This superb embroidered silk bed canopy or cover was a magnificent and costly item in its day, and it remains in near-perfect condition. Probably produced in Canton (Guangzhou), it is one of the finest and best-preserved examples we have seen. Embroidered sprays of chrysanthemums, lotus and other blooms all appear against a light-blue ground, together with butterflies and blue humming birds, all around a central, elaborate floral panel. The detailed rendering of all these is exquisite.
Each corner is decorated with two large pineapples amid wild foliage. Pineapples were still a new type of fruit in Europe in the 18th century, although they were being cultivated in a greenhouse in London’s Chelsea Physic Garden by 1723. It is doubtful that any were under cultivation in China at that time, so it is not surprising that the fruits are depicted not as bromeliad fruits that emerge from the tops of erect, stiff, spiky leaves, but more fancifully as borne by flowing creepers with tendrils.
The rainbow fringe of multi-coloured silk strands runs right around the cover and is complete and without any loss – which is remarkable.
Embroidered silks were an important part of the China Trade in the 18th century whereby the East India Company and other similar companies from around Europe sourced luxury and other goods from China for export to Europe.
The cover retains its original silk-satin cream backing (minor imperfections). There are several patches of colour loss (probably due to water) to the blue ground of the front but this is relatively minor. There are no material losses or repairs to the front whatsoever. Additional cloth folds affixed to the reverse suggest that the cover might have been used to decorate the overhead interior of a four-poster bed canopy, rather than having been used as a bed cover. This would account for the unusual sky-like, light-blue ground and the butterfly and bird decoration. Such a use would also account for the remarkable state of preservation of this piece.
Crossman, C.L, The Decorative Arts of the China Trade: Paintings, Furnishings and Exotic Curiosities, Antique Collectors’ Club, 1991.
Kuhn, D., (ed.), Chinese Silks, Yale University Press, 2012.
Peck, A. (ed.), Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800, Thames & Hudson, 2013.