Chinese Dragons in Antique Rug Designs
Meanings of Chinese Dragons in antique rugs and carpet designs
The dragon is an important astrological symbol in the eastern zodiac and is considered the most powerful. This mystical creature celebrated in legends is the only mythical animal featured in the Eastern zodiac. Dragons are powerful, benevolent creatures that guard the Tree of Life, protect the pearls of wisdom and harness the power of all earthly and celestial elements. They are also harbingers of good fortune, which makes the Year of the Dragon particularly auspicious.
Symbolic dragons are featured throughout carpets produced in Tibet, Mongolia, the Far East and the Caucasus. When featured in carpets, dragons are typically depicted as chimeras incorporating traits from many animals that inhabit the land, sea and air. Dragons also represent absolute authority and are often associated with the emperor and imperial authorities. However, they are also deeply symbolic animals that bring health, wealth, happiness and knowledge to common people.
When depicted alongside scrolling ruyi clouds, dragons represent celestial guardians. They are also seen holding the flaming pearls of happiness under their chins or protecting the pearls of wisdom in their claws. The benevolent dragon is depicted in many different ways in China and the Caucasus, yet the mystical creature universally represents positive forces and good fortune. The elusive dragon and protector of the Earth’s many secrets may be hard to find in the natural world, but its symbolic form is highly visible in the antique carpets produced in contiguous countries and faraway regions.
The Symbolism behind Chinese Dragon Rugs
The wingless, serpent-like aerial creature with four legs and fiery eyes must be the single most famous symbol of China — although the country’s designated national animal is the more peaceful panda.
The dragon symbol is much more to the Chinese people than what the eagle is to Americans: This mythical creature is so integral to the Chinese identity that no discourse on Chinese culture and art can be complete without mentioning it, and it is a symbol commonly found adorning antique Chinese carpets.
The dragon has a long history in China. In imperial times, it was the symbol of the power and magnificence of the Son of Heaven, as the emperor was called. It was prominently displayed on the robe of every high-ranking court official, including that of the emperor himself. The color and placement of the dragon varied according to the rank of the official.
The Chinese dragon is believed to have unlimited powers, both physical and mystical, including the power to “bring” the seasons. In spring, it is believed to ascend to the skies, announcing the reawakening of the nature’s energies. This is celebrated with the colorful spring festival. In autumn, it is believed to hide in the depths of the seas, signaling the beginning of the harsh times ahead.
Unlike its winged, fire-breathing European cousin, which is mostly portrayed as an evil being, the Chinese dragon is a creature of good omen that brings good fortune and prosperity. Even today in China, a good or successful person is compared to a dragon. So, it is not surprising that the dragon is everywhere in Chinese art, from paintings to the beautiful and intricate designs on rugs and carpets.
In Chinese art, the dragon is often depicted as a gigantic serpentine creature floating in the clouds, with its elongated body making an S-shaped curve. It has an elaborately maned head with passionate eyes and four legs with eagle-like claws. A series of spikes run from the head to the tail on its back. Some are also shown breathing fire. The color of the dragon varies according to the meaning of the painting or design.
A golden or green dragon surrounded by auspicious looking clouds symbolizes good luck or great prospects. A rolling dragon, often golden in color, is a symbol of dignity, honor and power. In imperial times, it was used in the decoration of the imperial palace and gardens. Two dragons playing with a pearl symbolizes good harvest and boundless happiness.
All of the different meanings are well represented in Chinese dragon rugs, which Nazmiyal Collection of Antique Rugs has a number of. Most rugs have a single large image of a dragon that takes the center stage, but some also have two or more of the creatures, usually facing each other in a playful mood. The designs are often very ornate and eye-catching, which makes the rugs all the more attractive. Chinese dragon carpets are highly valued not only for their aesthetic appeal, but also for their symbolism.