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0342 Innermost Asia : vol.1
Innermost Asia : vol.1 / Page 342 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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However this may be, the question as to any direct influence exercised by Chinese silks on the textile designs of regions enjoying Hellenistic civilization can scarcely be safely argued so long as those regions have furnished no remains of figured silk fabrics belonging to the first century before and the first three centuries after Christ. For this was just the period when the import of silk stuffs from China is likely to have flourished most, while the weaving of silk textiles in Syria and elsewhere in the Hellenized parts of the Near East can scarcely have as yet attained its full growth.

The aspects which the question presents as regards Iran are somewhat different. We know that ever since the Central-Asian route for Chinese export was opened, the Persian empire, both under Parthian and Sasanian rule, was the sole channel for the transmission of silk goods, in whatever form, from Central Asia westwards. This Persian monopoly of the silk trade continued right down to the middle of the sixth century, when sericulture was first introduced into Greece under Justinian.34 Apparently the earliest reliable record of the manufacture of silk fabrics in Iran is furnished by a tradition of which the Arabic historian Masudi tells us. It connects the prosperity of the silk industry under Sasanian rule with the settlement in the Persis of Hellenistic weavers from Syria, forcibly carried out by Shahpur I I about the middle of the fourth century.35

Surviving remains of figured silks acquaint us with . the peculiar ` Sasanian ' textile style as it flourished in the sixth to eighth centuries A.D. The widespread influence it exercised westwards is traceable in silk fabrics from Antinoë and from Byzantine workshops, dating from the sixth century onwards. This ` Sasanian ' style is clearly distinguished from that of our L.C. figured silks by a series of characteristic features of its own. Among them it may suffice here to mention : the preference shown for the representation of hunting scenes ; the practice of framing these, as well as animal motifs, whether single or in pairs, within medallion borders decorated with discs ; and the rigid treatment of all figures.

Yet there are not wanting in these ` Sasanian ' silks certain peculiarities which might suggest derivation from features already to be found in some of our L.C. fabrics. Thus the favourite scheme in Sasanian silks of pairs of confronting animals is, as we have seen, frequent also in the L.C. textiles.36 That the use made of it by the designers of these early Chinese silks is not necessarily due to the technical facilities offered by the ` turn-over ' device is proved by its occurring also in sculptural work of Han times. The tree which in the ` Sasanian ' pieces usually separates the pairs of animals or hunters, and which learned convention interprets as an emblem of ` the tree of life ', might well be foreshadowed by the trees found associated with the animal figures in L.C. ii. oz (PI. XXXVI, XL), L.C. 07. b (P1. XL) and T. xxli. c. ooz. a, as well as in a Han tomb sculpture.37 It deserves to be noted that this tree, gracefully stylized into a form resembling its free treatment in certain ` Sasanian ' designs, is found also in the fine figured silk Ch. 00118, from the hoard of the ` Thousand Buddhas '. This piece again is closely related in technique of weave and in design to a silk fragment, T. xv. a. iii. ooio, discovered on the Tun-huang Limes, which may safely be assigned on documentary evidence to the first century B. C.38

The close examination of more ` Sasanian ' textile patterns than I can carry out at present may well reveal other points of contact in details. But more important for the general question is the essential fact that Chinese art in successive later periods is proved to have exerted a very marked influence not merely on the painting and ceramics of Persia, but also on its textile crafts. The fine brocades produced in Persia from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century strikingly

Persian empire the channel for silk trade.

Sasanian textile style.

Designs linking

` Sasanian ' and Chinese silks.

Chinese influence on later Persian art.

34 See Strzygowski, in Jahrbuch der K. Preuss. Kunst   36 See above, p. 238.

sammlungen, xxiv. p. 349 ; von Falke, Seidenweberei 2, p. 3.   37 See Andrews, Chin. Fig. Silks, Fig. 36.

35 Cf. Strzygowski, ibid., p. 171.   38 See Serindia, ii. pp. 911 sq., 963 ; iv. PI. CXI.