Rarely Seen Asian Textiles on View at Nelson-Atkins

Nō Robe (nuihaku-type), Japan, 1700s. Silk embroidered with silk thread and stenciled with gold foil, 58 1/2 × 55 1/4 inches. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-142/2. (image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Man’s White Ground Long Shawl. Kashmir, India, about 1830. Pashmina wool twill and tapestry twill with silk, and wool embroidery. 52 ¾ by 130 ½ inches. Lent by Mr. W. F. Comstock. (image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Weaving Splendor: Treasures of Asian Textiles features rarely seen textile masterworks in The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art collection. This exhibition presents luxury textiles created across 500 years by artists in China, India, Iran, Japan and Turkey. Viewers can marvel at the artistry and innovation of these woven works and explore the roles that textiles and clothing played in performing identity and driving global trade.

Weaving Splendor was conceived by the curatorial staff in the East Asian and South and Southeast Asian Art departments at the Nelson-Atkins. Each of us wishes to share one of our favorite textiles in the exhibition with you and explain why we love it.

In my case, I like textiles that talk. This is one reason why I love the elegant Man’s White Ground Long Shawl from Kashmir, India. This finely woven pashmina shawl bears an elaborately composed inscription, carefully embroidered in red thread just above its ornately patterned end border (pallu.) Written in Persian, the inscription reads:

“Commissioned by Nauzuhur. Rust-colored work, turquoise work, having a border, having crenellations, enamel (blue?) work, superior, finest of the fine.”

This inscription raises more questions than it answers. Who was Nauzuhur? Was he a master artist of the weaving workshop, a Kashmiri merchant, or the individual buyer who ordered the shawl to be made? The inscription essentially enumerates the amount of work that went into the textile’s creation and, thus, underscores its value. This text is also full of self-praise, stating that it [the shawl] is a superior textile, the best of the best. It is as if this shawl knows that it is beautiful and is literally telling you so!

Lady’s Coat. China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), early 1700s. Silk tapestry (kesi) woven with silk and metallic threads. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 37-25 A, B (image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Ling-en Lu, Curator of East Asian Art:

This breezy blue Lady’s Coat has been my secret obsession since I ventured into the museum’s storage many years ago. Even more intriguing to me is the original function of the coat, which is now forgotten, making the coat a mystery. I can only surmise it may have been worn as either a theater costume or part of a festival ensemble. Nevertheless, people should not forget its breathtaking beauty, and therefore I am unveiling it in the spotlight in Weaving Splendor.

The images on the coat would publicly extol the wearer on stage or during special occasions. Floral arabesques link endless exquisite details, such as bats, chimes and fish, which announce the wearer’s prosperity. These auspicious creations are tightly woven with a tapestry technique known as kesi (slit silk). Anyone who encountered the coat would immediately be awed by its exceptional level of craftsmanship and would be left to imagine the owner’s glamourous life.

Velvet Fragment of Hunting Scene, Iran, 16th century, Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722). Cut voided velvet, satin weave foundation, silk and foil wrapped silk, Overall: 19 x 18 ½ inches. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-80/3. Photo © 2021 The Nelson Gallery Foundation: Gabe Hopkins (image courtesy of the Nelson Gallery Foundation: Gabe Hopkins)

Michele Valentine: Department Assistant, South and Southeast Asian Art:

What comes to mind when you think of a tent? For me, tents invoke childhood memories of watching movies late into the night while camping in the backyard. Our tent seemed like a magical space filled with the glow of our black and white television. Back then, I never imagined tents could be royal living spaces luxuriously decorated with panels like the Velvet Fragment of Hunting Scene. Made in Persia (modern Iran), this fragment was likely part of a large gift of velvets to the Ottoman ruler of Turkey, where they served as decoration in a royal tent or group of royal tents. Because the tent or tents have since been disassembled, their original appearance remains unknown. One can imagine, however, how the hunting scene, decorated with silver and gold wrapped silk threads, would shimmer and seemingly come to life in a firelit tent interior, transporting its royal inhabitants to an otherworldly place.

Yayoi Shinoda, Assistant Curator of East Asian Art:

The performative nature of theater costumes stimulates my curiosity and imagination. What characters would have worn them? With what other pieces of costume and accessories did the actors pair them with? The nuihaku-type Nō robe created in the 18th century is one of my favorites in the Nelson-Atkins collection because of its striking design. Its dynamic stenciled gold decoration of vertical, serpentine tatewaku (ascending steam) lines, between which golden chrysanthemums nestle, strongly contrasts the freely flying birds and butterflies embroidered on the bottom. The missing horizontal bands of stenciled gold foil on the robe suggests a male actor repeatedly wore it on stage. He would have worn it under a layer of a sumptuous robe of a different type. This robe, and other layers of costumes and accessories like a mask, would have helped the actor transform into a character such as a noble warrior man, who tells a tragic story on stage.

–Kimberly Masteller, Jeanne McCray Beals Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art

CategoriesArts Consortium

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