Buddhist Priest's Mantle (Kesa)

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Buddhist Priest's Mantle (Kesa)

Japan, early Edo period, 17th century
Costumes
Tie-dyeing (kanako shibori), silk and metallic thread embroidery (shisu) and gold leaf (surihaku) on figured silk satin (rinzu), brocaded silk
Textile: 44 1/2 × 91 in. (113.03 × 231.14 cm) Cover: 62 × 112 × 3 5/8 in. (157.48 × 284.48 × 9.21 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by David G. Booth and Suzanne Deal Booth, and Camilla Chandler Frost through the 2006 Collectors Committee (M.2006.46)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Originally symbolizing the rags worn by the Buddha as a mendicant monk, the kesa (kasaya in Sanskrit) became the standard vestment of Japanese monks, nuns and priests in the sixth century, when Buddhi...
Originally symbolizing the rags worn by the Buddha as a mendicant monk, the kesa (kasaya in Sanskrit) became the standard vestment of Japanese monks, nuns and priests in the sixth century, when Buddhism reached Japan. They are the most significant components of Buddhist clerical ensembles and the most intriguing. As Buddhism expanded into a major religious institution in Japan, the kesa evolved into a sophisticated and often resplendent garment incorporating expensive cloth of silk and gold. Elegantly embellished lengths of fabric from a high-ranking samurai-class woman's robe are preserved in the Edo period (1615-1868) Buddhist Priest's Mantle (kesa). Characteristic of fashionable Keicho-era (1596-1615) style, the dark brown-black-figured silk satin ground dramatically complements the light, decorated areas, which are defined by clusters of tiny tie-dyed circles, delicate motifs rendered in fine silk and metallic thread embroidery, and an overall repeat mist pattern in gold-foil. Extremely expensive even in its day, only a handful of Keicho-style kimono exist in Japanese national museum collections today. The way in which this rare, early 17th-century kimono came to be an integral part of a sacred garment can be explained by the tradition of donating a woman's most beloved kimono (along with prayers for the repose of her soul) to a temple at the time of her death. Her robe would later be taken apart, cut into pieces, and re-sewn into ritual textiles such as altar cloths and banners or religious clothing such as kesa. Simple in its typically rectangular shape, kesa are composed of contrasting pieces of donated cloth sewn together in a pre-determined symbolic layout. This prescribed arrangement of cloth is believed to have evolved from the Buddha instructing a disciple to create a garment based on the orderly rows of planted rice fields. The assembly of a kesa by monk, nun, priest, disciple or layperson is a meditative act of merit.
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Bibliography

  • "2005-2006 Selected Acquisitions." LACMA Insider 4, no.1 (2006): 4-7.