Ming Seide chinese silk damask

Due to the mountain climate, silk cannot be produced in Tibet. For this reason, silk for sacred and everyday needs had to be imported from China and other regions of Asia. During the Ming Dynasty, Chinese silk manufactories specifically served the Tibetan market by using Buddhist iconography in fabrics for clothing and furnishings. There are various original sources that illustrate the active intercultural exchange. Emperor Yongle, who had an intense interest in Tibetan Buddhism, sent an invitation to Deshin Shekpa (1384–1415), the fifth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyu School, requesting that he perform the burial ceremonies for the emperor’s deceased parents: “You are my only hope, essence of Buddhahood. Please come fast! As gifts I send a large bar of silver, 150 silver coins, 20 rolls of silk, a block of sandalwood, 150 tea bricks and ten pounds of incense.” Valuable fabrics such as clothing, tankha covers and ceremonial cloths were all carefully stored in the monasteries. The cold, dry climate helped to preserve the textiles.

This lotus in the sky survived for centuries in the library of a Tibetan monastery as a sutra shawl. The woven pattern with swirling cloud bands is reminiscent of the myth of the breath (qi) of the life-giving dragon that shapes the world. The naturalistic multi-coloured embroidered lotus flower is an ancient symbol of Buddhism. It stands for faith itself, for purity and for truth. The blue damask cloud band with the sacred flower is a wonderfully elegant example of the heyday of Chinese silk embroidery during the Ming Dynasty.

Property of: Markus Voigt, London
Size: 100 x 37 cm
Age: 16th century
Warp: silk