A Brief History of Chinese Embroidery 5.The Prime Period—the Song Dynasty (960–1279)

FIG. 22 Hibiscus and Crab Song Dynasty Embroidery

The Song Dynasty was the cradle for the birth of artistic embroidery, exerting a far-reaching influence on the development of Chinese embroidery. Its art is still highly respected (FIG. 19, 20). Artistic embroidery benefited from the promotion of paintings in the Song Dynasty in which the royal court witnessed a batch of outstanding painters. Their art, if perceived according to the view in contemporary times, is still glorious and incomparable in terms of achievements. In addition, the royal family of the Song Dynasty exerted unified management over the production of embroidery, having set up Directorate for Imperial Manufactories, Crafts Institute, Embroidery Office, Ornaments Office, Silk Brocade Workshop, and Palace Weaving and Dyeing Office, providing favorable objective conditions for the maturity of artistic embroidery.

FIG. 19 Chrysanthemum Song Dynasty Embroidery
FIG. 19 Chrysanthemum Song Dynasty Embroidery              This embroidered article is characterized by chrysanthemums in full blossom, flying butterflies, dragon flies, and bees. Colorful thread-matching is gorgeous and elegant, showing exquisite craftsmanship of embroidery in the Song Dynasty. It is now preserved in the Palace Museum, Taipei.


FIG. 20 Majestic Eagle Song Dynasty Embroidery
FIG. 20 Majestic Eagle Song Dynasty Embroidery               Its high-rising head, firm chests, and forceful claws were well embroidered. Despite the fall-off of lots of threads due to a long period of time, the eagle still maintains its majesty. This is obviously closely associated with superb techniques of the embroiderer. In spite of extremely fine strands divided and exquisite needlework for feathers, the eagle looks fierce and firm all the same. There were more kinds of innovative needlework for application, showing that embroidery in the Song Dynasty reached art height of immense realism. The eagle was a painting theme favored by scholars in their painting in the Song Dynasty. Versatile Zhao Ji, emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, was not only good at handwriting, but also at painting flowers, bamboos, feathers, and flowers in water-ink. His Imperial Eagle was detailed and unrestrained in depiction, fully revealing its majesty and fierceness without any roughness and wildness. This embroidered article bears strong resemblance to the spirit of Zhao Ji’s Imperial Eagle. People cannot help applauding such appeal of embroidery from the Song Dynasty.




Particularly under the reign of Emperor Zhao Ji in the Song Dynasty (1100–1126), an Embroidered Painting Specialty was established in Imperial Academy of Painting. Embroiderers of this specialty all used works of academy painters to create embroidery. Since the art of calligraphy and painting in the Song Dynasty provided plentiful painting-sketches for embroidery, artistic embroidery developed rapidly. An unprecedentedly high starting point gave rise to the vigorous development of embroidery art in the Song Dynasty. A number of artistic embroidery in the Song Dynasty all took the brushwork, lines, colors, and spiritual appeal of the Song paintings as standards of art, even over striding paintings. They brought the Song embroidery to the peak of amazing vividness and formed embroidery for appreciation independent of previous kinds, such as Plum-Flower, Bamboo and Parrot, White Eagle (FIG. 21), Riding Crane to Yaotai, Okra and Butterflies, and Hibiscus and Crab (FIG. 22).

FIG. 21 White Eagle Song Dynasty Embroidery
FIG. 21 White Eagle Song Dynasty Embroidery                              The eagle was used as part of the garment of warriors in the Tang Dynasty and often compared to a hero. It was quite popular in the Song Dynasty, Liao Dynasty, Jin Dynasty, and Yuan Dynasty. This embroidered article is now preserved in the Palace Museum, Taipei.


FIG. 22 Hibiscus and Crab Song Dynasty Embroidery
FIG. 22 Hibiscus and Crab Song Dynasty Embroidery                                                                            This embroidered article was imitation of a painting by Huang Quan (?–965), who was a painter in the imperial court of the Western Shu Dynasty. Most of his paintings were associated with unique birds and famous flowers in the imperial court, showing meticulousness, splendidness, wealth, and nobility. Hibiscus and Crabs is now preserved in the Palace Museum, Taipei.


After that, artistic embroidery advanced ahead as a late-comer and progressed together with embroidery for practical use with a long history, greatly expanding the space for the survival and development of embroidery, led the style of embroidery creation by many noted embroiderers and the growth of various schools of embroidery, enabling the art of Chinese embroidery to enter a new period.