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Chinese Cultural Elements in Persian Carpet Art

2020-10-24 17:01| 发布者: admin| 查看: 85| 评论: 0

摘要: 丝绸之路像一根金线,把中国、印度、中亚、伊朗、美索不达米亚、希腊、罗马众多文明串在一起,其中中国和伊朗两个国家在其中的地位显得尤为特殊和重要。




整理与研究历史上中国-伊朗两国人民的多方面交往以及这样的交往对两国人民带来的种种好处是十分有必要的。安徽大学王泽壮教授与Ghalamreza Noee先生、Ali Mazinani先生等在这一点达成共识,并为此做出了努力,共同编著了Two sides of the horizon: an investigation on 2100 years of historical, cultural and economic relations between Iran and China along silk road》(Seyyed Ali Mazinani et al. eds., Iran, 2019)。本网选取此书中Chinese Cultural Elements in Persian Carpet Art: Introduction and Absorption一文以飨读者。


Chinese Cultural Elements in Persian Carpet Art: Introduction and Absorption

Wang Zezhuang , Yue Jinyan

Abstract: Persian carpet is an ancient weaving art of Persian Empire. It has been deeply influenced by foreign culture in weaving techniques and patterns design. Before the western expedition of Mongolia, Chinese cultural elements spread westward through the Silk Road and were initially recognized by Persians. With the establishment of the Ilkhanid in the late thirteenth Century, cultural exchanges between China and Persia were unprecedented. In this context, the traditional Chinese Han nationality decoration elements, such as dragon, phoenix, cloud, crane and tortoise, as well as the non-Han decorative elements in northern China, have fully entered the Persian carpet art. These Chinese cultural elements have lost their cultural connotations in the exotic decorative environment. Under the transformation of Persian carpet artists, they merge with the Persian native patterns to form a new decorative style.

Key Words: Persian Carpet Art ; Chinese Cultural Elements; Introduction; Application

Due to its exquisite weaving skills, brilliant color placement and diverse pattern design, Persian carpet has not only become a national treasure of Iran, but also a fascinating and acclaimed treasure in the world's art. The patterns in Persian carpets not only reflect the aesthetic taste of Persia, but also directly show the absorption, integration and innovation of Persian culture to foreign cultures. This paper focuses on the introduction and application of the Chinese traditional cultural elements in the Persian carpets around the establishment of the Ilkhanid (from the Mongolian period to the early Ming Dynasty in Chinese history).

There are many studies on Persian carpet ornamentation abroad. For example, The Persian Carpet: A Survey of the Carpet-Weaving Industry of Persia edited by A. Cecil Edwards and The Persian Carpet edited by M. Javad Nassiri, these two books give a detailed introduction to the history, raw materials and patterns of Persian carpets. Such works tend to study the local development of Persian carpets, and seldom discuss the multiple styles of Persian carpets from the perspective of foreign culture’s influence. In the The Oriental Carpet : A History and Guide to Traditional Motifs, Patterns and Symbols written by P. R. J. Ford, the discussion of the Chinese cultural elements of Persian rugs is scattered throughout the chapters of the book. The most comprehensive study of Chinese decorative elements in Persian carpets is Islamic Chinoiserie: the Art of Mongol Iran written by Yuka Kadoi. The first chapter of the book introduces the Chinese cultural characteristics of Persian textiles during the Mongolian rule. It is an important work in the research field of Chinese and Islamic cultural exchange in recent years.

There are no articles and monographs on Chinese style of Persian carpet in domestic academic circles. History of Chinese and Western Cultural Exchanges written by Shen Fuwei, A Brief History of Exchanges between China and Other Countries edited by Zhang Guogang and The history of transportation between China and the West compiled by Fang Hao all briefly introduced the cultural exchanges between China and Persia in the Yuan Dynasty. Beautiful world - Islamic art composed by Liu Yihong and Qi Qianjin simply mentions the content of Chinese cultural elements in Persian carpetsXu Liangli’s A study of the history of Ilkhanate does not involve Persian carpets when introducing Persian culture in the Ilkhanid era. Study on Persian Culture of Il-khanid written by Xiong Juan lists the cultural achievements of the Il-khanid period. In the Western Expedition of Mongolia and the Western Spread of Oriental Culturecomposed by Teng Haijian, the author emphatically introduces the Western transmission of Chinese practical science and simply refers to the western spread of Chinese artistic style.

