This ceremonial hanging and valance were woven in the complex slit-tapestry weave known as kesi (or k’o-ssu), a technique well suited to the creation of detailed pictorial images. In China this time-consuming and costly weaving process was largely under the control of the imperial courts. Many of the finest surviving tapestries in this style date from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). During that period, elaborate luxury textiles in the form of robes, hangings and upholstery were made for court and religious use. These tapestries were cloistered in a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas for several centuries where they would have been used as a central feature on ceremonial occasions.
A dramatic dragon occupies the centre of the hanging. It is encircled by four smaller creatures who pursue flaming pearls above a stylised seascape of multicoloured waves and rocks. Interspersed throughout the rich indigo ground are the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism. These are the wheel of Buddhist law; a canopy or banner for the victory of knowledge over evil; the parasol, an emblem of spiritual power; a golden fish referring to abundance and salvation from suffering; the conch shell symbolising the far reach of Buddha’s teachings; the lotus that emerges pristine from muddy waters and signifies the potential of all beings to attain enlightenment; an endless knot embodying the infinite knowledge of the Buddha; and the covered urn representing the fulfilment of spiritual wishes.
The green valance shows cranes, symbols of longevity, around a red sun said to represent the emperor. In bands of white, further auspicious symbols are shown including branches of coral, double gourds, gold ornamental lozenges, clusters of small pearls or coins, scrolls and rhinoceros horns.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014