Monday, April 4, 2011

Dragon v. Phoenix

by Ryan Reitmeyer on April 4, 2011
We just acquired this amazing antique Chinese Tibetan rug, woven in the 1920s. This rug exudes style; the deeply exaggerated twisting dragons are almost sculptural in their movement, and are complimented perfectly by the ornate plumage on the circling phoenixes. Although the pattern repeat suggests that the dragons are confronting each other, the design is actually meant to represent two sets of dragons and phoenixes locked in swirling combat with one another. The dragon and phoenix design has mysterious connotations and an ancient history.

This bronze mirror from the Metropolitan Museum of Art was made during the Warring States period in China and dates to the 4th century BC. Dragons and phoenixes are painted in red lacquer on the back of the mirror; this is one of the earliest known examples of the motif. During the Han dynasty, when Taoism was adopted as the official religion of the court, the dragon and phoenix became the emblem of the royal family. It was a representation of balance between two conflicting forces and symbolized the belief in a Yin and a Yang.

Famous among carpet aficionados, the Von Bode Dragon and Phoenix carpet is believed to have been woven in the late 14th century in Anatolia (Turkey) and now resides in the Bode Museum in Berlin. This is the earliest known example of a rug with a dragon and phoenix pattern. The relatively coarse weave of the rug results in a beautifully stylized depiction of the dragon and phoenix; rendered on a bright yellow background which recalls the imperial Chinese history of this design.

Carini Lang rugs are some of the most inspired and beautifully crafted carpets woven today. Joseph Carini breathes new life into the phoenix design in this carpet, using a classic Tibetan weave, knotted in the finest grade Chinese silk colored with dyestuffs that were created from plants. His signature color palette feels so authentic and at home in this antique design because many of the colors that Joe uses are developed from ancient dye recipes that he has spent years perfecting. Even though the phoenix has historical origins in Chinese textile history, Joe gives the phoenix a new identity by weaving it in this massive 6x9 rug.

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