To sum up, it can be seen that the discussion and research on Chinese cultural elements in Persian carpets in academic circles, especially in China, are insufficient. Therefore, this paper can not only enrich the understanding of the relations between China and Iran during the period of Mongolia and Yuan, but also further enrich the connotation of the cultural exchanges between China and Iran during the Ilkhanid period.

The introduction of Chinese cultural elements

Preliminary Understanding of Chinese Cultural Elements in Persia in the Pre-Mongolian Period

In the early Han Dynasty, Zhang Qian sent to the Western Regions and the silk trade eventually spread to the eastern Roman region. The Parthian Dynasty that ruled the Khorasan region played an important intermediary role in the silk trade between China and Rome. It was through them that the silk industry was first known to the Persians. However, due to the corrosive nature of silk, it is confirmed that the complete textile belonging to the Parthian Dynasty has not been left behind. Therefore, the influence of Chinese textiles on the textiles of the Parthian Dynasty and the artistic connection between China and Persia lack the evidence of physical materials. The real artistic connection between China and Persia was in the Tang Dynasty. During this period, the continuous artistic exchange between China and Persia was largely attributed to the Sogdians. Sogdians textile combines Chinese weaving techniques with Persian decorative styles and acts as an intermediary role between China and Persian textile art exchanges. The frequent artistic communications between China and Iran have been confirmed by the historical records of the two countries and the physical remains of China. However, due to long-term social unrest and years of corrosion, Sassani textiles have few reliable physical remains, so the influence of Chinese culture on Sassani textiles can only be a logical inference.

The westward conquer of Mongolia provided a convenient condition for the full introduction of Chinese cultural elements into Persia.

Historically, westward conquer of Mongolia has had a great impact on Persia. In 1206, Genghis Khan unified the Mongolian Steppe. In 1219, Genghis Khan personally led the army to conquer the Khwarezmia and began the first westward conquer of Mongolia, and pushed the Mongolian forces into Central Asia and the east coast of the Black Sea. After the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, his grandson, Hulagu, led the army to the third westward conquer. In 1258, he established the Ilkhanate in the Tabriz. In 1260, Kublai Khan, Hulagu’s old brother, established the Yuan Dynasty in China. Persia and China began to be in direct contact with each other and in the same political system. 

The westward conquer of Mongolia undoubtedly brought unprecedented disaster to the conquered area. However, war has also become a catalyst for promoting the exchange of civilizations. “The Yuan Dynasty and the Ilkhanate maintained a friendly and cooperative relationship from the beginning of the establishment to the early of the 14th century.” This kind of relationship is reflected in economic exchange, which is that each year there will be caravans between Tabriz and Dadu, and the characteristic products of the two places also circulate with the caravans. Due to the light quality of textile and its special significance in Mongolian social and cultural life, China's textiles have become an important commercial product on this trade road. The patterns on Chinese textiles from the Yuan Dynasty, such as dragon and phoenix, were also known, cognized and accepted by the Persian people, and were gradually applied to the art of the Persian native architecture, metal wares and book illustrations. In addition, the policy of encouraging and supporting cultural development was actively adopted in Persia, which created a relaxed social environment for the development, dissemination and application of Chinese culture in Persia.

By the end of the 14th century,the descendant of Genghis Khan, Timur, established the Timurid Empire with Samarkand as the center. At that time, Samarkand was a hub city on the Silk Road and the main channel for trade between East and West. Timur attached great importance to the development of art and brought artisans from different cities to Samarkand to serve him, including many outstanding Chinese artists. Shahrokh, the son of Timur, is a supporter of art. After his accession to Herat, he was devoted to the restoration and development of culture and art. In 1419, Shaharu sent a large-scale mission to the Ming Dynasty, and the court painter Ghivat ad-Din accompanied it. Ghivat ad-Din used diary style to record his knowledge of Chinese art, and also brought back some Chinese court paintings and sketches made by himself. After the mission returned to Persia, the court registered all the articles from China and studied them carefully. On the basis of fully absorbing the court paintings of the Ming Dynasty, the court painters of the Timurid Empire formed the important school of Persian miniature, "Herat School". The artists of this school not only engaged in the creation of miniature, but also took direct responsibility for the design and weaving of the court carpets. Chinese cultural elements could be spread more widely through these artists and directly enter the Persian carpet.

In short, under the unified political framework of the Mongol Empire, the exchange of artistic ideas between the two countries has been strengthened, further promoting the appreciation and absorption of Chinese cultural elements by Persian artists.

The application of Chinese cultural elements in Persian carpets

From the time of Ilkhanate, after the period of the Timur Empire, and then to the later Safavid period, the Persian carpets always embody rich Chinese cultural elements, which mainly introduces as the following.

