A Very Long 19th Century "Boro" Buddhist Altar Cloth: Silk and Cotton
ca. late nineteenth, early twentieth century
39" x 100", 99 cm x 254 cm
This long textile is an uchishiki, an altar dressing that was used in a Buddhist temple. As uchishiki serve a high purpose--adorning a sacred space--they are usually sewn from sumptuous, elegant fabrics, in this case a brocade silk which is backed by cotton. This is quite usual for this kind of Buddhist textile.
Today we are giving the backing of the cloth as much attention as the front of the cloth, mainly because of the rich, red color of the backing cotton which has a boro look created by its pieced cloth construction, its many holes and its small mending patches. This is visually interesting, especially for those who appreciate and understand the aesthetic of Japanese rural textiles.
Whereas the back of this altar cloth is a fire-engine red, the front is deeply colored, quite somber, quietly elegant and very restrained in its tonality. The rich brown silk shows a woven repeat of stylized peach images. In Chinese poetry the peach was thought of as beautiful and fresh, so it was likened to a young girl. It is also associated with immortality, as is widely known. But there is darker and more powerful aspect to the peach: in China it was a tool of exorcism, and in Japanese mythology, the god Izanagi is said to have driven devils away with this fruit.
The silk is split at the points where it was folded and stored, but overall it is still very supple and lustrous. The white cotton apron at the top of the textile is hand woven from very lovely hand spun cotton yarns.
A lovely, curious, and beautiful old textile.