In Japan textiles brought from China, the most advanced country in silk weaving, were always held in admiration and used as models. While the textiles imported in the seventh and eighth century can be viewed collectively among the temple treasures of Hōryū-ji and the Shōsō-in Repository, those from the medieval and early modern times are spread out in various repositories, being transmitted either as religious textiles like priest’s robes ( J. kesa) or as meibutsugire (“famed fabrics”) used in the practice of tea, chanoyu.
Of these, meibutsugire are used as mountings for hanging scrolls and as tea utensil pouches (shifuku) in chanoyu, being revered in their own right as textiles. The Kyoto National Museum’s meibutsugire were originally from the Edo-period collection of the Maeda family, lords of Kaga province. Reputedly, the collection began when the third head, Maeda Toshitsune (1594–1658), ordered his retainer to go to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagasaki to collect pieces. It contains a wide variety of textile types, including celebrated meibutsugire, like the gold brocaded silk named
Futari Shizuka kinran and the damask called Enshū donsu.
The name Keitō kinran derives from roosterhead flowers (keitō) depicted as rising up from the ground. The gold brocade (kinran) is of an older weave structure, evidenced by the gold patterning threads being held down by the foundation twill warps (rather than supplementary warps) and by the ground wefts on the reverse side running loose under the gold threads. Although badly faded, the bright reddish-purple remaining on the back suggests that this piece was originally dyed with sappan wood (suō).