First, the traditional Chinese animal pattern represented by dragon and phoenix. "Dragon and phoenix" is a symbolic symbol of Chinese traditional culture. It has been given auspicious meaning since ancient times, and it entrusts people's yearning for a better life. In the Persian carpet art, "dragon and phoenix" becomes a new decorative pattern with Persian characteristics. In Persia, the phoenix has a certain connection with the simorgh that symbolizes God in the Sufism mythology, and the dragon is considered to be a symbol of evil. The "dragon and phoenix" often presents the form of "confrontation and fighting" in the Persian rug pattern. For example, a dragon and phoenix pattern of this form appeared on a carpet of Safavid period in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Figure 1).The main pattern of this carpet is an octagonal star geometric pattern, in which is the dragon and Phoenix animal patterns. The dragon and the phoenix face each other, and they seem to be fighting. Another is the woolen carpet (Figure 2), which is now collected in Vitoria and the Albert Museum in England. In this carpet, the dragon and phoenix patterns, one of the many elements of the carpet, are used in the border. The posture of the dragon and phoenix is quite different from that in the Chinese artistic creations, they are very angry and fierce. Though the dragon and Phoenix appeared in pairs, they completely lost the auspicious meaning of this pattern.

Figure1.The dragon and phoenix in the Persian carpet

Figure2.The dragon and phoenix in the Persian carpet

In the Persian carpet, the dragon and phoenix will be used separately except in pairs. For example, the image of the single dragon is often decorated as a main or auxiliary pattern on the carpet surface. In a Persian brocade (Figure 3) collected at the Kunstgewerbe Museum, Berlin, the single dragon is placed in a round ornament as the main pattern. The dragon's head is connected to the tail to form a complete and independent decorative surface. The prototype of this pattern is derived from the single dragon play bead shape in Chinese art creation. However, in this Persian brocade, the image of the single dragon play bead was adjusted by the Persian craftsman, and the pearl symbolizing the good things was removed, leaving only the dragon as a decorative pattern. In addition, Persian artists also like to use a single dragon as an auxiliary pattern in the fabric gap. For example, a brocade found in the city of Gdansk, Poland, placed a curly and upright single dragon in the gap between the polygons (Figure4). This single dragon pattern is similar to that of the five-toed dragon, a symbol of imperial power in the Yuan Dynasty. However, the single dragon pattern in this brocade does not have five dragon toes, which means that it has nothing to do with the royal products of the Yuan Dynasty. Whether it is the single dragon play beads or the five-toed dragon image, when they came to Persia, the Persian artists were unfamiliar with Chinese culture, resulting in a slight alteration and variation in the above patterns.

Figure 3.The dragon pattern in the Persian carpets

Figure4.A curly and upright single dragon 

In the Persian carpet design, in addition to the typical dragon and phoenix patterns, there are also traditional Chinese animal images such as crane and tortoise. In Chinese art, tortoise and crane have longevity meaning, so that the organic combination of tortoise and crane has become a symbol of longevity in China. A silk tapestry of David collection is a melting pot of Islamic culture and Chinese culture (Figure 5). In the main pattern of the tapestry, the prince sits at the center, and the two sides are decorated with two servants and two guards in a symmetrical composition. These characters are portrayed as Islamic images. Chinese cultural elements, tortoise and crane, are placed in front of the throne, blending with the floral patterns that cover the background. The appearance of tortoise and crane in Persian art shows that Persian artists directly adopted the novel combination of Chinese decorative styling, but the longevity implication of this pattern combination in Chinese culture is obviously not reflected in Persian creation.

Figure5.The pattern of the crane and tortoise in the Persian tapestry

Second, cloud pattern and cloud band, cloud shoulder pattern. Cloud pattern is one of the oldest decorative themes in Chinese art. Its basic composition and shape have been determined since the Shang and Zhou Dynasties. The cloud pattern is developed from the mushroom-like image at the top of the cloud, so it is widely known as "lingzhi". Its decorative layout gradually became diversified in Tang Dynasty art influenced by Buddhism. In the 13th century, cloud patterns became "ruyi" patterns, which were widely used in different decorative arts of the Yuan Dynasty .In essence, this pattern has the meaning of immortality and good luck, so it is loved by design artists. During the rule of the Khitan, the cloud was known to the nomadic tribes in northern China and gradually developed westward into the Central Asia. In the late thirteenth Century, Persian people used cloud pattern frequently. The artistic value of the above figure 3 is not only reflected in the dragon pattern, but also in the cloud element which is filled in the gap as the auxiliary pattern. The basic shape of the cloud is a circular spiral, and a long cloud tail is added behind the cloud to increase the mobility. At the same time, combined with the dragon pattern, it creates the effect of the dragon in the cloud.

