Japanese textiles at the Ashmolean Museum

Textile sea eagle

This display of Japanese textiles from the Meiji period (1868-1912) was a treat, showcasing breathtaking works of ornamental embroidery, including screens, wall hangings and framed panels.  They were exported from Japan to the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a number have been brought together in a new collection at the Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto.  These form the backbone of the exhibition.  Motifs from nature predominate, especially images of birds, the plumage realized with acute sensitivity, to look as much like feathers and as little like silk thread as possible.  A wall hanging depicts a sea eagle perched on a rock with the sea frothing white around him – cotton wadding under the embroidery adds a kind of relief effect.  A hanging scroll shows a hawk on a snowy pine branch – a powdering of snow that deceives the eye completely.  A show both unusual and mesmerizing. 

Threads of Silk and Gold: Ornamental Textiles from Meiji Japan
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
9 November 2012 to 27 January 2013

The exhibition is also available in an online version.

Above: Embroidered wall hanging of a sea eagle beneath a pine tree on a rocky seashore, Okamoto. Late 19th c. Silk with embroidery in silk and metallic thread.  Width 114.8cm; height 77cm. Image: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum, at http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/object/LI1956.4.

Below: Embroidered hanging scroll of a hawk on a snowy pine branch. Mid-1890s. Silk with embroidery in silk thread. Width 64cm; height 137.5cm. Image: Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum, at http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/object/LI1956.20.

Textile hawk