Glanz der Himmelssoehne

English translation of extracts from Chapter 4: Classical Chinese carpets in the West

During the last quarter of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, up until World War I, western attitudes to oriental carpets changed as the latter began to gain huge international acclaim. A new taste for the orient during this period brought most of the surviving antique and semi-antique oriental carpets that had survived in the east into western collections.

In the years leading up to and immediately following the Boxer Uprising, China's economy was very weak and the country was in constant political and social turmoil, but at the same time international trade was expanding. The financial circumstances of the nobility and landowners declined rapidly, while many merchants and industrialists became richer, just as was happening in the west. As a result, numerous classical Chinese carpets were suddenly offered for sale abroad. As art and artefacts were being sold by the old rich and being acquired by the new rich, so the west was introduced to the beauty and importance of antique Chinese carpets.

The main corpus of classical Chinese carpets currently resides in private collections: a few connoisseurs in elegant homes with foresight and fine taste benefited from this window of opportunity, as they recognised not only the importance but also the beauty of this aspect of the textile arts. The majority of these carpets had survived for over two centuries in the homes and palaces of the Chinese nobility and arrived in America and western Europe in pristine condition. Most of the new owners understood that they had 'art' on their floors, and continued to care for the carpets and keep them in almost unused condition. The collectors of today have had the opportunity to acquire the very best examples and enjoy them during their lifetime. But they are aware that they are merely trustees of this rare and beautiful art form, and conscious of their role in preserving them for future generations, as their period of 'custodianship' represents a mere fraction of the history of the carpets themselves.

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.