Silk museum exhibiting Song Dynasty-inspired artworks

Wu Huixin
The China National Silk Museum is displaying 120 modern-traditional works by 60 artists who were inspired by the Song Dynasty (960–1279) period.
Wu Huixin

When ancient Hangzhou was made the capital, the prosperity of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) drove the development of every industry, particularly handicrafts. Its minimalist aesthetics elevated it to the pinnacle of ancient art.

In efforts to revive the culture of the Song Dynasty, the China National Silk Museum invited 60 artists to design works by drawing inspiration from the handicrafts and art of that period. The museum is currently displaying approximately 120 artworks that combine modern and traditional aesthetics until June 2.

Four art academies grew out of groups of Hangzhou painters during this period, namely the Wansong, Ziyang, Chongwen and Gujing. The Wulin and Zhejiang painting schools emerged gradually, and their combined output represented a traditional Hangzhou painting style.

Their work was composed of a few strokes and leaves a lot of blank space, extremely subtle graded ink washes, and overlapping brushstrokes with atmospheric effects of mist, sky and infinity.

Silk museum exhibiting Song Dynasty-inspired artworks

Dress designed by Luo Ying

Inspired by the ancient paintings, designer Li Jun's costume, named "Overlapping Mountains and Waters," is characterized by an avant-garde silhouette and the atmospheric effects of mist, sky, and an infinity feel from Song Dynasty ink-wash paintings.

Luo Ying designed the dress "Among Mountains and Waters" by using shading greenish-blue colors and simple patterns to portray the poetic feel of traditional Chinese landscapes depicted in ancient ink-wash paintings.

Except for young designers, senior artisans also designed a batch of new works. Jin Jiahong, a contemporary hangxiu (Hangzhou-style embroidery) master, embroidered a work featuring traditional painting techniques, using different shades of black threads to depict swimming fish.

To create this intricate piece, she uses tiny needles and separates a single thread into several finer ones, each thinner than a human hair.

Hand-made embroidery is considered a typical representation of Chinese traditional crafts. With an abundance of silk and an ancient tradition of needlework, Hangzhou has developed its own variety of these skills, which have a long tradition and are famed for their intricate and time-consuming style.

During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279), Hangzhou was home to craftsmen and craftswomen making embroidered robes for emperors and officials. One concubine of Emperor Gaozong was renowned as a particular expert at embroidery, and her work was later acquired by the Museum of London.

Silk museum exhibiting Song Dynasty-inspired artworks

Jin Jiahong's hangxiu work

Silk museum exhibiting Song Dynasty-inspired artworks

Lin Xia's taixiu work

Folk arts cannot flourish without craftsmen and craftswomen who devote their creative energies to the skill and pass on the tradition. Jin, renowned as a "Zhejiang Crafts Master," has dedicated her working life to hangxiu and continues to stitch at the age of 54.

Embroidery requires a high level of dedication because there must not be a single sloppy stitch. Patience is essential when creating embroidery. Different from traditional hangxiu, the taixiu (Taizhou-style embroidery) features modern-day artistic elements, which could be evidenced in the works of taixiu master Lin Xia.

The 60-year-old Lin is the inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage taixiu. Since more and more embroiderers fused taixiu skills with Western art and aesthetics, taixiu has presented a chic style and always been used in costume designs.

At the exhibition, visitors can also see precious kesi, an old craft of "cut silk." This is the visual illusion of cutting threads that is created by changing shuttles between colors and wefts.

There can be up to 8,360 color changes per square centimeter when a warp and weft intersect. To pull it off, a weaver's rich artistic sense and exquisite skill are required. It is ideal for copying calligraphy and paintings on silk because it allows for very smooth color transitions.

At the opening ceremony, domestic brand Grace Chen launched its 2023 spring-summer haute couture series, which also drew inspiration from the Song Dynasty literature and art.

Silk museum exhibiting Song Dynasty-inspired artworks

Exhibition info:

Date: Through June 2 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5pm

Admission: Free

Address: 73-1 Yuhuangshan Rd


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