In a classic Herat carpet, its distinctive border seems to blend the arabesque and the cloud band patterns in China. The cloud band pattern was brought to Western Asian art by Chinese artists living in Samarkand in early fifteenth century and spread rapidly throughout the Islamic world. By the sixteenth century, Persian designers had adapted the Chinese form to their own uses.In the border of the Chelsea carpet (Figure 6), the Persian artist combines the Chinese cloud band pattern with the Islamic mihrab, making the cloud band patterns gradually developing into an ornamental element of the combination of Chinese and Arabia ideas.

About the origin and evolution of vase carpet and flower Herat carpet, that is, whether they are the same source or their respective development, which is not known in the carpet academia. But a certain treatment of the Chinese cloud band pattern can connect the vase carpet with the Herat carpet.In a Kerman vase carpet produced in the sixteenth century (Figure7), the main part is woven with a number of differently shaped vases, one of which is similar to the cloud band seen in the floral Herat rug (Figure8).The vase pattern is filled with other elements on the basis of the cloud band pattern, which makes the vase pattern more decorative and artistic.

Figure6.The cloud band pattern in Chelsea carpet

                                                Figure7.Kerman vase carpet

  Figure8.The cloud band pattern in the flower Herat  carpet

The cloud shoulder pattern is one of the unique decorative patterns in China. Its styling feature is centered on the neckline and radiates four pieces of “ruyi” pattern around it .At first, the non-Han nomadic tribes such as the Jurchen and the Mongolian knew the cloud shoulder because of its practical function of sheltering the wind and avoiding the cold. After the establishment of the Mongolia regime, the cloud shoulder pattern was introduced into China as a decorative pattern of clothing, and eventually became an important element in the official costume of the court of the Yuan Dynasty, and became an important symbol of the class and wealth in the society of Mongolia. By the middle of thirteenth century, the cloud shoulder had spread to Persia. Although neither complete nor fragmentary cloud shoulders attributable to Mongol Iran are known to survive, the motif seems to have gained certain recognition as a costume element, as reflected in representations of elaborate cloud should decoration attached to Mongol-type robes in contemporary manuscript painting.(Figure 9)

Figure9.Cloud shoulder pattern in Persian miniature

Third, Chinese traditional flower and vase pattern. In the traditional decorative art of China, the vase pattern is a decorative element with symbolic meaning. In Chinese pronunciation, the "ping" of the vase is the same as that of peace, so the Chinese pattern designers borrow the pronunciation of the "vase", and refer to the meaning of "peace". Vases have become the decoration element that people place on the "peaceful, stable" feelings in Chinese carpet. However, when the vase pattern spreads into Persian art, it is more embodied in functionality and decoration. The vase pattern that appears in the vase carpet (Figure 10) in the Victoria and Albert Museum seems to be influenced by the Chinese vase pattern. However, after the transformation of the Persian artist, the vase pattern lost any symbolic meaning about “peace”. It may simply be portrayed as a functional vase or decorative floral pattern, or it may be become a starting point for the elaboration of motifs that might embody “tree-of-life”ideas.The use of vase patterns in Persian carpets has also impacted the frequent use of abstract patterns. The vase is often depicted in a natural form, and the style of painting tends to be secularized.

In addition to the vase pattern, some traditional Chinese flower patterns have also been introduced into the Persian carpet. The lotus pattern is one of the traditional Chinese plant motifs and occupies an important position in the history of Chinese art decoration. In the national culture, the lotus pattern has been blessed with love and harmony. In Buddhist art, lotus is often portrayed as a pedestal of Buddhist figures such as Buddha, or as a sacred object of Buddhism. In the Persia, which believes in Islam, the lotus pattern is no longer a symbol of people's emotions and Buddhist ideas, but is a flower element that adorned the carpets with Arabesque. In addition, “Shah Abbas palmettes” are stylizations from Chinese lotus or paeony patterns.Its fruit-bearing vines or tendrils resemble the curve of a lotus flower. The lotus pattern in the Persian carpet art, besides the decorative elements of the flower carpet, will also appear on the costumes worn by the characters in the carpet.

