Palace hanging with embroidered dragon and lotus pattern

Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, Yongzheng to early Qianlong reign, early-mid 18th century
Medium
Silk embroidered with silk and metallic threads
Dimensions
H x W: 209 x 216.3 cm (82 5/16 x 85 3/16 in)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Purchase — Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program and partial gift of Richard G. Pritzlaff
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
S1991.142
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Costume and Textile
Type

Textile: embroidery

Keywords
China, couching, dragon, embroidery, lotus, Pritzlaff collection, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), satin stitch, WWII-era provenance
Provenance

Wu Laixi (died circa 1950), Beijing [1]

To 1991
Richard G. Pritzlaff, Sapello, New Mexico, acquired from Wu Laixi [2]

From 1991
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, purchased from Richard G. Pritzlaff in 1991

Notes:

[1] From the collection of Richard G. Pritzlaff, New Mexico, who "reputedly received the textile from Wu Laixi (d. circa 1950) of Beijing, in either the late 1930s or early 1940s" (according to Provenance Remark 1, Jan Stuart, February 2, 1999, in the object record).

[2] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s)

Richard G. Pritzlaff
Wu Laixi died ca. 1950

Label

This sumptuous hanging, embroidered on imperial yellow silk, radiates an image of the emperor's legitimacy and power. The motif of a five-clawed dragon cavorting above the waves and mountains symbolizes the ruler presiding over his domain. Tucked inside a coil of the central dragon's body, a circle representing a "flaming pearl" appears. Legend recounts that only a dragon that symbolizes a just emperor is capable of capturing this magic pearl, said to be an emblem of purity.

The embroidery boasts stylized lotus flowers, which are symbols of purity and concord. At the center of each lotus, the needleworkers depicted a geometric motif shaped like a double trefoil. This is the double ruyi, an auspicious Chinese symbol meaning "as you wish." The total decorative scheme of the hanging encodes the message that the emperor is powerful and unsullied;  therefore, wishes of peace, prosperity, and happiness will be assured as long as he reigns.

The hanging now consists of two sections, but originally it had three, to display a total of nine dragons above five mountains. Nine and five are cosmic numbers. The exceptionally high quality of the embroidery, including the blending together of threads of graduated colors to shade the lotus flowers and leaves, attests to the palace provenance of this piece.

Published References
  • Jan Stuart, Evelyn S. Rawski. Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits. Exh. cat. Washington and Stanford. p. 21, fig. 4.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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