A Brief History of Chinese Embroidery 4. Maturity—the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the Sui Dynasty, and the Tang Dynasty (420–907)

FIG. 17 Mandarin Ducks and Peonies (Detail) Embr

What about embroidery in the Southern and Northern Dynasties? The answer is in the colorful decorative embroideries on the supporters of Buddha statues that were discovered in the Dunhuang Mogao Grottos in Gansu Province in the 1960s. Buddhism was popular in the Southern and Northern Dynasties. Naturally, more religious objects were decorated by the craftsmanship of embroidery (FIGS. 15). Although the same chain stitch needlework was applied to some articles of embroidery in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), the rise, rhythm, and exquisiteness in animal-shaped patterns were still pervasive. The content of these patterns were added with elements of decoration and artistic paintings. Depiction of human figures in Buddhist embroidery was accurate in detail, making all creatures in Mother Nature vivid, including birds, dragons, flowers, grass, trees, and fruits. The design of craftsmanship was exceptionally artistic just like a picture with emotion and sceneries, showing that the artists already had the innovative awareness of changing embroidery for practical use to embroidery for appreciation.

FIG. 15 Colorful Embroidery of Supporters of Bud
FIG. 15 Colorful Embroidery of Supporters of Buddha Statues Southern and Northern Dynasties

 

The prosperity of the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty ushered in the continuous development of Chinese embroidery. Extensive emergence of religious embroidery marked by embroidered scriptures and embroidered Buddhist paintings stimulated the vigorous progress of embroidery craftsmanship. In this period, chain stitch needlework of embroidery lost its leading position. From the embroidered articles of the Tang Dynasty, we have found bead work (FIG. 16), straight satin stitch, gold thread couching stitch, etc. Thus, there was more expression in embroidery in the Tang Dynasty (FIG. 17). Embroidered garments and bags and kasaya (FIG. 18) of the Tang Dynasty collected in British Museum are witness to gorgeous and novel needlework of the Tang embroidery. Petals on the Tang kasaya were embroidered with a feathering-like effect, making the picture more vivid, three-dimensional, elegant, and eye- catching while expanding the use of threads. Having completely changed the forms and modes in patterns prior to the Tang Dynasty, this laid the foundation for the development of realism of embroidery in the Song Dynasty.

FIG. 16 A remaining piece of bead work embroide
FIG. 16 A remaining piece of bead work embroidery in the Tang Dynasty preserved in the Administration Office of Cultural Relics, Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

 

FIG. 17 Mandarin Ducks and Peonies (Detail) Embr
FIG. 17 Mandarin Ducks and Peonies (Detail) Embroidery on Dark Yellow Twill Damask Tang Dynasty

 

FIG. 18 A kasaya from the Tang Dynasty unearthed
FIG. 18 A kasaya from the Tang Dynasty unearthed in Thousand Buddha Caves of Dunhuang, now preserved in the British Museum.