‘Songtao Table Banner’


Design No: CH1079
Embroidery Style: Ping Xiu, Ping Jin Xiu
Era: Late Qing Era (circa 1880)
860mm x 810mm

Reference Material: Li  Xiang Shu and Li Li Fang, Hu Xiang Ci Xiu: Xiang Xiu Juan, pp. 2 – 84.

The Story behind the Artwork

Originating from Songtao County in Guizhou Province this work was crafted during the second half of the 19th century. A very wealthy family would have commissioned the banner for hanging from the table in the main reception room of their home in order to display their riches and rank. Although the inhabitants of Songtao were predominantly of the minority Miao nationality their textile styles were significantly influenced by close proximity to the town of Feng Huang in Hunan Province. This table banner is obviously inspired by Han culture rather than ethnic minority culture but may well have been crafted by a Miao embroiderer for the family.

The banner portrays the traditional Han story of Bai Niao Chao Feng (Hundreds of Birds Worshipping the Phoenix), a very common theme in embroideries from Hunan Province. The plump body of the phoenix, whose head is proud with cockscomb and wattle, is typical of those represented in artworks of the Late Qing Era.

The expressiveness of the work tells the story clearly at a glance. The phoenix maintains its position of power and superiority, looking into the far distance whilst elegantly perched on a tree, surrounded by four pairs of birds. Among the pairs are mandarin ducks, red cranes and swallows, obeisant yet flying freely, paying homage to the authority of the phoenix. A magical shimmering moon has broken through gleaming clouds to shine over the night scene. Graceful representations of the natural environment include reeds shown as if they are floating on water, lotus flowers swinging with the wind, together with an ancient gnarled tree holding court over its surroundings. The style of the work, obviously influenced by the Su manner of embroidery, uses the ‘Pingjin’ technique in which a design is sketched first with gold and silver filaments before being embroidered with silk. The technique yields a luminous quality. Yue design elements can also be found in the work, above all the use of colour and gold. The artistic and technical skill of the artist is obvious, for the work has a striking vitality and freedom not easily achieved with embroidery.

This rare work is exemplary not only for its cultural significance but also for the way it exhibits the highest standards of technical skill and true artistic ability.