Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
Only the most accomplished artisans could produce such a tour de force of the weaver’s art. Made in China at a time when the manufacture of silk tapestries had reached its pinnacle, the refinement and sophistication of this tapestry are rivaled only by the most admired paintings of the time. Pigments were used to individualize a face or other finishing elements. For the rest, the weavers used their nails, filed in a sawtooth pattern, to pack the fine silk threads into place and create an intricate image.
Mounted as a hanging scroll and intended for a palatial setting, this tapestry depicts a paradisical realm, with male and female immortals inhabiting an idyllic landscape of mountains, clouds, waterfalls, pines, and willow trees. This was a very popular subject in China, and one that was historically associated with the pursuit of physical immortality.
Here, the Eighteen Buddhist disciples on scrolling clouds hold auspicious attributes. Other immortals examine a scroll, discuss poetry and literature, and play the board game qi (go)—a favorite pastime. In the foreground, two groups enjoy a leisurely stroll along the riverbank, where two cranes, Chinese symbols of longevity, stand.