Lion-dogs, Hundred Antiques
Classical Chinese Carpets 1

The lion-dog carpets
Michael Franses

Plate 2 The Abadjian four lion-dogs dais cover. Ming dynasty, first half of the 17th century. 490 x 490 cm (16' x 16'), wool pile on a linen foundation.


The first half of the seventeenth century

The earliest known classical Chinese carpets with lion-dog designs can be attributed to the very beginning of the seventeenth century, the closing years of the Ming dynasty. We are only aware of three such carpets: the Sears, the Abadjian and the Edin. The Abadjian lion-dog dais cover, plate 2, which probably went from China to the United States a little less than a hundred years ago, is one of the most important and beautiful early Chinese carpets to have come to light. It is now almost four hundred years old and is in outstanding condition; for its first three centuries, it probably sat upon a large platform in either a palace or the home of a noble family. Over those years and through numerous generations, this carpet must have been treated with great respect and walked upon only with slippers. It must also have seen little use during its time in the west, and for the past thirty years has been in storage or in conservation.

In the centre of the superb Abadjian lion-dog carpet is a 'golden coin', one of the 'eight ordinary symbols' of Buddhism, entwined with ribbons. Circling this coin, which has the power to ward off evil, and holding onto the ribbons, are four large lion-dogs. The field is surrounded by seven borders (see detail): a small floral design; alternate outward- and inward-facing peonies; a narrow 'running dog' stripe; a horizontal lattice incorporating swastikas; diamonds and squares; a trailing floral design; and a second 'running dog' stripe. Stylistically, this carpet can be attributed to the Tianqi period, at the end of the first quarter of the seventeenth century. It is woven on a linen foundation and appears to be the product of Imperial workshops, though no documentary evidence has so far been found to directly link it with the Palace. It is almost square in shape and was probably therefore made for a throne dais or other raised platform.  

detail of plate 2


Plate 6 The Cagan qilin and four lion-dogs day-bed cover. Qing dynasty, second half of the 17th century. 142 x 198 cm (4' 8" x 6' 6"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.


The second half of the seventeenth century

We know of only three rugs that depict a large qilin, unicorn or dragon-horse, in the centre, with a guardian lion-dog playing with a ribboned coin in each of the four corners. Two belong to the second half of the seventeenth century. One of these, plate 6, previously with Fred Cagan in Kathmandu and now in the Wher Collection, has the format of a day-bed cover. The other, now in a private collection in Milan, is larger and was possibly made for a small platform. Both have colours and patterns typical of Kangxi period carpets. Like the dragon, the qilin pursues the flaming pearl. The head of the qilin in both examples resembles closely the head of the lion-dogs. This animal has the clawed hoofs of a deer and the scaly body of a dragon; it is a fabulous creature of good omen, and a symbol of longevity, grandeur, felicity, illustrious offspring and wise administration.


The first half of the eighteenth century

We are aware of only eight lion-dog carpets that we can attribute to the first half of the eighteenth century. Some clearly continue the style of the Kangxi period, which only ended in 1722, while others show similarities to patterns seen on ceramics and other artefacts from the time of the Yongzheng emperor (who reigned until 1736), and possibly into the early years of the reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736-1796). This is a period of transition between two great styles: the austere controlled designs of Kangxi and the emerging floral art marked by famille rose and famille vert porcelains that were to characterise the somewhat effete style of the Qianlong period.

The Larsson lion-dog platform cover, plate 8, features a pointed and pinched medallion with two lion-dogs confronting a single coin. The field design is scattered with objects from the 'hundred antiques'. The field is enclosed by two borders, an inner T and an outer horizontal swastika lattice against a blue background; the surrounding frame is in grey-brown. The Larsson also belongs to a cluster of related Ningxia carpets with blue backgrounds, strong yellows and a number of other tones that suggest they are from the same workshop - although not all blue background examples belong to this specific group.  

Plate 8 The Larsson lion-dog medallion with 'hundred antiques' platform cover. Qing dynasty, first half of the 18th century. 254 x 280 cm (8' 4" x 9' 2"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.


Plate 10 The König five lion-dogs with floral surround circular carpet. Qing dynasty, first half of the 18th century. Diameter 132 cm (4' 4"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.

  A circular carpet formerly in the König collection, plate 10, possibly the central section from a larger weaving, depicts a blue lion-dog on a pale salmon pink ground, surrounded by four lion-dogs one behind the other, their backs forming the outline of an implied circle. This is enclosed by a wide frame of leaves and foliage also placed upon the same salmon-pink background, with large peony blossoms on the main axes. The form of the leaf surround is typical of early Qianlong style.
In the collection of Ronnie Newman of New Jersey is a most charming seat cover once in the Clarke collection, plate 11. In the 1915 auction catalogue it was attributed to the Kangxi period. This might be because of its use of the corroded grey-brown frame so typical of that era - but this feature can also be found on a few examples that were made at different times during the eighteenth century. The manner of drawing of the lion-dogs suggests that this beautiful small rug could be considered to be a little later in date, but quite possibly still from the first half of the eighteenth century. The dogs are surrounded by a selection from the 'eight treasures' and other auspicious symbols. At the upper end, where the rug has been cut, part of a further lion-dog can be seen; the position of this animal combined with the lack of symmetry in the pattern suggest that the centre is not visible and that the surviving section is the end of a long narrow strip. This is one of the finest-woven early Chinese rugs extant, and the quality of weave is matched by the fineness of the wool, which has a sensuous silky texture.  

Plate 11 The Clarke four lion-dogs and symbols seat cover. Qing dynasty, first half of the 18th century. 61 x 107 cm (2' 0" x 3' 6"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.


The second half of the eighteenth century

Our archives contain some forty examples of carpets with lion-dog designs that we attribute to the second half of the eighteenth century. Like the Kangxi emperor, the Qianlong emperor had a long reign (1736-1796), and it is surprising that so few examples have survived from this period. Perhaps this is because they tended to be more loosely constructed.


Plate 16 The Andonian lion-dog medallion and coins platform cover. Qing dynasty, second half of the 18th century. 463 x 438 cm (15' 2" x 14' 4"), wool pile on a cotton foundation.

  Three lion-dog carpets have medallions outlined in blue, including one previously with Berdj Andonian in New York, plate 16. Around the medallion is a diagonal lattice, on which are groups of tiny 'coins', depicting cranes, qilin, shou or 'longevity' character signs, lion-dogs, balls, pears and selections from the 'hundred antiques'. The field is surrounded by three borders. The inner one has a beautiful design of repeating pearls, each in different colours and toned to effect a circular shape set against a bright golden yellow background. The middle border appears quite complex but it is beautifully arranged and balanced and shows in miniature an enormous selection from the range of patterns used as background lattice repeats on Chinese carpets, such as 'grains of rice', overlaid multi-coloured octagons, octagons and squares, stepped diamonds, the diagonal swastika lattice and others. Each of these backgrounds is separated by cartouches of different colours and depicts a selection from the 'hundred antiques'. The outer border is a horizontal swastika lattice with a three-dimensional effect. The outer frame is a wide blue band.

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