Tapestry with Dragons and Flowers

Date: 11th–12th century

Culture: Eastern Central Asia

Medium: Silk tapestry

Dimensions: 21 x 13 in. (53.3 x 33 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Tapestries

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1987

Accession Number: 1987.275


The vigorous dragons that animate this fragment of silk tapestry move boldly through a field of vivid flowers on a purple ground. Dragons are ultimately of Chinese origin, but in this particular form, with a snout shaped like an elephant's trunk, the influence of the makara, an Indian sea monster, is apparent, and the dragon is clearly a Central Asian hybrid creature. Along with the elongated snout, the treatment of the tail, which hooks under a hind leg, is found in the dragons of Central Asian art and also of Chinese decorative arts of the Tang period (618–907). In Central Asia, the form continued unchanged until at least the Yuan period (1279–1368).

The tapestry's background reveals other typically Central Asian aspects, such as the floral ground itself, which consists of myriad plants in various scales arranged in a boisterous composition not commonly found as a mere background pattern. One three-part floral combination in particular—lotus blossom, lotus leaf in profile, and trefoil leaf—constitutes a basic motif of the decorative arts of eastern Central Asia, beginning perhaps in the eleventh century and continuing until at least the fourteenth. The brilliant use of color for both realistic and decorative effects is also characteristic of Central Asian decorative arts.

Other extant Central Asian tapestry-woven silks incorporate bands or cloud-collar shapes, suggesting these textiles were meant for costume, probably that of the Uighurs, a Turkic people. When their empire fell in 840, the Uighurs scattered throughout North China, Mongolia, Manchuria, and Central Asia. During the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), they were known for wearing resplendently beautiful robes of silk tapestry.