Figure10. The vase carpet  

In addition to the traditional Chinese patterns represented by dragon and phoenix, cloud and lotus, the decorative patterns of Persian rugs are also influenced by the decorative styles of non-Han nomadic tribes in northern China, such as the teardrop units. In a textile collected in Nuremberg (Figure11), the pattern of curled deer and cloud are surrounded by a teardrop-shaped unit that is very similar to the Jin brocade .Compared with the Jin brocade, however, each teardrop unit in the Nuremberg example is arranged in narrower spaces, which are filled with flower-like symbols.This decorative style is related to the Islamic principle of "horror vacui", which is to fill the background with decorative materials. This design incorporates the Persian native aesthetic interest. The evolved new style is widely used because it meets the Persian aesthetic requirements.

Figure11.The teardrop units in the Nuremberg textile

The characteristics of Chinese cultural elements in Persian carpets

The Mongolian Western Expedition and the establishment of Timur Empire made the political, economic, cultural and artistic exchanges between China and Persia more active. During this period, dragon and phoenix patterns, cloud patterns, lotus patterns and other patterns with Chinese cultural and artistic features have entered Persia. By carefully comparing these Persianized Chinese decorative elements with Chinese prototypes, we will find that the application of Chinese cultural elements in Persian carpets shows three distinctive features.

First of all, the connotation of Chinese cultural elements is gradually disappearing, which is more reflected in the decorative nature. Dragon and phoenix, cloud and lotus pattern are cultural symbols that embodies the spirit and aesthetics of the Chinese. When these patterns first entered Persia, they were strange to Persian artists. In the face of unfamiliar foreign cultures, the Persian people did not reject this, but out of curiosity about new things, applying the external image of Chinese traditional patterns to Persian carpets. However, the auspicious meanings of these patterns in Chinese traditional culture have not been presented in Persian carpets. In the Persian carpet, the decorative value of Chinese cultural elements exceeds the cultural connotation value.

Secondly, Chinese cultural elements and Persian native patterns are harmoniously integrated into the carpet design. The fusion of Chinese and Persian elements reflects the artistic style of China and the decoration atmosphere of Persian. For example, Chinese traditional dragon patterns can decorate the same carpet with Persian native animals such as lions and antelope. Lotus pattern as a floral element can also appear with Arabesque. These patterns do not bring discordant visual effects, indicating that Chinese culture is compatible with Persian culture. At the same time, Chinese cultural elements have greatly enriched Persian carpet culture, enabling Persian carpets to achieve multi-ethnic integration based on the preservation of Persian native culture.

Finally, based on the local culture, the Persian people innovated and absorbed the elements of Chinese culture. Persian artists, for example, further transform the Chinese pattern of cloud bands into Islamic mihrab. Besides, a simple curve adjustment and a dense decoration will make cloud band become a vase pattern. Therefore, these Chinese-style patterns have been transformed and innovated by the hands of Persian artists, thus forming a decorative pattern that conforms to the Persian national aesthetic and decorative environment.


The exchange of goods and cultures between China and Persia began in the records of Shiji. During the Han and Tang Dynasties, the contacts and exchanges between the two sides entered a comprehensive period. According to the existing literature and the material, until the establishment of the Ilkhanate, the cultural exchange between China and Persia shows the general characteristics of the Persian culture spreading from the west to the east. From the perspective of mutual influence, China's influence by Persia is much greater than that of Persia.

Until the Mongolia Empire ruled Persia, the two sides had a deep interaction between the two levels of material and culture. Chinese cultural elements began to enter Persia and gradually influenced Persia's various forms of art. The Chinese style of Persian carpets is an important embodiment of Chinese cultural elements in Persian art. Chinese cultural elements are decorated in Persian carpets, not only increasing the exotic atmosphere of carpet surface, but also promoting the innovative development of Persian carpet decoration patterns. At the same time, the evidence of civilization communication in the Mongolian Yuan period was embodied in the design of the Persian carpet in the form of Chinese pattern, becoming a material evidence for the study of the contacts between China and Persia. The far-reaching significance is that Persia under Mongolian rule is at the junction of the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. It is the key place to communicate between the European and Asian civilizations. Chinese cultural elements are attached to Persian carpets which have both economic and artistic attributes, and gradually spread to Europe and the surrounding world, prompting the flow of Chinese artistic style across civilizations.

In a word, the acceptance and transformation of the Persian carpet toward Chinese cultural elements has become a wonderful page in the history of Sino-Iranian cultural exchanges and even world cultural exchanges on the Silk Road. It is still clearly identifiable from contemporary Iranian carpet design.



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