Of Clover and Chrysanthemums
PDP - Autumn themes decorate a wide variety of objects in Japan. Painting, lacquerwork, textiles, and woodblock prints are just a few of the media in which the characteristic subjects of chrysanthemums, morning glories, autumn grasses, and others appear. These motifs, like geese flying before the autumn moon or persimmons, are based upon observations of seasonal changes in nature. The subjects also have rich literary associations. Some themes, like chrysanthemums, are derived from Chinese literature, which was much admired and imitated by the Japanese; others, like morning glories, belong to the native Japanese literary tradition.
This woodblock print exhibition is organized by theme, with chrysanthemums and morning glories occupying the second and fourth walls. The remaining spaces are filled with various other autumnal subjects. The labels for individual prints contain more specific explanations for some of these motifs.
C&T - The use of floral designs on textiles and clothing has a long tradition in Japan. Such patterns were popular in the Nara period (645-794) of medieval Japan, as
indicated by examples in the collection of the Shoso-in imperial repository in Nara.
The aesthetic sensibility of the Heian period (794-1185) led to especially beautiful depictions of autumnal grasses and flowers. The seven autumn grasses (clover, pampas grass, bellflower, and gentian, among others), crimson foliage, and chrysanthemums became some of the most widely employed motifs in poetry and visual arts of this period.
Textile artists of later periods also drew on traditions of calligraphy, painting, and classical literature for autumn motifs, often expressing the inherent sadness of the season heralding the year's end, as well as utilizing these naturalistic subjects for their decorative beauty. Sources included well-known poems grouped by season in popular anthologies. One garment decorated with chrysanthemums could remind the viewer of many poignant poems of autumn, such as this one from a tenth-century anthology:
I will deck my head
with autumn chrysanthemums at their lustrous best
for who can say whether my death may come before they wither?
Or a robe patterned with reddened maple leaves could evoke this famous poem from the same source:
Autumn is saddest
when one hears the call of the stag, crying as he pads
through crimson leaves in the deep mountains.
Textiles with autumn themes used as clothing, religious vestments, and furnishing fabrics from the eighteenth to the twentieth century are on view in this exhibition.