Development of Gu Embroidery (Part 1)

Gu Embroidery of famous ancient painting

Gu Embroidery is a unique embroidery art enjoying the honor of “painting embroidery”. It models on famous paintings and calligraphic works particularly, and combines traditional stitches of the Song Dynasty embroidery with brushworks of traditional Chinese paintings. Taking the needle instead of the brush and ink, it provides picturesque works, and has a deep impact on future generations. The later development of Su Embroidery, Xiang Embroidery and Shu Embroidery has benefited from the techniques of Gu Embroidery.

Gu Embriodery of Chinese landscape painting

“Gu Embroidery” is also known as “Luxiangyuan Embroidery”, which originated from the Gu family living in Songjiang area (now Shanghai) in the Ming Dynasty. Gu Mingshi, a Jinshi (a successful candidate in the palace examination) of Songjiang Prefecture during Emperor Jiajing’s reign in the Ming Dynasty built a garden for residence in Shanghai in his later years and named it “Luxiangyuan”. His descendants were skilled in embroidery. Their works were beautifully elegant with unique techniques and were commonly displayed at home and gifted to relatives and friends, thus the name “Gu Embroidery”.

According to Annals of Songjiang in Emperor Chongzhen’s reign of the Ming Dynasty: “Gu Embroidery can make flowers and birds on scrolls as well as figures on sachets. The delicate skills can’t be seen anywhere else.” Reportedly, the techniques of Gu Embroidery came from the imperial palace. The silk threads used were thinner than human hair, the stitches were as fine as facial hairs, and the colors were ingeniously arranged. Gu Embroidery attached great importance to the spirit of the original work and the similarity in shape, and its techniques varied with multiple stitches. There were dozens of stitches in Gu Embroidery. It often took several months to finish a piece of embroidery. The landscapes, figures, birds and flowers embroidered were all fine and vivid, and were popular among local officials and folk people. Dong Qichang, the great painter in the Ming Dynasty, highly appreciated it and said that: “it was so delicate that no peers could surpass. It seemed like God’s creation and was very impressive.”

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