Late Tang to Five dynasties, 800-900 AD
Plain weave in silk, clamp-resist dyed
Width 43.6 cm x height 262 cm
Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.292 (Ch.00360.c)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India
This is one of seven banners in the V&A loan collection that are made of the same textiles in identical arrangement, but in different states of preservation. There is an eighth banner in the British Museum. The banner shown here is one of the most complete, although missing its arms or side streamers and probably a wooden board, to which the legs or bottom streamers would have been secured. The arms would most likely have been of plain woven blue silk, like three other banners in this group. The triangular head consists of a plain woven, and now faded, red silk border and an infill of folded plain woven cream silk with clamp-resist dyed pattern of floral lozenge-shaped clusters in blue, green, orange and yellow. There are also the remains of a string suspension loop. The body is composed of four panels with thin oval bamboo stiffeners at the upper edge of the body and then at intermediate locations where the body sections meet. These served to keep the banners from curling in along the edges.
The first and second panel consist of plain woven silk in red and yellow respectively, while the third panel’s cream-coloured silk has an all-over clamp-resist dyed pattern of repeating floral lozenge shapes in blue and orange on a faded red ground. All the banners in this group have holes in their third body panel and this is where the green centres of the clamp-resist dyed flower design have had a corrosive effect on the silk. The green areas have been dyed twice, with blue and yellow, which contained copper compounds or acidic media that tends to degrade and eat into the fabric. The fourth panel consists of one piece of plain woven yellow silk, which also makes up the four legs.
Banners make up a large group of votive works discovered in Cave 17. They were carried aloft, hooked on a staff or fluttering from the tops of the stupas (domed memorial shrines). In addition to their religious significance, they also added visual elegance to Buddhist festivities.