Lion-dogs, Hundred Antiques
Classical Chinese Carpets 1

The 'hundred antiques' carpets
Michael Franses

At the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, ownership, knowledge of and admiration for the 'hundred antiques' was an important pursuit of the most affluent and learned men in China. They would be brought out for important visitors and displayed and admired upon the scholar's table, a tradition that had continued from at least the second half of the fifteenth century. Numerous Chinese carpets include antiques in their field or borders as part of other compositions. But twenty-four classical carpets from the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods are known that utilise the 'hundred antiques' as the principal field design. The field designs of these carpets are completely filled with objects of different sizes and shapes, with a balanced space surrounding and between each of them. The fact that no two examples depict the same arrangements or contain identical objects suggests that each was an individual work of art. As all of these carpets have very traditional borders and colours typical of the so-called Ningxia workshops, it is therefore likely that many of the classical examples illustrated here were made in the same region, perhaps spanning a period of a little over a century.

By the second half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the 'hundred antiques' had been reduced to a minor ornament often scattered across the field or worked into the border patterns of carpets. While these later examples achieved perfect symmetry, the sense of balance and scale became lost with time, as the whole repertoire of carpet designs were mixed in an orderly yet totally unaesthetic manner. The 'hundred antiques' were no longer the focus of the design but treated merely as decorative items to fill in empty spaces. Probably by this time the importance and significance of the 'antiques' had been largely forgotten even by the Chinese dignitaries of the day.


Horizontal or 'landscape' compositions

Of the twenty-four classical Chinese carpets with a field primarily composed of the 'hundred antiques' design, there are fifteen which have horizontal or 'landscape' compositions that we believe were intended for use as day-bed covers. These were made to be viewed horizontally, from one of the long sides, so their motifs are arranged perpendicular to the warps. Many of the patterns appear to be composed in a very specific manner: objects were often placed in a straight row along the lower end and in a vertical column against the left hand side, with the rest then filling the remaining space, sometimes partly in rows but more often not, and always carefully positioned so as to fill the entire background in an aesthetically successful manner. The ground colour is either a plain golden yellow, salmon-pink or ivory.


detail of plate 17

Plate 17 The Kelekian 'hundred antiques' day-bed cover. Qing dynasty, second half of the 17th century.
200 x 310 cm (6' 7" x 10' 2"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.

Four of the horizontal day-bed covers have a plain single horizontal swastika fret border in dark blue on salmon, beige or ivory, including the beautiful example in the collection of Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, plate 17. Formerly in the famous Kelekian collection, New York, this carpet portrays over forty 'antiques', including archaic bronzes, bowls of fruit, vases and pots with flowers, brush pots, Buddhist and Daoist symbols, a pictorial scroll, a teapot and teacup set, incense containers, a painter's armrest, a mahjong set and a go board with cups.

Vertical or 'portrait' compositions

The other nine classical rugs with the 'hundred antiques' design were created to be viewed vertically, the motifs being arranged parallel to the warps. Several of these are quite small in format and their specific function is not known. On six of them the motifs are placed on plain salmon-pink, ivory or yellow fields, and on three the motifs are on a blue background. A salmon-red ground example recently from a Beijing collection, plate 24, depicts fifteen objects, including vases, a bronze, a zither, a stone chime, books and a go board. The field is enclosed by a border of inward-pointing lotuses and the rug appears to date from around 1725.


Plate 24 The Beijing 'hundred antiques' carpet. Qing dynasty, first half of the 18th century. 118 x 169 cm (3' 11" x 5' 7"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.


Plate 25 The Clarke 'hundred antiques' in cartouches carpet. Qing dynasty, first half of the 18th century. 124 x 211 cm (4' 1" x 6' 11"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.

  We know of three vertical examples from this period that have cartouche panels each containing selections from the 'hundred antiques'. All are set against dark blue backgrounds. The panels are made up of a number of curvilinear shapes and have different field colours; the antiques are placed either inside or, in one example, both inside and outside the panels. One of the most beautiful, now in the Wher Collection, plate 25, was once with Thomas B. Clarke. Eight cartouche panels free-float against a dark blue ground, within a single horizontal swastika fret border in gold on yellow. The form of the beautifully drawn cartouche panels, which can often be seen on porcelain and furniture of the Kangxi period, is superb: four different outline shapes are randomly arranged in two rows of four. A narrow band surrounds the perimeter of each cartouche, which contains five or six antiques. The symbols seen on the rug include a conch shell, a cloud, lotuses, a pot with calligraphy brushes, scrolls, books, go boards, a flute, a gong, a bell, a pair of peaches in a bowl, ornamental trees, vases of flowers and a four-legged sacrificial urn. This rug displays excellent balance of both colour and design.

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