Glanz der Himmelssoehne



The Cagan swastika lattice and bat seating mat
Ningxia, last quarter of the 17th century
98 x 173 cm, wool pile on a cotton foundation
Private collection, Ticino

This large seating mat has a characteristic Kangxi carpet design of a swastika trellis pattern covering the entire field, overlaid with small bats placed symmetrically in offset rows. Originally the background was dark red, but this has mellowed to a reddish-tan colour. The bats are portrayed in a variety of single colours, and outlined in a second. Narrow bands in light blue, reddish-tan and red surround the field. The single swastika fret border in dark blue is set against a yellow background.

The use of the overall swastika design resembles lattice patterns that occur throughout the arts of China in infinite variety; the bats are placed in regular order in a manner reminiscent of textile designs. The swastika lattice pattern is a symbol of good health, the swastika itself being styled the 'ten thousand character sign', or wan zi. Bats (bian fu) are a prominent design motif in Chinese art, symbolising longevity and happiness - the character for 'happiness' is also pronounced fu. The swastika in combination with bats, wan fu, thus carries the message 'ten thousand times happiness', or 'may you have happiness for ever!'.

The swastika lattice and bat design survives on less than twenty Kangxi carpets, almost all of which date from around 1700 or a little earlier. Two of them are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. This large seating mat, in full pile with fresh colours, displays the true splendour of the design. While the scheme continued to be used in later periods, the swastika trellis was relegated to being used as a relatively weak background decoration, and often - most unluckily - without bats.


published to accompany the recent exhibition Glanz der Himmelssoehne,
held at the Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, October 2005 to January 2006
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all text and illustrations © textile-art 2006: not to be reproduced without permission