The Art Institute’s Department of Textiles is fortunate to own a large collection, some 200 in all, of kesa, the rectangular or trapezoidal outer garment traditionally worn by Buddhist monks and priests in Japan. The textiles have been mostly acquired over the years by donations from various private collectors, but the largest group and many of the most significant pieces came from the collection of Ralph and Mary Hays in 2004. Although a few examples of our kesa have been displayed in the past, this is the first exhibition at the Art Institute to present an overview of this distinctive group of textiles.
Often described as a mantle or robe, the kesa is worn draped diagonally over the left shoulder and under the right armpit. The Japanese term kesa derives from the Sanskrit word kasaya (or turbulence, an allusion to the dyeing process) and indicates the garment’s Indian origin. Indeed, as a reminder of this origin and the historical Buddha’s own simple patched garment, kesa are formed from many fragments of the same cloth. Within each garment, the fragments are typically organized in a series of columns framed by a border with mitered corners. The number of columns, ranging from five to 25 but most often seven, indicates both the specific function of that garment and also the rank of the wearer within the religious hierarchy. Many examples are adorned with six added squares, usually from a different fabric, that reinforced points of stress from wear but have assumed symbolic value as well. Attached rings, loops, and cords helped hold the garments in place when worn.
Although there are earlier examples, particularly in Japanese temple collections, most surviving kesa date from the Edo period (1615–1868) and the Meiji period (1868–1912). The fabrics used during these periods are often highly patterned and made of sumptuous materials, in aristocratic defiance of the garments’ humble beginnings. Some of the fabrics are reused garments—Noh theatrical robes, kimonos, even Chinese robes—donated to temples by wealthy devotees. This selection of 23 kesa shows both the range and exquisite intricacy of this beautiful and historically rich garment.
3 hours 47 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago Just like the museum's collection comes from artists around the world, so does the Museum Shop’s assortment of products. We source exclusive products from artisans that are inspired by the cultures, mediums, and techniques represented in our museum collection. View our assortment of unique items from India.
12 hours 55 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975
Provoke was the English-language title for a Japanese photo magazine of the late 1960s; the name also designates the group of photographers and writers who put that formative publication together. Their influence has grown so great that the “Provoke era” is now international shorthand for sixties counterculture in Japan. This generational uprising swelled from the massive unrest, and sheer cultural disorientation, that accompanied the country’s transformation from ruined empire to superpower after World War II.
This exhibition places the achievements of Provoke alongside those of protesters and protest collectives, who made riveting photobooks, films, and photographs throughout the same era, as well as artists and art collectives keenly interested in live performance and its relation to the mechanical image.
16 hours 27 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NEW ACQUISITION—In the early decades of the sixteenth century, Antwerp was a great center of commerce, finance, and luxury trade. The Flemish city attracted innovative painters like Quentin Massys, Jan Gossart, and Joos van Cleve working in a style that combined northern traditions with Italianate forms. Numerous other painters, whose work is only known under names of convenience, like the Master of the Lille Adoration, swelled the ranks of the Antwerp guild.
Saint Jerome in Penitence (by the Master of the Lille Adoration) is an ideal addition to our collection and can be seen alongside other exemplary paintings from Renaissance Antwerp—on view in Gallery 207.