East Asia, China, ca. late 18th to early 19th century CE. A very large Chinese silk tapestry of a beautiful apple red color with elaborate embroidery (including gold threads). The central panel features a long inscription comprised of numerous rows of characters. This is surrounded by a border of floral blossoms intertwined with geometric elements in green, blue, cream, and gold hues. Surrounding this is a marvelous pictorial border that includes sages, Buddhas, and various divinities floating upon celestial clouds along the top and sides. Along the bottom register is a central sacred tower upon a sacred mountain emerging from the waters with marvelous white cranes carrying counting sticks in their beaks, and flying toward the central pavilion by the sea. (See below for the meaning of this imagery.) The back of this textile is lined with woven gold raw silk. There are metal hooks at the top for suspension, and lovely sashes embroidered with gold Chinese characters for securing when rolled. Size: 126" L x 69" W (320 cm x 175.3 cm)
The curators of a RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) exhibition entitled, "Land of the Immortals: Chinese Taoist Robes and Textiles" (January 13, 2012 - April 22, 2012) explained in their description of a silk Chinese chair cover with similar iconography that this scene refers to "a tale of Taoist sages who counted their age in terms of epochs, not years, and would add a counting stick to a pile to mark each epoch of man. The pavilion represents a Taoist paradise ..." They also provided the following informative introduction to Taoism in their exhibition text, "Taoism, ChinaÂ’s primary indigenous religion and philosophy of life, took shape in the late pre-imperial period (5th to 3rd centuries BCE) and remains influential in Chinese culture today. With origins rooted in earlier nature cults and health practices, Taoism is concerned with both the position of humanity in the cosmos and the attainment of longevity and immortality, physical or otherwise. The focus of Taoism is the Tao (dao). Translated literally, Tao means 'the way'; by extension it may be interpreted as 'the principle' that orders the cosmos. But since the Tao is by definition not meant to be explained, any explanation is misleading. Words cannot match the Tao. The Daodejing, the sacred text of Taoism, begins with the statement, 'the Tao that can be discussed is not the eternal Tao.' Over the centuries practitioners have nonetheless developed a complex symbolic language that gives concrete form to the metaphysical abstractions of the religion's tenets. Whether performing Grand Rituals or one of a variety of private rituals to improve the health of individuals or to exorcise evil spirits, Taoist priests (daoshi) garbed in ceremonial robes appear as one with the cosmos and therefore as powerful spiritual intermediaries acting on the part of their community."
Provenance: private J.H. collection, Beaverton, Oregon, USA
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