Woven for both the imperial court and nobility, Qing dynasty rugs were often made for a specific place or function. Based on the highly symbolic motifs used, this exceptional Chinese rug was probably made as a dais or platform cover that typically would have been reserved for an important guest.
The central motif of this rug depicts a qilin, a unicorn or dragon-horse creature, considered to be an auspicious mythical animal associated with serenity, prosperity and the imminent birth or death of a sage or illustrious ruler (see M. Franses, Lion-dogs Hundred Antiques Classical Chinese Carpets I, London, 2000, pp. 35-38). There are only three known rugs that contain a qilin of this size, one of which is believed to be lost. A very similar example is in the Wher Collection (Ibid., p. 36, pl. 6) with a similar dominant qilin and lion-dogs playing with a ribboned coin in each corner. It is a bit smaller than our example and was probably intended to be used as a day-bed cover.
The reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722) was a period of great achievement for all the arts, and carpets woven during this period are celebrated for their harmony and proportion both in coloration and size. The current carpet successfully employs color, for example, by using a different hue for each of the corner lion-dogs and for details in each "auspicious" motif in the field. The use of white highlights is also effective, especially to delineate the scales on the qilin and the inner scroll border. The border structure, and in particular the indigo meandering line central border, creates a sublime framework for the more significant field imagery.
Interestingly, Michael Franses notes that between 1909 and 1920 about 1,650 'antique' Chinese rugs were offered for sale in various auctions in New York and most were in near perfect condition (Ibid., p. 14). Louis Comfort Tiffany, John Kimberley Mumford and Thomas B. Clarke were among the early important collectors of Chinese Classical carpets. Today, only 400 carpets are attributable to the Kangxi period and most are in distressed or fragmentary condition.