Banner head (Textiles - Room 98, Case 3)
Five dynasties, 900 AD
Twill damask in silk, painted
Width 86.5 cm x height 42.5 cm
Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.490 (Ch.0086)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India
This banner head was presented as one of the new discoveries from Chinese Central Asia in the “International Exhibition of Chinese Art” displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in October 1935. The triangular infill of folded painted cream silk damask shows a large pattern of looped and interlacing rosettes, elliptical and lozenge shapes of mixed geometrical and floral character and maybe parts of a lion. It is painted on the front and back with a haloed Buddha figure seated on a lotus with branching flowers on either side. The figure is dressed in a red mantle and yellow under-robe. One hand is in the gesture of banishing fear (abhaya-mudrã) and the other in the gesture of giving (varada-mudrã). The white and pinkish paint have blackened over time. In general, lead white based materials blacken because the lead white reacts with a sulphurous pigment or oxygen or sulphur in the environment, to produce a lead sulphide, which is black.
There are two other pieces in the V&A loan collection that were assigned with the same identification number by Stein as this triangular infill. Stein also implies that these three pieces were found together, apparently still joined to one other. One piece is a plain woven pale blue-green silk border with a hemp suspension loop and the other is a plain woven brown body panel of silk. They are both faded and fairly simple pieces compared to the painted infill. The border clearly shows the remains of seams that have been unpicked and it is likely that the original banner, probably already in a fragmented condition, was dismantled, perhaps specifically for the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art.