Antique Rug Symbols: Chinese Dragons

Chinese Dragons in Antique Rug Designs

Meanings of Chinese Dragons in antique rugs and carpet designs

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Chinese Dragons - 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.

Below is a selection of rugs from the Nazmiyal Collection which incorporate dragon imagery:

Antique Chinese Dragon Rug 47998
Antique Chinese Dragon Rug 47998

Antique Chinese Dragon Rug 48069
Antique Chinese Dragon Rug 48069

Antique Chinese Horse Cover 3219
Antique Chinese Horse Cover 3219

Antique Chinese Metallic Silk Rug 48129
Antique Chinese Metallic Silk Rug 48129

Antique Chinese Metallic Silk Rug 48130
Antique Chinese Metallic Silk Rug 48130

Antique Chinese Ningsia Rug 46708
Antique Chinese Ningsia Rug 46708

Antique Chinese Rug #45153
Antique Chinese Rug #45153

Antique Chinese Rug 46138
Antique Chinese Rug 46138

Antique Chinese Rug 46377
Antique Chinese Rug 46377

Antique Chinese Rug 46588
Antique Chinese Rug 46588

Antique Chinese Rug 46818
Antique Chinese Rug 46818

Antique Dragon Chinese Rug 47762
Antique Dragon Chinese Rug 47762

The Symbolism behind Chinese Dragon Rugs

The Dragon Symbolism in 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.

Chinese Dragon Symbolism Art Deco Rug by Nazmiyal
Chinese Dragon Symbolism Art Deco Rug 50122

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.

Imperial Chinese Rank Badge Dragon Symbolism 46114 Nazmiyal
Imperial Dragon Symbolism Chinese Rank Badge 46114: Rank Badges like this one were used by high-ranking court officials to illustrate their status.

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.

Antique Chinese Dragon Rug 46138 by Nazmiyal
Antique Chinese Dragon Rug 46138: This antique rug depicts three dragons hovering above a wavy sea: perhaps signaling the change in seasons.

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.

Antique Chinese Silk and Metallic Rug 48129 Nazmiyal
Detail of Dragon medallion on Antique Chinese Silk and Metallic Rug 48129

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.

A Beautiful Dragon Design Antique Chinese Rug

Dragons are among the most auspicious of all Chinese mythical symbols. Benevolent guardians of sea and sky, these majestic beasts have long been associated with strength, power, and good luck. Traditionally, the Emperor of China himself would dress in vestments adorned with images of dragons, highlighting the importance and sacred nature of these powerful and graceful creatures. This beautiful antique Chinese rug is adorned with stunning depictions of five gorgeous five-clawed dragons – the highest ranking and most auspicious of all Chinese dragons, the type used by Chinese emperors as imperial insignia.

Dragon Design Antique Chinese Rug 46588 by Nazmiyal
Dragon Design Antique Chinese Rug #46588

Arranged on a lovely apricot field in this eye-catching dragon design antique Chinese rug, five beautifully detailed blue dragons form a subtle and innovative medallion. In addition to the potently symbolic dragons themselves, further layers of traditional Chinese symbolism abound throughout the piece: the border of the rug features a beautiful line of clouds done in alternating reds, blues and cream, which represent the sky – the domain of the dragon. These lovely clouds are bounded on the interior by a beautiful artistic representation of the sea: rich and creamy frothy waves. According to Chinese tradition, the dragon is also the master of the sea.

The flaming pearls positioned between the Chinese dragons on this exquisite Oriental rug is also a traditionally important symbol : according to legend, it was the desire of the great dragons to capture the sun from the sky. Initially depicted as a flaming red ball, the sun would later be depicted as a white sphere engulfed in red fire, and was thus often referred to as a “flaming pearl.” Dragons are often depicted at play with these flaming pearls, reveling in the glory and honor of their pursuit of the sun.

All of these culturally rich elements combined with brilliant craftsmanship make this traditional Chinese rug an arresting work of art that speaks to us across the years. Its lustrous color scheme with perfectly contrasting colors, its whimsical depiction of the eternal elements, and its deep, mythical subject matter are all culturally significant to the people that brought us this antique Chinese rug, giving it a level of historical import on par with the breadth of its impressive artistic achievement.