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Decorative Designs in Chinese Art 中国文物的纹饰

Textiles 织物 Early Period 早期

Early Period 早期

From jade artifacts in the shape of silkworms and a wide vocabulary relating to silk production and clothing, it is clear that silk was popular in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Production was standardized, labor specialized, and work was supervised by government officials. In the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods a wider variety of silk artifacts were produced. Suzhou was established as the main center of silk production. A reproduction of a brocade from the Warring States Period is shown below.

brocade / embroidered work
动物纹 战国公元前475〜221复制件 苏州丝绸博物馆 Brocade with dancers and animals Warring States Period (475—221 BCE), Suzhou Silk Museum

In 1972 a Han dynasty tomb was discovered in the No. 1 Mawang Pit 马王堆. Included in the discoveries were silk artifacts with fine color printed designs. The designs included plants with vines, flower buds, and bunches of leaves arranged in intricate patterns. More than 20 different designs were found in total. The designs were most likely created with openwork printing blocks or from carved relief printing plates. The picture below shows printed silk fabric from the Western Han (206 BCE — 25 CE).

Color printed brocade
印花工艺步骤 西汉公元前206〜25苏州丝绸博物馆 Color printed brocade Western Han (206 BCE — 25 CE), Suzhou Silk Museum

The brocade below, discovered in Minfeng, Xinjiang, from the Eastern Han, has a longevity design.

Longevity suitable for everybody brocade
延年益寿子孙 东汉公元25〜220苏州丝绸博物馆复制件) Longevity suitable for everybody brocade Eastern Han (25—220 CE), Suzhou Silk Museum (reproduction)

The brocade below, excavated from Astana, Xinjiang in the Northern Dynasties, has a Kui dragon design.

Kui dragon design
夔纹 北朝公元386〜581苏州丝绸博物馆 Brocade with Kui dragon design Northern Dynasties (386—581 CE), Suzhou Silk Museum

The brocade below, also excavated from Astana, Xinjiang in the Northern Dynasties, has a tree lamp design.

Brocade with Tree lamp pattern
北朝公元386〜581苏州丝绸博物馆 Brocade with tree lamp design Northern Dynasties (386—581 CE), Suzhou Silk Museum

Glossary and Other Vocabulary