The Applied Image
The Chinese and Japanese have decorated textiles with embroidery for over five thousand years. Prior to the invention of the Jacquard loom in the nineteenth century, embroidered silks were less expensive and more quickly produced than textiles with woven patterns. Embroidery also afforded more flexibility and personal choice in decorative motifs, thus it was a popular technique for surface decoration. Traditionally, silk or gold thread, ostrich feathers, human hair, and precious stones were applied to the surface of Chinese and Japanese robes and textiles. The lower classes wore embroidered hemp, ramie, and in the early twentieth century, cotton; the upper classes wore robes of lightweight silk gauze or plain weave or the heavier silk satin.
The textiles in this room are a collection of informal and formal robes, Chinese and Japanese theater costumes and Japanese gift covers (fukusa). The informal robes have been selected to highlight specific stitches and include one imperial robe, a fine example of embroidered gauze. The three robes on the south wall are costumes representing the Japanese traditions of Nō theater and Gagaku performance art. The Chinese costume, probably used for the theater, is an example of an alternate type of applied decoration. Instead of embroidery, patchwork creates an elaborate color scheme, quite different from the more traditional Chinese attire across the room. In the central case the Chinese marriage hat, decorated with kingfisher feathers and semiprecious stones, displays yet another type of applied surface ornament.