Skip to main content

Past exhibition

Permanent Exhibition
Asian Textiles
This exhibition features the unique collection of textiles from the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum, and presents the diversities of Asian cultures in various regions. It is divided into four sections: the "Exhibit in Focus" analyzes the characteristics of a classic textile artifact and further interprets its cultural connotations; the "Getting to Know Textiles" reveals the major aspects of manufacturing textiles, including fiber materials, weaving and dyeing techniques, decorative patterns, and garment cuttings. The "Regional Highlights" showcases the exquisite fabrics and clothing styles from South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and East Asia; the "Wedding Attire" exhibits wedding costumes and explores the ceremonial culture behind as well as people's wishes for a happy life.

Chapter 1
Indian chintz—A fashionable item coveted the world over
India is known for its abundant cotton production and has long mastered the key techniques of cotton dyeing. Its pattern designs can be customized to suit the taste of consumers around the world.
In the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company began exporting Indian chintz to Europe, and that’s when cotton textile products made their way into European homes. These exotic home furnishings were expensive and fashionable symbols of status.

Tree of Life—Exotic home furnishing
In the 18th century, kalamkari, a type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, was widely produced in the Coromandel Coast in India. This very large piece, known as palampore, was one such work that gained popularity in Europe at that time and was used mainly as bedding or for hanging. In the middle of the piece, growing from a mound, is a plant with a curved trunk and flowering branches. Various birds are perched on its branches, and underneath the tree are floral and botanical motifs symbolizing reproduction and creation.
The term “tree of life” comes from the Hebrew and describes either the path to God or the way God created the universe. This motif was prevalent in the ancient cultures of Western Asia and spread to India via the Persian and Mughal cultures.

Cotton—Wool growing on trees?
Until the 16th century, Europeans mostly dressed in linen and wool. As cotton was unknown in Europe, they imagined it as a wool-like material obtained from a hybrid plant-sheep type of zoophyte, as shown in this image: plump sheep growing on a tall tree.

Chapter 2: Getting to Know Textiles
What are textiles? And how are they made? Let's get to know more about the fabrics used in our lives from the aspects of materials, techniques, cut, and decorative patterns.

Chapter 3: Regional Highlights
Asia is a vast region with diverse textile cultures. This section selects textiles from South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and East Asia to showcase the clothing styles of different regions.

South Asia
The word ikat, from the Malay, refers to a resist-dyeing technique whereby sections of yarns are bound and dyed to create textile patterns. Textiles made using the ikat technique can be found throughout Asia under various names, such as kasuri in Japan and atlas in Central Asia. Silk double ikat textiles, the renowned patola in the Indian state of Gujarat, are characterized by the pattern’s zigzag edge, akin to today’s 8-bit digital art.
The Coromandel Coast in southeastern India is known for its production of chintz, or cotton textiles with hand-drawn patterns. Starting in the 17th century, both chintz and patola became important trade commodities and were exported in large quantities from India to Southeast Asia. These rare and expensive Indian textiles were treasured by local royal houses and upper classes, who passed them down through generations like heirlooms or used them in ceremonies.

Southeast Asia
Located at the crossroads of East and West, Southeast Asia has long received new trends through merchant activities, religious propagation, and foreign embassies. The material cultures, techniques, and ideas from both Europe and Asia met and intermingled here, manifesting in the region’s unique textiles. The terms ikat, batik, and tritik—all from the Malay—have now entered the English lexicon, attesting to the importance of Southeast Asia in textile production, consumption and trade.
Among the many textiles, the ikat occupy the most significant place in Southeast Asia and are produced throughout the region, albeit with different decorative motifs. Ikat textiles from Cambodia, heavily influenced by Hindu and Buddhist cultures, are mostly used in religious ceremonies in monasteries and tend to carry religious motifs. By contrast, those from Indonesia, which saw the introduction of Islam in the 15th century, predominantly carry geometric and floral motifs.

