Hemp canopy

Hemp canopy

Hemp canopy
China
Tang dynasty, 600-800 AD
Plain weave in hemp, painting
Width 91 cm x height 25.5 cm x length 105 cm
Museum no. LOAN:STEIN.620 (Ch.00381)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India

This full-size canopy would have hung above a Buddha statue during one of the many annual festivities held at the Mogao Grottoes in the Tang dynasty. It is a rare survival in its completeness and the only comparable pieces so far known of this early date are a group of miniature canopies, also in the V&A. The canopy is made of fairly coarse hemp in plain weave with a painted decoration, all in red, green, blue and yellow outlined in black. Painted on the central section of the canopy is an open lotus flower design surrounded by further lotuses in a circular and four-corner arrangement. This central section would have been immediately above the statue’s head. In many of the murals in the caves at the Mogao Grottoes, a Buddha figure is shown seated under a canopy with a central lotus design, for example in Cave 217 and Cave 320. The side flaps, which would have hung down on all sides, are painted with a representation of a valance with streamers. At the canopy corners, where the flaps meet the central panel, some of the hanging loops which would have been used to suspend it, are still intact. These loops may have been attached to poles which were stuck in the ground, or have hung from the ceiling. This is one of the few objects from Cave 17 which is not made of silk. Hemp (Cannabis sativa) is a much cheaper material than silk and subsequently would have suited the commission from a less wealthy donor.