The large territory of Asia with its various geographic structures inhabited by many diverse ethnic groups and a wide variety of cultures touch upon crucial factors which, over time, affected the diversity of Asian textile culture. The Yangtze River and the Yellow River basins, for example, were the cradles of sericulture and the silk culture itself. The tropical areas of Southeast Asia have been home to many types of sarong. In South Asia, a colorful display of richly embellished sari has been the traditional clothing for women living on the Indian Peninsula. Ikat of intricate patterns and bold colors has long been a favorite with the herdsmen living on the vast steppes of Central Asia. Byzantine and Islamic influences can be found in clothing typical for Turkey, Syria and other areas on the boundaries between Europe and Asia.
The National Palace Museum has a great collection of masterpieces of ke-si and embroidery from Qing dynasty. The textiles collection has recently been enlarged by purchase of Asian textile exhibits for the purpose of opening a museum for Asian Art and Culture in southern Taiwan, the Southern Branch of National Palace Museum. In order to share the wondrous variety of Asian textiles with the great audience of the Southern Branch at its opening, in addition to its own exhibits, the Museum will for a limited time display the Shenyang Palace Museum’s collection of silk textiles. The exhibition is divided into 5 sections: Homeland of Silk, Grace of Sarong, Myriad of Colors, Colors of the Steppes and Crossroads of East and West, representing traditional textile handcrafts characteristic for the regions East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia respectively. The last section, Types of Handcraft and Decoration Techniques, is meant to acknowledge the viewers with traditional Asian handcrafts and their artistry.
Carpet with swastika lattice, bat and foliated dragon pattern
Qing dynasty 18th century Cotton, Length 287cm, width 163cm
The design of this carpet is composed of a swastika lattice in blue colour, overlaid with columns of bats. A four petals medallion window overlaid with a single large blue foliated dragon in the middle of the field. At each of the four corner of the carpet is bounded by cloud scrolls containing a single foliated dragon. The primary border has a swastika trellis design and the inner border is composed of a section from an octagon and square lattice with rosettes. The outer frame is in grey-brown. With its fabulous proportions and beautifully balanced design, this carpet is one of the outstanding masterpieces of Ningxia carpet design.
East Asia- Homeland of Silk
Silk originates from China, and has 5000 years of history. Silk has had a great influence on China’s neighbors. Silk manufacturing was an important part of Chinese economy, and functioned under the governmental approval. The National Palace Museum has among its treasures an exhibit called “Geng Zhi Tu”, which describes in detail the sericulture and silk production process. The mature handcraft enabled manufacturing of magnificent brocade and damask fabrics. These silk-made fabrics became an important feature of the Chinese imperials and aristocracy garments and daily life. Apart from these, fine embroidery and ke-si textiles of a great artistic value are considered to be the essence of the Chinese silk culture.
Western arts were introduced to Japan after the Meiji Restoration. Inspiration from its detailed handcraft was one of the main factors that affected traditional textiles manufacturing. Nishijin, Yuzen, shibori and kasuri are among the artistically rich textiles of Japan that are still successfully used in the production process of kimonos and other traditional garments.
Good Fortune, Wealth, and Long Life- Three Deities, Imperially Commissioned and Inscribed ke-si scroll
Qianlong era of Qing dynasty (1711-1796) Silk Length 155cm, width 85.5cm A ke-si scroll with a painting of three immortals, representing happiness, prosperity and longevity, known as the Three Star Gods. The 3 immortals sitting in a garden hold auspicious symbols: ruyi (talisman), lingzhi mushrooms, and canistel fruits.They are accompanied by 5 children immortals, who hold a vase of peonies, ruyi and weapons. The black characters on the top of the painting form a poem commissioned by Qianlong Emperor of Qing dynasty, praising the Three Star Gods. The painting is mounted with the auspicious cloud pattern. The top and bottom edges of the scroll are embellished in red ke-si cloud pattern, and filled with the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism - - the golden wheel, the mystical knot, the white umbrella, the banner of victory, the conch shell, the treasure vase, the lotus and the double golden fish.
Yuzen dyed kimono with flower and bird motifs
Japan Early 20th century Silk Length 122cm, width 147cm Early 20th century kimono. The outer layer is made of violet damask, the inner of red silk. The kimono was embellished using the exquisite Yuzen dying technique. The embellishment of bouquets on the shoulder is a Japanese knot for “good fortune,” called kusudama, an amulet used for the Double Fifth festival. The bottom part is decorated with peonies and pheasant patterns. The design of this kimono is filled with rich and auspicious details.
The Yuzen dying technique was invented in Kyoto in the middle of Edo era (around 1700) by Miyazaki Yuzen. He successfully translated the art of painting fans into a fabric dying handcraft. The detailed patterns in precise lines and in vibrant colors are represented on the textiles. With its characteristic features, Yuzen is considered a favorite traditional dying technique in Japan.