Central Asia
Uzbekistan, a trade hub between China and the West along the Silk Road, has a population of mostly Turkic people, who started to embrace Islamic culture between the 13th and 14th centuries.
The Uzbek traditional lifestyle was predominantly nomadic, so their textiles often used the colors of the steppe and the oasis. The atlas is an ikat-woven textile made in this region, while the suzani, an iconic textile made using a special technique that combines embroidery and patchwork, is often part of the dowry for a Central Asian bride. Both textiles are characterized by bold, contrasting colors and large decorative motifs. The lively designs of the Central Asian nomads have inspired Western designers in their creation of contemporary fashion items.

East Asia
The ikat textiles made in Japan are known as kasuri and were widely produced during the mid-Edo period. It is generally believed that the technique originated in India and made its way via Southeast Asia and Ryukyu to Japan on the back of trade activities. The materials used for kasuri vary across Japan: Ryukyu kasuri were mostly made from hemp and banana fibers, while on the main islands of Japan they were usually made from cotton.
In the 18th century, the Edo shogunate issued sumptuary laws at the same time when the cotton textile industry and indigo dyeing trade were prospering, leading to the wide popularity of blue kasuri kimonos. The small white patterns on the dark blue ground constituted an understated but luxurious style for the time. Many figures depicted on ukiyo-e paintings can be seen wearing clothes made from such textiles.

Chapter 4: Wedding Attire
Strongly influenced by the ancient Chinese Rites of Zhou, traditional Vietnamese weddings were once elaborate affairs. Nowadays, however, ceremonies are much simplified and only retain three of the original six required forms of etiquette: making a proposal of marriage (nacai), sending wedding presents to the bride’s house (nazheng), and fetching the bride in person (yingqin). At the wedding ceremony, Vietnamese people mostly wear traditional costumes, with men wearing long robes and women wearing áo dài dresses, which are often made of silk and embroidered with auspicious symbols such as dragons and phoenixes, cranes, and peonies. The dresses are typically red, for good luck, or white, symbolizing purity. Western cultural influence leads many young Vietnamese couples today to choose to wear suits and white bridal gowns.
Betel nuts and rice wine are fixtures at Vietnamese weddings. Traditionally, the betel nut symbolizes everlasting love and a happy marriage, while rice wine is used to wish the newlyweds long-lasting love and happiness.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date Permanent Exhibition
  • Location 3F S304
Early 19th century
Kashmir wool shawl
  • Kashmir
The wool is soft with tightly interlocked fibers, making it breathable but also able to maintain warmth and absorb moisture. This woolen shawl is decorated with four diagonally positioned paisley patterns at the four corners of the rectangle and edged with unbroken paisley patterns at two ends. The motifs are made more sophisticated with red, green, yellow, and blue threads, a typical feature of early 19th-century woolen shawls. 

