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 Celestial Silks
Dancing Robe Textile, 1600s

Celestial Silks offers a rare opportunity to view over 70 visually spectacular and sumptuous Chinese religious and court textiles. The exhibition concentrates on unusual and unpublished examples that will interest both the serious collector and those who are not familiar with the fascinating world of Chinese textiles.

Over the last few years the Gallery has received significant donations of Chinese textiles including a collection of 18th century rank badges and imperial roundels and now textiles are included in the Gallery's permanent Asian displays of ceramics, paintings and sculpture.

This exhibition, whilst including pieces from the Gallery's collection, will comprise significant textiles that have been borrowed from private collections both in Australia and overseas. Many of the works are being exhibited for the first time. The exhibition draws heavily on the Hall Collection from Hong Kong. Chris Hall, arguably the world's best-known private collector of Chinese textiles, has spoken about the wow factor * that determines whether or not he will purchase a robe.

We are fortunate that three rare early robes, which are recent acquisitions to the Hall Collection, form part of the exhibition. They are exquisite, intact examples dating from the 5th and 6th centuries and, as far as we know, this is the first time that robes from this period have been exhibited outside China.

The religious textiles from China and Tibet demonstrate the extensive use of Chinese textiles in places of worship as decorative hangings and for creating and mounting tangkas (devotional icons). A set of four symbolic 18th century tangkas has spectacular iconography. Three feature imagery with a landscape including corpses, skulls and human bones. The fourth presents the western paradise of the Buddha Amitayus, which was the reward for those observing discipline and compassion in life.

The second section of this absorbing exhibition is dedicated to court robes and textiles of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Robes worn at the Ming Court for celebratory festivals such as the Moon Festival are included. To enhance our appreciation of the lavish style of the Chinese courts, there is a rare collection of Festival badges and minutely embroidered imperial robes, replete with the Emperor's symbols.

A spectacular dragon banner, which would have originally hung in one of the palaces of the Imperial Clan, will find a temporary home in the new Asian galleries for the duration of the exhibition.

The final section is dedicated to showing uncut yardage of beautiful silks before they are shaped into religious and court robes and hangings. An unmade dragon robe of aubergine coloured silk (c.1850), with the ground entirely worked in peacock feathers and the dragons couched in gold wrapped silk thread, is an outstanding example of such exquisite work. Few robes and textiles with this type of work have survived in good condition because of insect damage.

During Roman times silk was more valuable than gold and Chinese silk was the pinnacle. The iconography and the standard of the embroidery were far above anything that was produced in the Western world.

*Chris Hall said: "When I look at a piece, I look for four things: rarity, beauty, condition and age".

These attributes belong to all the pieces in this superb exhibition from Emperor's robes to the surcoat that was worn by one of the signatories to the Treaty that handed over Hong Kong to Britain.


Saturday 31 July 9.30am to 4.30pm
The symposium is hosted by The Asian Arts Society of Australia (TAASA) and will focus on the history and appreciation of Chinese textiles. The keynote speaker is Zhao Feng, Deputy Director of the National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, China. There will also be talks by collectors, conservators and cultural experts.
Bookings: TAASA voicemail telephone (02) 9225 1861 Email:

Sunday 1 August 11am
A tour of the exhibition with Chris Hall, arguably the world's best-known private collector of Chinese textiles.

Daily 12 noon and Wednesdays 7.30pm

Fridays 1pm
13 August Jackie Menzies, Head Curator of Asian Art
20 August Judith Rutherford, Exhibition Curator and Textile Collector

Open until 9pm Wednesday nights
From 5.30pm there will be traditional Chinese music in the exhibition with Jonathan Xue on bamboo flute and xindi and Patricia Li Tian Chung on guzheng.

From 6.30pm Art After Hours Celestial Silk Concerts
28 July - 1 September, 6.30pm
Students and department heads from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music perform concerts in the Gallery's 19th Century Courts.

From 6.30pm Art After Hours Celestial Silk Speakers
8 September - 22 September, 6.30pm
8 September Kylie Kwong, chef, Textures, Layers & Harmony within the Chinese Kitchen.
15 September  Kevin Rudd, MP, Heavenly Silk: Earthly Bureaucracy.
22 September Linda Jaivin, writer, China Dolls - Every Chick's Guide to Fashion and Makeup from the Tang Dynasty and Beyond.

Jazz in the ArtBar 7.30pm, Films 7.15pm.
Art After Hours information:
Art After Hours Celestial Silks program Press Release

From 18 August to 5 September
Wednesdays 2.30pm & 7.15pm, Sundays 2.30pm
Silk as a component of costuming and adornment has long played an important role in theatre, drama, religion, ritual and celebration in China. This tradition continues in the work of several acclaimed Chinese feature film directors who use silk fabrics, and their brilliant colourings, as a device to convey atmosphere, mood and drama. The Celestial Silks film program includes In The Mood For Love (dir. Wong Kar-Wai), Ju Dou (dir. Zhang Yimou) and Farewell My Concubine* (dir. Chen Kaige).
* Earlier than usual starting time for Farewell My Concubine: Wednesday 18 August 2pm & 7.15pm and Sunday 22 August 2pm.

Sunday 22 August 10am to 4pm
The seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is the one day in the year that the Weaving Princess can cross the bridge of magpies to meet her true love the Cowherd. Celebrate with craft, music, dance and even a costume show for the whole family.

Festival Celebrations
Experience a dazzling array of beautiful robes and exquisite textiles from China, decorated with amazing birds and animals, flowers and characters, as we go on a journey through the exhibition. Listen to stories about festivals and celebrations and create your own stunning wall hanging design using a range of textile techniques and materials.

  • Ages 5-8 (weekdays only)
    5-8 October 10.30am-12pm
    $20 bookings essential
  • Ages 9-13
    Tuesday 5 October & Wednesday 6 October 2-4pm
    $25 bookings essential

Telephone (02) 9225 1740 fax (02) 9221 5129

On view:Saturday 31 July to Sunday 24 October 2004
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744 or
recorded information (02) 9225 1790
National Toll Free 1800 679 278
Hours:Hours 10am to 5pm, 7 days a week
Art After Hours Wednesday nights until 9pm
Admission:$8 Adults, $5 Concession, $20 Family
Media Information and Interviews:Claire Martin, Press Office
Telephone (02) 9225 1734 or 0414 437 588
Images available on request

IMAGE CREDIT: Dancing Robe Textile, 1600s, constructed 1700s, Brocade. 160cm x 146cm. Private Collection, Melbourne