Textile with Animals, Birds, and Flowers

Date: late 12th–14th century

Culture: Eastern Central Asia

Medium: Silk embroidery on plain-weave silk

Dimensions: Overall: 14 5/8 x 14 7/8 in. (37.1 x 37.8 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Embroidered

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1988

Accession Number: 1988.296


A textbook example of the eclecticism of Central Asian art, this colorful square features motifs and stylistic aspects typical of Central Asia and of its neighbors, including China during two dynasties that had a formative influence on the eastern Central Asian style: the Han (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) and Tang (618–907). Combining animals, birds, and a profusion of different flowers in an overall pattern is a distinct artistic tradition of eastern Central Asia. The disposition of the four animals on the sides of the square, however, recalls the decoration of certain Han-dynasty mirrors in which the four animals used in China to signify the four directions—the dragon, tiger, phoenix, and xuanwu, a composite animal—are placed at the cardinal points. On this textile, the four animals—a rabbit, two deer or antelope, and a spotted horse—are Central Asian. The reclining deer, with a mushroom-shaped antler topped by a crescent, is seen in Sogdian art, which entered eastern Central Asia in the sixth century; clay mortuary figures of spotted horses have been found at seventh-century sites in Astana in the Turfan region of eastern Central Asia. Furthermore, three of the four animals, with heads turned back, display a stance characteristic of Central Asia's so-called Animal Style.

The birds on the square are also arranged in accordance with the Han scheme, but their forms owe much to the influence of the Tang dynasty, when birds were depicted with outstretched wings and long tail feathers. The parrot, in particular, echoes representations found in Tang decorative arts. On the other hand, the slightly awkward drawing of some of the birds lends them a quirky vitality that is part of the charm of Central Asian decorative arts.