Glanz der Himmelssoehne






Qi dragon and peony imperial carpet
Possibly Beijing, last quarter of the 16th century
625 x 297 cm, wool pile on a silk and cotton foundation
Private collection, Ticino

This Imperial carpet was woven in an irregular shape, as an incomplete rectangle with a rectangular space omitted where it fitted around probably a throne. Sometime during the 19th century the space was filled in with a fifth dragon, and the original border was moved down to form a rectangle. The original design was composed of four large qi or 'energy' dragons, each in a different colour, against a reddish-beige background, which was once red. The qi dragon is generally represented as having a body composed of cloud-like scrolls or swirls and often has only two claws, a phoenix-like beak, a single horn and a divided tail, as seen here. The origins of this motif have not been explored but the qi dragon has been described as a new born or baby dragon. Here the dragons are placed against a background of beautifully drawn peonies and large leaves. The primary border consists of a continuous 'key' pattern drawn in dark blue against the same ground colour as the field. The border is separated from the field by an arrangement of narrow guard stripes, which are identical to those seen on the previous carpet (no. 2), possibly an indication that they might have come from the same workshop or been made for the same hall.

This is the only known Great Palace carpet with qi dragons from this period. Two smaller examples survive: a small square in a private collection in Virginia, which might well have been made to go under a throne, with foliated dragons, and a carpet in a French collection, on which the eight dragons are not so elegantly drawn. Both may be Imperial, but neither of them appear to have come from the same workshops as the Great Palace carpets.


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