The process of making silk is jealously protected for more than a millennium but export to the West is tempting. To secure this trade and facilitate the import of foreign treasures, the Han create the Silk Road. Silk smuggling is a crime.
The richness and variety of ancient textiles did not survive time, all techniques combined. It is impossible to construct a synthesis of figurations, of fashions and of their evolution. Fortunately some pieces are nevertheless extant.
The Abegg-Stiftung museum in Riggisberg in the Bernese Alps preserves specimens of high antiquity. A pre-Han piece of silk (reference 5302/5304) is composed of strips sewn together with repetitive zoomorphic patterns 4 cm high including pairs of facing beasts.
A thousand years later the theme of the confronted animals, sometimes individually positioned in an oval or polygonal medallion, adorns the luxury clothes of the Sogdian chiefs or great merchants who manage the commercial relations between China and Persia.
On April 25 in London, Sotheby's sells a Sogdian sleeveless shirt made between 1400 and 1100 years ago in honey-gold colored silk in a so-called samite technique that is not a satin. It is mainly decorated in corner cut rectangles by the repetition of a big duck turned to the left or to the right and bearing a pearl necklace in the beak and a flowing royal scarf.
The conservation of this garment is remarkable. It is estimated £ 300K, lot 125.
Sotheby's sold for £ 233K including premium on April 22, 2015 a multicolored Sogdian robe from the early phase of the same period, where oval medallions alternately housed a pair of confronted winged horses and a pair of confronted deers. The Sogdian tunic with an Arabic inscription sold also by Sotheby's for £ 480K including premium on October 5, 2011 dates from the middle of the same period.