Southeast Asia- Grace of Sarong
The vast area of Southeast Asia, separated by hills and waters, was a cradle of various civilizations and cultures. In this hot and humid climate, skirts and sarongs are among the most common traditional costumes. The skirts worn in different regions of Southeast Asia may differ by length, shape, fabrics, handcraft and patterns. Silk was the most beloved fabric of the aristocracy of the continental regions, including Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The characteristic features of those textiles are sophisticated geometric patterns. In the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and other islands, the inspirations for the fabric design were usually found in the surroundings, resulting in patterns representing notions of “humanoid”, and the artifacts of daily life, such as boats, fish, crocodiles, birds and flowers. Divided by great bodies of water, and shaped by the sea, each culture developed independently. Ikat, batik and embroidery textiles are filled with the features particular for each tribe.
Warp ikat Costume of Sawu, Indonesia
Ikat is a traditional weaving technique in the Indonesian archipelago. Savu (Sawa) Island is located in Eastern Indonesia, and is in the midway between Sumba and Rote Islands, west of Timor. The traditional costume of the Savu islanders always use the warp ikat fabric: women wear ikat skirts (sarong) while men wrap a ikat cloth (hinggi) around their waist.
Southeast Asia- Grace of Sarong
South Asia usually refers to Indian Peninsula and the territories that are its neighbors. The vast areas of South Asia are richly endowed with natural resources, and thus it was possible for the ancient Indian civilization to develop in this region. The production process of textiles and cloths was very mature, and the handcraft very precise. The numerous techniques included brocade, gold brocade, embroidery, metal threads embroidery, use of mirrors, pearl embellishments, single and double ikat, kalamkari and prints. Decorations are particularly beloved by South Asian people, who throughout history have tended to use colorful silk, cotton or wool fabrics with embellishments that reflect light, for example metal threads or mirrors. Such cloth was considered as suitable in the making of apparel for celebrations and weddings. Other components intended to create a fairytale-like, decorative look, include sequins, glass beads, mica, pearls and mirrors.
During the reign of the Mughal Empire, the Indian culture incorporated some Persian and Islamic features. As a result of the British colonization and trading customs, colorful Indian textiles were exported to Europe in great quantities.
Apart from the obvious decorative features, the fantastic artifacts of the South Asian fabrics are a colorful and exotic addition to the world of textiles.
Double ikat sari
India 20th century Silk Length 496cm, width 117cm
This double ikat silk sari originates from Nalgonda in central India. Its design consists of 2 parts. The top, bottom and mounting of the fabric are of the color green, and are richly patterned with elephants, bouquets, birds and cattlewomen. The middle part is a purple ground with latticework shaped by lozenges, geometric patterns, flowers and birds. The warp ikat technique accounts for the embellishments, while the middle section evidences the weft ikat technique.
India Early 20th century Cotton Length 118cm, width 230cm
The women of Bengal are incredibly skilled in embroidery as they use every bit of their spare time to practice. They use colorful threads and plain stitches to pass through several layers of cotton fabric and produce daily life items, including bed covers, hangings, head clothes, saris and baby carriers. Their unique handcraft is locally called kanthas.
Despite its symmetry, every detail of the design is unique. The mount consists of interchanging black and red dots, with one flower in each corner. The main motif includes 4 trees of life with a pair of horses, elephants, cattle and dogs underneath each of them, and birds in their canopies. The trees of life are encircled with boats, castles and buildings, and a collection of animals that include peacocks, fish, crocodiles and turtles. There are 3 round flowers in the middle of the fabric. The simplicity of colors, diversity of forms and the richness of patterns look loaded, but not messy.
Central Asia- Prairie color
Floral patterned green suzani hanging
Uzbekistan 19th century Silk, cotton Length 126cm, width 160cm
West Asia- Crossroads of East and West
West Asia is located on Arabian, Iranian and Anatolian Plateaus, and usually refers to the areas encompassing the Middle East and the Near East areas. It is the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa.
West Asia had witnessed the rise of various ancient civilizations, including those of the Sumerians, the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome, each with its own distinct culture. The delicacy of handcraft and sumptuousness of patterns defined the uniqueness of the textiles of West Asia. The most characteristic artifacts are brocades and carpets of Sasanian Dynasty (AD 244-651). The period of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922) contributed the unique Ottoman designs and handcraft. The high artistic quality of the handcrafts was far beyond their functional features. As a result of continuous overseas trade and the interchange of cultures, the local handcraft of West Asia has been enriched by foreign techniques.
Ottoman Turkish women’s costume 19th century
This 19th Century Persian robe is made from floral print cotton fabric. The robe is unique in its design of a overlapping collar, straight and tight sleeves, curved cuff, and underarm openings for easy body movement. The robe is knee length. It is fitted on the upper body and slightly flares out to the hem with splits on the sides. It reveals one of the typical Ottoman fashion.