, personal seal and stand, a painted scroll, a vase on stand, a dingfang, a zhong, a handled vessel, covered cup, bowl of grapes, double-mouth vase, teapot, two forms of brush holder with brush, scroll and flywhisk, flute, scroll, miniature screen, lion-dog (censer), ding, jue and peony in a container. Many of these depictions appear quite specifically personalised, rendering the whole with lyrical charm. The closest comparison to this piece in drawing and colouration, is the Clarke 'hundred antiques' kang cover, see Cologne 2005, pP. 52, Abb. 49.
For further discussion of the meaning of individual objects, see Dickinson (2000); Leitch (1935) and Eiland (1979).
For a later 18th century example with this design, see The Thyssen-Bornemisza lion-dog medallion and 'hundred antiques' carpet, lot 98 in this sale.
Franses (2000a): Franses, Michael, The lion dog carpets, Classical Chinese Carpets I Lion-dogs Hundred Antiques, London, 2000, pp. 25-55
Hwee Lie Thè (2000): Hwee Lie Thè, The lion-dog, Classical Chinese Carpets I Lion-dogs Hundred Antiques, London, 2000, pp. 19-23.
Dickinson (2000): Dickinson, Gary, The hundred antiques, Classical Chinese Carpets I Lion-dogs Hundred Antiques, London, 2000, pp. 57-61
Franses (2000): Franses, Michael, The ‘hundred antiques’ carpets, Classical Chinese Carpets I Lion-dogs Hundred Antiques, London, 2000, pp. 67-81
New York (1996): New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Possessing the Past, Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Exhibition catalogue, 19 March to 19 May 1996, text by Fong, Wen C., & Wyatt, James C. Y., New York, 1996
Köln, 2005: König, Hans and Franses, Michael, Glanz de Himmelssöhne, Kaiserliche Teppiche aus China 1400 – 1750, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln, exhibition catalogue, London, 2005
Leitch (1935) Leitch, Gordon B., Chinese Rugs, New York, 1935, Ch. VII, pp. 89109
Eiland (1979) Eiland, Murray L., Chinese and Exotic Rugs, London, 1979, I The Rugs of China, Symbols used on Chinese Rugs pp. 29 -41
A Note On Classical Chinese Carpets
The study of pre-1800 Chinese carpets is a relatively recent discipline. Carpets from Persia, India and the Ottoman Empire were extensively traded from at least the late 15th century; their aesthetic and commercial value has been well understood by collectors since they first arrived in the West. In contrast, the classical carpets of China were little known until the early 20th century, during the final years of the Qing dynasty, (1636–1912), when they began to appear on the international market. The rug scholar, Arthur Urbane Dilley wrote “The advent of Chinese rugs in America was as dramatic as their quick capture of popular approbation. As if the art arrived from another planet, The American Art Association announced the first sale of it in 1908”. 1 They were enthusiastically taken up by collectors such as Dilley himself, Louis Tiffany, J K Mumford, Frederick Moore, T B Clarke and the patron of modern art and literature, and collector, Scofield Thayer, whose dais carpet is included in this sale (Lot 89). As calculated by Michael Franses 2 some 1,650 ‘antique’ Chinese carpets had been offered across 15 auction sales in New York by 1920, when the sales effectively ceased, as the sources of these pieces dried up. Illustrated examples in the American Art Association catalogues show many pieces in pristine condition, but the depredations of time and use have had their effect. Franses3 suggests fewer than six hundred classical Chinese carpets survive today with the Palace Museum in Beijing having the largest collection, of something less than one hundred, mainly examples from the reign of The Wanli Emperor, fourteenth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, (1573-1619). In addition there are ‘some sixteen rugs’3 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a similar quantity in the Textile Museum in Washington, mainly from the collection of George Hewitt Myers, with the majority of the remainder held in private collections In Europe and the United States.
This sale offers a unique opportunity to acquire several exemplary examples of Chinese carpet weaving, both published and unpublished. The works offered are in the main attributed to the weaving centre of Ninghsia in Western China, which seems to have seen an expansion in the production and availability of its weavings after a military expedition to the area by the Kangxi Emperor, fourth Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, (1662-1722), in 1696-97, during which he asked to see carpets being woven and was presented with several examples.4 Carpets were clearly highly prized as prestigious possessions: virtually all the portraits of the Ming and Qing emperors include depictions of carpets, see Köln, 2005,5 pp. 19-23, pp.33, 39 for examples. Photographs of interiors of the several halls in the Forbidden City, dating from circa 1900, show how carpets were still being displayed in the palace by that date, see Köln, ibid, pp.24-25. Carpets were used on raised platforms (dais), on beds, kang, as chair, bench, table and saddle covers, to define areas of importance, provide warmth and comfort, and through their motifs and decoration, create a harmonious aesthetic which integrated their symbolism with the other Chinese works of art with which the royal household, their courtiers and officials surrounded themselves. In particular, the Larsson lion-dog medallion with 'hundred antiques' dais carpet, (Lot 71), and the Thyssen- Bornemisza lion dog medallion and ‘hundred antiques’ dais cover (Lot 96), all exemplify the tradition of using symbols and homophones to decorate works of art. Further information can be found in the catalogue entries for these pieces. This sale also includes examples of carpets and rugs displaying all the key motifs associated with the genre: dragons, designs derived from woven silks, peony and lotus flowers, and complex fretwork and geometric patterns, which together provide a rare opportunity to appreciate the range and subtle beauty of classical Chinese pile weavings.
1 Dilley, Arthur Urbane, Oriental Rugs and Carpets, A Comprehensive Study, Scribner’s, New York, 1931 cited in Franses, Michael, A Brief Introduction to classical Chinese carpets, in Classical Chinese Carpets I, London, 2000
2 Franses, Michael, A Brief Introduction to classical Chinese carpets, in Classical Chinese Carpets I, London, 2000, p.14
3 Franses, Michael , A Brief Introduction, Classical Chinese Carpets in Western Collections, The Kangxi period, 1661 – 1722, London, 2002
4 Franses, Michael , The emperors and their carpets, Classical Chinese Carpets in Western Collections, The Kangxi period, 1661 – 1722, London, 2002, p. 7&10, quoting Du Halde, Description geographique, historique , chronologique, politique et physique de l’empire de la Chine, Vol LV, fol 02, no.39, Biblioteque Nationale, Paris, 1697, p. 372 (26 April)
5 Köln, 2005: König, Hans and Franses, Michael, Glanz de Himmelssöhne, Kaiserliche Teppiche aus China 1400 – 1750, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln, exhibition catalogue, London, 2005
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