The Stein Collection

Canopy
7th century to 9th century (made)
The Stein Collection thumbnail 1
The Stein Collection thumbnail 2
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This silk canopy was probably once used as a covering for a Buddhist statue. It was recovered from Cave 17 of the Mogao Grottoes, situated near the oasis town of Dunhuang. This shrine site is one of China’s great Buddhist pilgrimage complexes.

The site is part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road. This series of overland trade routes crossed Asia from China to Europe. The most notable item traded was silk but the Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. While silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism travelled east, entering China from India.

The explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) brought this piece of fibre back from Central Asia. The V&A has around 600 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Plain woven silk
Brief Description
Canopy of plain woven, blue and faded red, silk.
Physical Description
Incomplete square canopy of monochrome plain weave red silk stitched to blue silk, with the remains of several monochrome plain weave blue and red silk streamers along the edges.



Weave structures:

1. Silk in plain weave

Warp: silk, single, blue, 49 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, blue, 32 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

2. Silk in plain weave

Warp: silk, single, undyed, 47 warsp/cm; Weft: silk, single, undyed, 41 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

3. Silk in plain weave

Warp: silk, single, red, 61 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, red, 35 wefts/cm. Weave strcuture: 1/1 plain weave

4. Silk in plain weave

Warp: silk, single, blue, 54 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, blue, c.38 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 1/1 plain weave

5. Damask on plain weave

Warp: silk, single, red, 60 warps/cm; Weft: silk, single, red, 46 wefts/cm. Weave structure: 3/1Z twill for pattern on 1/1 plain weave for foundation
Dimensions
  • Length: 31.4cm
  • Width: 27cm
Styles
Credit line
Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India.
Historical context
Dunhuang is at the eastern end of the southern Silk Road, in present-day Gansu Province. It lies between the western reaches of China and the Tarim Basin. When China began to expand into Central Asia during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), Dunhuang served as a base for military operations and trade. In the succeeding centuries, Buddhist shrines were established southeast of Dunhuang in a series of man-made caves called Qianfodong, "Caves of the Thousand Buddhas" (today also known as the Mogao Grottoes). Here spectacular cave temples were cut out of the cliffs, beginning in the fourth century AD. Over a period of several centuries, communities of Buddhist monks filled the caves with splendid sculpture and wall paintings. These included colossal Buddha statues, painted clay sculptures of deities, elaborate murals of Buddhist legends, and thousands of tiny painted Buddha images; all of which gave the site its name, Qianfodong. Buddhist cave temples had first been established in at Bamiyan (Afghanistan) and Gandhara (formerly in India, now Pakistan). At Qianfodong, Stein found paintings of graceful figures in the Gandharan style among landscapes and buildings that were distinctly Chinese; a fusion of Indian and Chinese art, which he had noted elsewhere along the Silk Road.



In 1900, a Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu discovered a secret cave at Qianfodung, which contained thousands of documents and paintings. Stein purchased a significant amount of this material from Wang during his visit to the Dunhuang in 1907. Among the many religious works were Buddhist, Jewish, Nestorian, Daoist and Confucian texts; all of which dated from approximately 400 to 1000 A.D. Numerous languages were represented as well, including Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Hebrew. Stein also acquired many textile pieces. Most of these were silk, for Dunhuang lay on the main trade route between silk-growing regions of China and Central Asia. Elaborate embroideries depicted Buddhist legends and processions of donors. Patterned silks included Chinese and Sassanian (Persian) designs. From China came floral and geometric patterns, combined with figures of animals and birds. Sassanian motifs included pairs of confronted ducks, lions, and other beasts, combined with medallions and quatrefoils. Stein also found undecorated silks used as processional banners and valances for decorating bases of statues. The cave was sealed soon after 1000 A.D., apparently to protect the contents from invading armies. The V&A holds, on loan, a large number of textiles from Dunhuang, including plain and pattern woven silks in many colours, painted Buddhist banners and canopies, and wrappers for Buddhist texts.
Production
Found in Cave 17 of the Mogao Grottoes (Caves of the Thousand Buddhas).
Association
Summary
This silk canopy was probably once used as a covering for a Buddhist statue. It was recovered from Cave 17 of the Mogao Grottoes, situated near the oasis town of Dunhuang. This shrine site is one of China’s great Buddhist pilgrimage complexes.



The site is part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road. This series of overland trade routes crossed Asia from China to Europe. The most notable item traded was silk but the Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. While silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism travelled east, entering China from India.



The explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) brought this piece of fibre back from Central Asia. The V&A has around 600 ancient and medieval textiles recovered by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.
Bibliographic References
  • O'Neale, Lila.M., and Durrell, Dorothy F., 'An Analysis of the Central Asian Silks excavated by Sir Aurel Stein', reprinted from Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Autumn 1945 Albuquerque, MX: University of New Mexico Press, 1945, pp392-446
  • Stein, Aurel, Serindia: Detailed Report of Exploration in Central Asia and Westernmost China Carried Out and Described Under the Orders of H.M Indian Government , 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921), vol. II, p.1000.
  • Zhao Feng, ed. Textiles from Dunhuang in UK Collections. Shanghai: Donghua University Press, 2007. pp. 290.
Other Number
Ch.00442 - Stein number
Collection
Accession Number
LOAN:STEIN.491:2

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record createdJanuary 20, 2004
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