The Kashmir region has been known since ancient times for its exquisite woolen fabrics and superb weaving and embroidery techniques. Kashmiri wool products with sophisticated Paisley design were loved by 19th-century European high society. Joséphine de Beauharnais, first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, was one such aficionado, and left behind an estate that included 50 woolen shawls.
Mid-19th century
Temple hanging
  • Nathdwara, India
Who is Krishna?
According to legend, Krishna’s maternal uncle Kamsa was told he would be killed by one of his sister’s children. When Krishna was born, his mother sent him to live with a family of cowherds in order to protect him by concealing his identity. When Krishna’s real identity was discovered, his uncle, in fear for his life, sent a female demon in the guise of an adoptive mother, who tried to feed Krishna poisoned breast milk. As the eighth avatar of Vishnu, Krishna was divine and so did not die, but toxins in his body caused the skin to turn its characteristic bluish-black hue.
The legend of Krishna and Mount Govardhana
The kind and mischievous Krishna grew up in a family of cowherders. It is said that the local villagers were devout followers of Indra, god of rain and thunder, and held a lavish annual ritual to pray to him for rain and an abundant harvest. Believing that the mountain god would be more beneficent to farmers, Krishna told people to worship Mount Govardhana instead. Indra was angered at this and struck the village with torrential rain, but Krishna held up Mount Govardhan over the village and sheltered the people from the rain.
The blue-skinned deity in the middle of this work wears a peacock feather on his head and has his left hand raised. While the iconography is based on the legend of Krishna and Mount Govardhana, the mountain itself is not usually depicted. In Krishna worship rituals, followers pile up sweets in a mound, like the offerings shown near the bottom of this piece, in reference to Mount Govardhana.
It is worth noting that to the right of the roof are a deity and his consort in a boat with a bull’s head, which enables us to identify the deity as Shiva, who has a bull for a mount. To the left of the roof is Brahma, who rides Hamsa the swan.
19th–20th century
Green skirt embroidered with flowers and peacocks
  • Gujarat, India
The skirt worn by the nomadic Rabari women of the Kutch region of Gujarat is called a ghagra. Rabari women are known for decorating their clothing with brightly colored embroidery. This green skirt has been neatly embroidered with flowers and peacocks in colorful silk threads using the chain stitch technique. The overall effect is vivid and joyous. Rabari women often pair embroidered skirts with choli blouses and large necklaces and bracelets to create a sense of luxury and splendor.
20th century
Paduka sandals
  • India
These wooden sandals are known as paduka, which derives from the Sanskrit word pāda (“foot”). The paduka is an ancient form of footwear from India that was worn by Hindu priests. Consisting of little more than a sole with a post and stub to provide grip between the big and second toes, these sandals are easy to put on and take off when entering temple, and the low platforms help to keep the feet above wet ground and dirt.
Historically, paduka sandals have been worn in South Asia and Southeast Asia. In 16th-century Western illustrations, women of mixed Javanese and Dutch descent are shown wearing this type of sandals, whereas Chinese and Western records describe the Javanese as going barefoot.
Early paduka sandals were rarely made of cowhide, as many Indians regard cows as sacred animals, so most were made of wood, ivory, and camel leather.
The cultural significance of the paduka in Hinduism is linked to the epic Ramayana. In the epic, the cursed King sends his son Rama into exile for 14 years at the behest of Rama’s stepmother, who wants her own son Bharata to be crowned in Rama’s place. However, Bharata does not want the throne and he beseeches Rama to return. When Rama says that he will return only once he has completed his exile, Bharata asks that Rama’s paduka serve as his proxy. In religious iconographies, Rama and Krishna are often depicted wearing paduka sandals.
19th century
Indian chintz robe
  • Coromandel Coast, India
Traditionally, men in Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula wore tube skirts and anointed their bare torsos with oil or incense or decorated them with ornaments. Starting in the 16th century, the growing Islamic influence led to tunics becoming part of everyday clothing.
This long-sleeved robe with printed patterns was an export product from India’s Coromandel Coast to Indonesia and the Malay region. Robes and coats, usually associated with Islamic, Arabic, and Indian cultures, were worn on important occasions. In the 17th century, open-breasted Indian chintz robes such as this one began to make their way to Europe through trade and became known as the “Indian coat” or “banyan”. The European literati and the Bourgeois class of the 18th century liked wearing Indian chintz robes as morning gowns to show off their exotic taste.
19th century
Yellow Suzani hanging with multicolor flower patterns
  • Uzbekistan
Suzanis are iconic embroidered textiles from Uzbekistan in Central Asia that are made using a special technique that combines embroidery and patchwork. From a very young age girls started learning embroidery from elder women. When a woman was betrothed, she would prepare her own dowry, making embroidered hangings, floor mats, prayer mats and quilt covers and presenting them as a wedding gift to her husband’s family.
This work has a yellow base embroidered with huge flat-stitched tulips, carnations, and vines. The bold, lively colors create a visual effect typical of the peoples of the Eurasian Steppe.
Early 20th century
Red meisen kimono with arrow-feather motif
  • Japan
The meisen is a type of plain-woven fabric made of silk noil, which, while somewhat stiff, is hard-faced and durable. The design of this kimono, consisting of large white arrow-feather patterns against a red ground, is bold and modern and may have been influenced by early 20th-century Art Deco style. The arrow-feather motif symbolizes the chastity of the bride: an arrow that has been loosed does not come back, nor does a bride return to her family after marriage. This garment is a kyūjitai, or unlined kimono, which is thin and light and suitable for summer.