The priests and patriarchs depicted in Japanese Buddhist art typically wear a cloth of patchwork draped over the outer robes. These colorful coverings actually are religious garments. They are called "kesa" and they find their origins far to the west, in India, where Buddhism began. Indian Buddhist monks begged bits of discarded cloth and patched them together into rectangles that they wrapped about themselves and wore as religious garments. These garments -- known in Sanskrit as kasaya -- were the ancestors of the Japanese kesa.
As Buddhism spread to China, Korea, and Japan, Buddhist thought and Buddhist arts responded to the different cultural aesthetic demands of its new followers. As it took root and grew in each country, this imported religion and its outward expressions adapted to native traditions and preferences. In a typically Japanese way, then, kesa takes the religiosity prescribed patchwork wrapper as an occasion for the use of rich fabrics and strong design.
This selection from the Lucy Truman Aldrich Collection includes some of the gems of the Museum's collection of Asian textiles, one of the finest in the United States.