Gu Embroidery is a famous embroidery style in Shanghai that is named after its originator--the Gu (Mingshi) family in Songjiang of the Ming Dynasty. The striking feature of Gu Embroidery is the lifelike reproduction of masterful paintings of various dynasties on canvas using embroidery threads. Therefore Gu Embroidery is also known as "Embroidery Painting".
What sets Gu Embroidery apart from other embroidery styles is not just the material selection and stitching techniques, but more importantly, the cultural and artistic accomplishments of the creator. Gu Embroidery is an artwork involving superb techniques, elegant forms and extremely high artistry. It has a far-reaching impact on Su Embroidery, Xiang Embroidery and Shu Embroidery etc.
In the Ming Dynasty, the ladies of the Gu Family improved the original embroidery methods by inventing multiple new stitching techniques following the suggestion of Gu Mingshi, a great art lover. They split each silk thread into 36 strands and they also adopted creative approaches in color matching. Thus, their embroidery works looked smooth, delicate and lifelike.
The Gu Embroidery works represented by those of Han Ximeng, the granddaughter-in-law of Gu Mingshi, are all historical treasures with cultural and artistic richness. They are handed down to the present.
A dozen or so her works copying famous paintings of the Song and Yuan Dynasties are collected in the Palace Museum. Among them, Horse Bathing, White Deer, Squirrel and Grapes and Dragonfly on Hyacinth Bean Branch are masterpieces. You can hardly tell if they are embroideries or paintings.
After Han Ximeng's success, the Gu family suffered decline and had to rely on the ladies' embroidery works for a living. They also recruited a large number of women workers. From then on, Gu Embroidery was transformed from domestic needlework to commercial embroidery. As a result, the Gu family's stitching techniques were spread outside and Gu Embroidery enjoyed a great reputation across the world for its beautiful style and cultural richness.