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DESCRIPTION: A large and stunning silk Kesi tapestry or “Kossu,” with minute and sensitive details painted in ink and colour. Featured is the god of longevity, Shou Lao (or Shou-xing) and his boy attendant, accompanied by Shou Lao’s stag and two bats flying above their heads. Shou Lao is depicted as an old man with a long white beard and eyebrows carrying a gnarled staff with the peach of immortality in his hand, a symbol of longevity. Their robes are depicted in a colorful mix of prints and brocades with fine hand painted details. The stag’s coat is a combination of spots and stripes that give vibrant expression to the composition.
The boy has caught one bat and has put it in a blue and white vase, or "ping," which phonetically parallels the word meaning peace and tranquility. Bats are symbolic of happiness and longevity in China with the Chinese characters for “bat” and “good fortune” both pronounced "Fu." Thus, in the figurative representation on this kesi, the act of capturing the bat and putting it in the vase represents a pictogram for “May every sort of blessing come your way.” An exquisite, large kesi in soft, muted tones with a peach colored background, this museum quality Qing dynasty (1644–1911) tapestry is an exceptional example of the art form. Early 19th century, from the collection of Rosalie M. and Matthew B. Weinstein.
CONDITION: Professionally conserved onto an acid free paper backing with a silk brocade border. Some fading and spotting, with a stain on the bottom left under the deer’s hind feet. No tears or holes. A close inspection of this work will reveal artistic achievements of high standards in both weaving and painting, assuring that this is a refined, classic Qing Dynasty mixed media work of art.
DIMENSIONS: Actual weaving is 65 ½” high (166.4 cm) x 34 ½” wide (87.5 cm).
TECHNIQUE & HISTORY: Kesi, or “kossu,” is the most prized of Chinese textiles, both now and in past centuries. It took much longer to weave silk than to embroider it, and tapestries worked in this technique were fairly rare and expensive. When the weft (horizontal) threads were woven, each color was woven in only where it was required to be visible, with a different bobbin being used for each color rather than a continuous thread. Each end of silk was then deftly sewn back into that particular color to make the work reversible. When a piece of kesi is held up to the light, slits can be seen, formed where there is a color break. Because of this, Kesi weaving is sometimes called “carved or cut weaving.” This special weaving technique of slit tapestry allowed more complicated designs to be executed on the fabric, and gave rise to a textile with sharp color contours, allowing for two-side, reversible viewing.
The technique was borrowed from Middle Eastern wool tapestry and was adapted to silk by the Chinese in the 10th century. During the Song Dynasty, people combined this technique with the art of painting to create vivid images on superbly elegant works with moving effects of the painting brush and halo colors. Beginning in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279) and continuing into the late Qing, faithful reproductions of paintings were made in kesi. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, court robes, rank badges, and Buddhist and Daoist kesi were all used to denote status and wealth, as well as to express religious devotion. The time and expense required to produce kesi added prestige to the textile and to its owner.