Kimono: Reflections of Art between Japan and the West
29 April – 19 November 2023
Museo del Tessuto | Via Puccetti 3 Prato
Hours: 10 am – 3 pm (Tuesday to Thursday); 10 am – 7 pm (Friday, Saturday); 3 – 7 pm (Sunday) | Closed Monday
Admission: € 10 ; reduced € 8
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“KIMONO – Reflections of art between Japan and the West” is the title of the new exhibition organised by Museo del Tessuto in Prato, with the prestigious patronage of the Embassy of Japan in Italy.
The exhibition explores the creative and cultural contaminations mainly between Europe and Japan, from the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, through the exhibition of a careful selection of works that testify to the fundamental passages of those mutual influences.
Alongside the well-known phenomenon of Japanism – the way in which the European art of that period transposed and reinterpreted the expressive and decorative language of Japanese art – the exhibition focuses above all on illustrating the opposite process, defined by some as Occidentalism, within which even the most iconic object of the culture of the Rising Sun, namely the kimono, was influenced by Western culture and figurative art.
A series of paintings, woodcuts, vintage postcards, prints and fabrics are on display from both important private collections and from never-before-seen collections of the Museum, but above all the 50 men’s and women’s kimonos belonging to the exclusive private collection of Lydia Manavello, all dating to the first and second quarters of the 20th century and made of woven, embroidered or printed silk. This extraordinary exhibition of works is a varied, lively testament to the extraordinary artistic and stylistic contaminations that occurred in those decades between East and West, with particular reference to the formal innovations of the European avant-garde such as Futurism, Secession and Cubism that profoundly modified the traditional Japanese decorative language at the beginning of the 20th century.
The exhibition arose from the collaboration with the Museum of Fashion and Applied Arts of Gorizia, an institution that first gave public visibility to this valuable private collection with its beautiful exhibition in 2018. The new exhibition of the Prato Museum preserves the main nucleus of works from that initial project, relaunching the theme, amplifying it and furthering it with new suggestions and contents.
“The exhibition represents a tribute the Textile Museum of Prato wants to pay to the extraordinary expertise characterising the centuries-old textile tradition of the Land of the Rising Sun, offering our visitors the opportunity to learn more about a very rich heritage otherwise destined for exclusively private use,” declared the Chair of the Museo del Tessuto Foundation, Francesco Nicola Marini.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 176-page catalogue issued by the publishing house Antiga Edizioni with essays by Francesco Morena, Roberta Orsi Landini, Raffaella Sgubin and Lydia Manavello, as well as the information sheets of the kimonos on display.
An entirely free app downloadable on IOS and Android and usable on both smartphones and tablets will be available to all visitors, also usable simply as a web app by scanning a QR code at the entrance to the museum.
The app’s special technology makes it possible to simply frame the display cases with a device’s camera to have a “digital assistant” available that will explain the contents of the display cases and exhibits during the visit, just as a real professional guide would do. The audio content is available in Italian, English and Spanish.
Furthermore, the exhibition period will be accompanied by a rich calendar of initiatives for adults and families with guided tours, workshops and other appointments that will continue until November, thanks to the support of the company Pontetorto and the collaboration with Unicoop Florence, LAILAC – Japanese Cultural Association and IROHA – National Association for Cultural Exchange between Italy and Japan.
All the relative information is available on the museum’s website.
The exhibition has received the support of the Municipality of Prato, as well as the supporting members Estra spa, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Prato and Saperi Srl.
It is also supported by the General Directorate of Education, Research and Cultural Institutes of the Ministry of Culture, by the Tuscany Region and the more than 30 companies belonging to the Museo del Tessuto Supporter Club (Antilotex, Archè, Art Hotel Museo, A Zeta Filati, Brachi Testing Services, Centro Campionari, DHG, Enrico Pecci di Alberto Pecci e C., Frati Textiles, Giolica, Gruppo Colle, Hubic Marketing, Interporto della Toscana Centrale, Lanificio Bigagli, Lanificio Bisentino, Lido Barni, Lyria, Magniflex, Manifattura Forasassi, Marini Industrie, Mariplast, Marshbird, Nova Fides, Piumini Danesi, Pointex, Pontetorto, Rifizione Nuove Fibre, Rifizione Vignali, Tecnorama, Tessilfibre, Texmoda, Villa il Cerretino).
After centuries of radical isolation and various political and military vicissitudes, imperial power was restored in Japan and the country finally opened up to the rest of the world thanks to Emperor Meiji (reign 1868-1912), who conceived a series of reforms that would change every area, from technology to state administration, and from education to culture.
Thanks to the increasingly massive arrival of news and artefacts from the country, the West was almost immediately amazed by the elegant taste of Japan’s people and the novelty represented by its customs, art and craftsmanship.
Its consecration came in 1867 in Paris, when the Japanese Pavilion set up for the Universal Exhibition obtained unconditional praise. The fascination of Japanese culture at that time was experienced above all by the artists, as Japanese art made its disruptive appearance on the scene at a time when the European arts felt the need for radical renewal. Artists such as Manet, and then Whistler, Monet, Degas and many others, were looking for new ways to shape a painting that would unravel the by then stale Academy and that at the same time was suitable to describe a world in rapid and substantial transformation.
The itinerary opens with a suggestive animation of two Nanbans, pairs of six-door screens made by Japanese court painters at the end of the 16th century, that illustrate the first absolute contact between the West and Japan, which had occurred in 1543 thanks to the landing of a fleet of Portuguese ships in the Japanese archipelago. These are some of the most impressive visual testimonies of how Japanese painters perceived the first Europeans arriving in Japan.
