A width of cloth

China, probably Guangzhou
Late 16th century
Silk lampas
65 x 52 cm

The present width of cloth (from selvage to selvage), is a Chinese silk lampas (a luxury fabric with a background weft), which features as its pattern a crowned and splayed double-headed eagle atop a heart pierced by arrows and which is set in two-fold symmetry. The main motif, of European origin despite resembling a Chinese phoenix (fènghuáng), is encircled by scrolling vines with China pinks (Dianthus chinensis or shízhú), tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa, or m dān, deemed in China to be “the queen of flowers”, and a symbol of royalty, prosperity, wealth and honour), shrub peonies, and two facing long-tailed birds. It belongs to a group of similarly weaved silk textiles which, in general, have the same crimson red (lac dye) ground and are decorated in blue, green and yellow (dye from the Asian pagoda tree, Sophora japonica). While the overall design, dyes, and technique betray the Chinese origin of this silk textile, its iconography is clearly European. The double-headed eagle, commonly known as the Habsburg eagle although its origin is many centuries older, was the device used for the Order of Saint Augustine as given by king Felipe II of Spain (r. 1556- 1598). The Augustinian Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines was established in Manila in 1575, and soon after in Macao (which passed to the administration of the Portuguese Province in 1589 by order of Felipe II), Mexico and India, during which several missionary ex- peditions were undertaken in China. In addition to silk textiles such as the present example, the Augustinians commissioned other objects featuring their emblem; blue and white porcelain ordered from the Chinese kilns in Jingdezhen being a good example of their artistic patronage. The religious use of this type of textile is evident from the outline of some of the extant examples; a fragment of a chasuble (in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, inv. T.215-1910) and a complete cope. While the production of such textiles has been attributed to Macau (more of a hub and port for disseminating rather than producing, such complex textiles), it is more likely that such sumptuary textiles were made in more traditional south Chinese centres of production, which had been producing fine silk textiles for export since before the medieval period and supplying the imperial court in Beijing. A matching example of the identical pattern as our silk lampas, differing only in the colour scheme, and in a better state of preservation, belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. 12.55.4).

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