A Refashioned Brocade 19th Century Silk Kesa: Two Wonderful Sides
mid to late nineteenth century
20 1/2" x 21", 52 cm x 53.25 cm
This shimmering, beautifully figured and colored square of gold and blue silk brocade cloth is a kind of mat that is fashioned from antiquekesa, which is a luxurious Buddhist priest's robe.
In Japan,kesa are often stitched from sumptuous brocade silks with golden threads as is this example, however the origins of the kesa is much more humble. Its origin is in Buddhist India where it was a ragged, mendicant's garb made from uncut cloth. It was a simple garment for someone who renounced the material world. Of course, as Buddhism became established and as temples and Buddhist hierarchy became more elaborate, the kesa was made from expensive silks, often donated from congregants, to honor the Buddha.
This square is hand stitched from fragments of a kesa. It is beautiful in color: glossy gold-covered threads, deep indigos, cream and sage colored threads are hand woven to compose this elaborately decorated cloth.
The base cloth shows stylized chrysanthemums and peonies. There are hand applied bars of another similarly colored cloth which are affixed the surface. Note as well a large off-square of ochre and gold cloth that shows a wonderful, small repeat of peonies within a field of arabesque.
Of course, since this kesa is old and was worn by a Buddhist priest (or several generations of them), there is surface wear, abrasion, and some loose threads.
Still, this is a stunningly beautiful cloth, rich in history and one that was witness to beautiful, high-minded rituals in honor the Buddha.