Chinese art loves symbols whether they are calligraphic, pictorial, animals or flowers, objects or natural phenomena. It is difficult to find a Chinese carpet without some symbolic elements. The “Shou” motif is one of the most popular designs that say “Chinese”. The motif literally means “long life” in its original calligraphic character form. The character has been stylized into two basic types, each with two sub types. A round, closed version is found in simplified and somewhat more complex variations. The other form is more calligraphic, open and squared, with more and less elaborate sub types. Antique Peking blue and white carpets have made liberal use of the Shou element in both field and border.
An obvious use of a bold round Shou medallion is to center the entire composition on an otherwise plain field. But it is actually quite uncommon, especial when executed in a restricted palette of two blue tones, with no white or secondary hues. The effect is elegant, striking and timeless, the perfect Chinese carpet accompaniment to Art Deco or Modern furnishings.
A large scale rendering of either form of the open Shou character as a central medallion does not seem to occur on Antique Peking Chinese rugs.
The Shou can appear in small form as part of an overall pattern.
The main border is a frequent home for the round Shou motif, especially on small Chinese scatter rugs in the blue and white palette. A few examples employ it in both field and border, and in equal scale.
The small scale, open, square form is popular on blue and white antique Chinese rugs either as a border or field pattern. The Fette-Li company in Peking in the interwar period employed many unique designs based on traditional Chinese textiles, bronzes, jades and ceramics, but, surprisingly did not make extensive use of the Shou symbol. For an exception see number 22975. Fette carpets resemble no others from the 1920-30’s yet they are still recognizably Chinese without being “Chinesey” or otherwise blatantly exotic.
A particularly felicitous effect comes from employing both open and closed Shou types in a single rug. Again, as always, the blue and white palette again provides the best context whether on room size, scatter or the more uncommon runner format. Antique Peking Chinese Carpet no. 18567 is an extremely elegant and rigourous creation employing a restricted entirely blue colour scheme and bold border execution. The basic notion of a narrow colour scheme with an open sapphire blue field is common to our nos. 23269 and 18567. These carpets could have come from the same workshop with the same designer.