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Silk Road Luxuries from China

Textile with floral medallions and lozenges

China, mid-Tang dynasty, first half of 8th century
Brocade (jin): woven silk (weft-faced compound twill)
Gift of Charles Lang Freer 
Freer Gallery of Art F1911.597a-b

The floral patterns on this woven silk brocade (jin) are formed by yellow and dark purple horizontal threads (wefts). This differs from earlier Chinese brocades whose patterns are defined by vertical threads (warps). By the mid-eighth century, craftsmen in China had adopted weft-patterned weaves, a major innovation that gave them greater freedom to produce more colorful, complex patterns. Similar floral designs and weave structure have been found in Sogdian textiles and pieces unearthed in burial sites along the Silk Road. This suggests new weaving methods from Central and West Asia were introduced through contact with Sogdian weavers and merchants, who were the most important intermediaries in the silk trade between China and the West.

Museum founder Charles Lang Freer acquired this rare brocade in Japan, where it had been preserved in the Shōsō-in, a mid-eighth-century storehouse of imperial treasures in Nara. A piece with identical woven designs still in the Shōsō-in indicates fine Chinese silk textiles were used as trade goods and diplomatic gifts throughout Asia.

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