The Stein Collection
- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Embroidered plain woven silk
- Credit Line:
Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India.
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
These fragments of plain woven red silk, embroidered with floral patterns in blue, brown and buff, were originally lined with plain woven brown silk. It is unclear what this textile would have been used for, although it is likely to have been part of a burial shroud. The fragments were recovered from the cemetery of Loulan which dates from the 3rd to the 4th century AD. The site of Loulan is remarkable for the carved wooden capitals, beams and balustrades that show clear affinities with western Classical decoration that filtered through Iran and Northwest India.
The sites are part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road, a series of overland trade routes that crossed Asia, from China to Europe. The most notable item traded was silk. Camels and horses were used as pack animals and merchants passed the goods from oasis to oasis. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. Whilst silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism entered China from India in this way.
This textile was brought back from Central Asia by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943). The V&A has around 650 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.
Several fragments of monochrome plain weave, red silk embroidered with floral pattern in blue, brown and buff. Remains of one long strip of plain woven brown silk which originally lined the embroidery.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Embroidered plain woven silk
Length: 7.4 cm largest embroidery fragment, Width: 6.7 cm largest embroidery fragment
Historical context note
Loulan was once an important garrison town which lay between the Pei shan and Taklamakan deserts on the Silk Road. The city was also a centre of Buddhist worship. When Sven Hedin explored the site in 1900, he discovered remains of a stupa, reliefs depicting Buddhas among lotuses, and statues of deities. This strategically important city is mentioned in Chinese records for the first time in 176 BC with the conquest by the Xiongnu, but the area fell under Chinese control around 100 BC. Located in the middle of the Silk Road, Loulan had contacts with many cultures, represented by hundreds of documents in Chinese, Indian Kharosthi, and Sogdian scripts which were unearthed by Hedin and Stein. A woollen cloth, which Stein found in a tomb, depicted the head of Hermes and his caduceus, or staff, in the classical style of western Asia. He also unearthed a number of mummies with feathered felt caps and arrow shafts by their sides; which indicated that a community of herdsmen and hunters had inhabited the region long before various imperial conquests. Loulan flourished until the fourth century AD, when it was abandoned, due to the desiccation of a nearby lake, Lop Nor. The V&A holds, on loan, a large number of textiles from Loulan, including cotton, wool and figured silks, carpet and tapestry fragments.
Plain woven red silk embroidered with floral patterns in blue, brown and buff.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Stein, Aurel, Sir. Innermost Asia; Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia, Kan-Su and Eastern Iran, 4 vols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1928), vol. I, p. 257; vol. III, pl. XXXV, pl. XLIII.
Excavated from, or found near, grave-pits of Loulan cemetery.
Silk; Silk thread
Plain weave; Embroidering
Archaeology; Embroidery; Textiles
East Asia Collection