Orioles and magnolias | China | Late 19th or mid-20th century | Kesi (silk tapestry), hanging scroll | 120 x 47.5 cm | Gift of Dr Lam Kwok Pun | Collector's seal: Lantang shuwu; Woven seal: Shen Jinshui | HKU.T.2004.1675

Orioles and magnolias

TitleOrioles and magnolias
PeriodQing dynasty (1644–1911), late 19th or mid-20th century
MediumSilk tapestry (kesi), hanging scroll
Dimensions120 x 47.5 cm
CollectionUniversity Museum and Art Gallery, HKU
ProvenanceGift of Dr Lam Kwok Pun
SealCollector's seal Lantang shuwu; Woven seal Shen Jinshui

Woven in polychrome wefts against a blue ground, the birds on this kesi are black-naped golden orioles. Woven in the changduanqiang (‘long-and-short propping’) technique, the magnolias in beige and light green colours grant the flowers a sense of simple beauty. The yellow bodies of the orioles were woven in a technique known as baoxinqiang (‘embracing propping’), in which the shading of colours moves smoothly from the edge towards the centre, resulting in a darker outer area and lighter centre.

The finely woven feathers, claws and beaks of the orioles, as well as the magnolias, offer a vivid illustration of spring. A seal inscription on the lower left reads Shen Jinshui, indicating that the tapestry was woven by Shen Jinshui (1883–1968), who was born in Likou, Wu county, Jiangsu province. Shen Jinshui began learning kesi weaving at the age of fifteen. One of the three most prominent kesi weavers in Suzhou, he reportedly served in the imperial workshops of the Forbidden City and was invited to teach kesi weaving at the Suzhou Cixiu Yanjiusuo (‘Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute’) in the 1950s. Shen taught many influential weavers, including Wang Jinshan (b. 1939), who was designated by the government as a Representative Inheritor (chuanchen ren) of Suzhou kesi weaving. This tradition was included in the first group of items designated for the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China in 2006.