The exhibition then continues with the “second” discovery of Japan; it was the end of the 19th century when Japanese art made its disruptive appearance on the European art scene, giving rise to the phenomenon known as Japanism.
Through a second suggestive video, the paintings of the Impressionists, and then of the post-impressionists such as Van Gogh and Gauguin, ideally dialogue with the Japanese prints of Hiroshige (PHOTO 1), Utamaro (PHOTO 2) and Hokusai (PHOTO 3), which soon became an inexhaustible source of inspiration, assimilation and reworking by Western artists thanks to their bright colours with flat fields, unprecedented perspectives, and very different interpretation of the movement of the figures’ bodies. The exhibition includes the very rare Paris illustré. Le Japon of May 1886, a famous French magazine. It has a woodcut by Keisai Eisen on the cover that portrays a beautiful and sinuous female figure in traditional Japanese clothing, faithfully taken up by Van Gogh in 1887 in his painting “La Courtisane”.
Also by Eisen are the polychrome woodcuts “Beauty entering with an umbrella” (PHOTO 4) and “Young woman with cherry pattern kimono and turtle obi” (PHOTO 5) together with the courtesan of Kunimaru (“Courtesan with chrysanthemum uchikake”) (PHOTO 6): three examples of female figures in a position slightly twisted around themselves and wrapped in kimonos with highly sought-after geometric or natural patterns.
This section also displays some Japanese fabrics from the Museum’s collections, such as the 19th-century silk fabric with Chinese medallion pattern (PHOTO 7) and the fabric from the late Edo period, again in silk and silver mulberry paper with a butterfly and dragonfly pattern (PHOTO 8).
At the same time, however, the reverse phenomenon was also occurring: Occidentalism, i.e., the fascination with European modernity in Japan, both in terms of scientific and technological advances and above all in terms of customs and way of life. Western fashion – the emblem par excellence of modernity – particularly fascinated the Japanese culture, which in the textile field was linked to both technical and stylistic, centuries-old rigid traditions.
On display is a rich section of prints, postcards and magazines depicting Japanese women dressed in European fashion (PHOTO 9), but above all the exhibition of the 50 kimonos from Lydia Manavello’s private collection, to which the entire second part of the exhibition is dedicated.
The marvellous kimonos – the true focus of the exhibition – are displayed side by side in the museum’s suggestive trussed hall.
After a first introduction to the complex and extraordinary traditional textile and decorative techniques (nishiki, yuzen (PHOTO 10), katagami, kasuri, shibori), the kimonos are exhibited divided by themes, each grouped by subject and decorative motifs, to help visitors to better understand how traditional Japanese culture drew inspiration from the languages of the European artistic avant-garde and textile design.
A first group of kimonos reveals how the traditional Japanese decorative and stylistic language (Chinese circles and Buddha’s key pattern (PHOTO 11), cherry blossoms, clouds (PHOTO 12), or peonies, just to name a few) was revisited in light of the Western stylistic influences.
The objects of the Museum are placed within this context, displaying pages of French sample books of the late 19th century, along with plates and fashion figurines (PHOTO 11 bis and PHOTO 12 bis) in dialogue with Japanese clothes in order to highlight the connections and artistic influences between these two worlds.
A second nucleus consisting of almost all men’s kimonos expresses the Japanese fascination for modernity and progress through the introduction of entirely new decorative subjects, such as ships, aeroplanes and sport (PHOTO 13).
The third and most conspicuous nucleus – and certainly the most fascinating – is the central one with as many as 18 kimonos from the early 20th century. They are unique objects in woven, embroidered or printed silk that testify to the attraction for stylistic suggestions from the European avant-garde such as Fauvism, the Viennese Secession, Futurism, Cubism, Deco, which all profoundly modified the decorative language by introducing concepts such as three-dimensionality, strong and harsh colours, abstract forms in textile design. (PHOTOS 14 to 18)
The specific references between the textile object and the painting are then explained in a third multimedia installation.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of guided tours sponsored by Unicoop Florence and reserved for Members.
MAY Saturday 6 and Sunday 21 May 5:00 pm
JUNE Saturday 10 and Sunday 25 June 5:00 pm
JULY Thursday 6 and Thursday 20 July 9:00 pm
SEPTEMBER Saturday 9 and Sunday 24 September 5:00 pm
OCTOBER Saturday 7 and Sunday 22 October 5:00 pm
NOVEMBER Saturday 4 and Sunday 19 November 5:00 pm
Ticket: reduced € 8 + free guided tour
The tours last an hour and are upon reservation until the available spots are filled
(contact: Infopoint Coopculture: +39 0574 1837859 | email@example.com).
Membership card must be shown at the ticket office when purchasing the ticket.
WORKSHOPS FOR FAMILIES
The entire duration of the exhibition includes a calendar full of events designed for families, with activities for different age groups including workshops on origami, printing techniques, fabric folding techniques, and then concluding with a kimono dressing ceremony and a Japanese dance workshop.
In collaboration with LAILAC – Japanese Cultural Association and IROHA – National Association for Cultural Exchange between Italy and Japan.
With the support of the company Pontetorto.
The first scheduled events are listed below.
MAY Saturday 13 May 4:30-6:00 pm
Creative workshop in collaboration with LAILAC – Japanese Cultural Association
Age 4-6 years
Saturday 27 May 4:30-6 pm
Origami workshop: the art of folding paper, in collaboration with LAILAC – Japanese Cultural Association
Age: 7-10 years
JUNE Thursday 15, Thursday 22, Thursday 29 at 9:00 pm
Guided tours of the exhibition specifically for families
JULY Thursday 6 at 9:00 pm
Guided tours of the exhibition specifically for families
For information on costs and booking: