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A MONGOL 'CLOTH OF GOLD' SILK AND METAL THREAD ROBE
A MONGOL 'CLOTH OF GOLD' SILK AND METAL THREAD ROBE
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A MONGOL 'CLOTH OF GOLD' SILK AND METAL THREAD ROBE

CENTRAL ASIA, LATE 13TH OR 14TH CENTURY

Details
A MONGOL 'CLOTH OF GOLD' SILK AND METAL THREAD ROBE
CENTRAL ASIA, LATE 13TH OR 14TH CENTURY
Of silk woven with a very fine design of writhing dragons on a ground of dense floral designs, with long pleated flaring skirt, long tapering sleeves with applied bands of similar but contrasting silks forming the cuffs, similar panels of similar silks forming the collar bands, lilac silk ties, with original light blue silk lining, occasional very slight splitting along crease lines, overall very good condition
54¾in. (139cm.) long; 82¼in. (209cm.) cuff to cuff
Provenance
Asian private collection since 1980s.

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Andrew Butler-Wheelhouse
Andrew Butler-Wheelhouse

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Lot Essay

A similar Mongol robe was in these Rooms 5 October 2010, lot 165. That example used a very similar densely patterned textile to this, although in that case the animals were enclosed within drop shapes which gave a clearer pattern to the design when viewed at a distance. The density of the design found here is similar to that on a textile of which three fragments are distributed between the David Collection, Copenhagen and the Cleveland Museum of Art attributed to "Central Asia or Daidu, 13th century" (James C.Y.Watt and Anne C. Wardwell, When Silk was Gold, Central Asian and Chinese Textiles, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1997, no.41, p.152).
As well as for its obvious aesthetic appeal, the Mongol love for 'cloth of gold' (nasij), or cloth in which gold thread covers most of the surface, stems from the realities of nomadic society in which possessions had to be portable. For this reason it had long been the custom for nomads to wear their wealth. Jon Thompson writes that as far back as Scythian times, the steppe nomads wore gold ornaments sewn on to their outer garments and that later it was discovered that weaving golden thread into the actual cloth produced a similar effect (Jon Thompson, Silk. 13th to 18th centuries. Treasures from the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, Doha, 2004, pp.72-73, no. 18). In the Mongol period silk textiles possessed a value equivalent to currency and could serve for the payment of taxes, war indemnity or tribute (Linda Komaroff and Stefano Carboni, The Legacy of Genghis Khan. Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353, New York, 2003, p. 171).

When the Mongols began using captured workers to make 'cloth of gold' for themselves, a new period of textile history ensued. Before the Mongol invasion different weaving centres could, to a degree, be recognised by the specific characteristics of their products - be these technical or decorative. In their quest for a supply of 'cloth of gold' however, the Mongols captured skilled weavers from the territories that they conquered and put them to work under their control. Craftsmen from different backgrounds thus worked side by side and what resulted was a movement and fusion of motifs and techniques, particularly between the traditions of China and those of Iran and Central Asia (Jon Thompson, op. cit., p. 12).

In the present robe we see what originated as a Chinese technique - the use of gold coated paper in embroidery. Chinese examples of this technique, from the Jin dynsasty (1115-1234 AD), have recently been excavated in Central Asia. Other examples of the Chinese use of this technique are found in the Abegg-Stiftung collection (http://www.abegg-stiftung.ch/e/museum/sonderaus/maerz2006/bilder.html# Anker).

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