Textile with Auspicious Symbols over Stripes, Named “Konparu's Gold Brocade”


Textile with Auspicious Symbols over Stripes, Named “Konparu's Gold Brocade”

Textiles / Ming Dynasty / China

Place of production:China

Ming dynasty, 16th–17th century

Gold brocade


In the 13th century, during the Kamakura period, Japanese monks traveled to China to study Zen Buddhism. When they returned, they brought back seeds for growing tea plants along with the practice of drinking tea, which spread throughout the country. Later, an entire etiquette for drinking tea developed, including dedicated spaces and special utensils for brewing and drinking tea. Beyond simply drinking tea, the cultural activity of having tea ceremonies took root as well, and has continued into the modern day. Tea ceremonies in Japan became especially popular in the 17th century, during the Edo period. Tea masters collected and treasured rare and expensive fabrics imported from China. These fabrics were used to wrap tea ceremony utensils or for mounting calligraphy and art displayed in tea rooms. The Maeda clan ruled over the Kaga domain, which is located in modern-day Ishikawa prefecture, and used their wealth to collect these Chinese fabrics. Some of the fabrics passed down by the Maeda clan are currently in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum, and this piece is one of them.

This cloth features a background pattern of colored stripes with a foreground motif of Buddhist symbols woven in gold thread. These symbols include conch shells, dharma wheels, and ornate canopies from Buddhist teachings. This type of fabric with woven gold patterning is called gold brocade. The narrow background stripes are woven in a satin weave, resulting in a luster that was highly regarded during the Ming dynasty.

This cloth is said to have been gifted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the regent who used military might to unite Japan in the late 16th century, to Konparu Dayu, an actor in traditional Japanese Noh theater. From this history, the cloth is also known as the Konparu Kinran, or the Gold Brocade of Konparu. In the time of Hideyoshi, Japanese textiles had yet to catch up with their Chinese counterparts. Craftspeople in Japan couldn't create this sort of brocade, and a textile as beautifully adorned as this one would have been quite a luxury. The fact that Hideyoshi would give Konparu Dayu such a valuable piece of gold brocade shows how strongly he supported the actor.

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