The Baltimore Museum of Art presents an exquisite selection of late 19th to early 20th century kimono and obi
This yuzen-dyed wedding furisode (long sleeve kimono), made in the 1920s or 30s, has a dominant theme of hi-ogi, the wide bladed fans carried by Heian Period noble women. Even today the Japanese Empress wears Heian style apparel and carries a hi-ogi for important ceremonies. Opening fans, in general, are considered an auspicious wedding symbol in Japan, signifying a happy future unfolding for the bride.
A misu decorates the fanciful hi-ogi on the left. Misu were wide bamboo blinds used in Heian palaces that allowed noble women to look outside their palace quarters without being seen. These women generally hid their faces from men except those in their immediate family. A hi-ogi could also be used to perform this act of modesty.
On the right of this hi-ogi is a glimpse of the flowing fabric panels of a kicho. Kicho were curtains on portable stands behind which Heian noble women sat and exchanged poems with suitors. The decorated shells and open hexagonal box (depicted here in front of the kicho) are part of the romantic Heian game kai awase, in which players matched paired clam shells to symbolize the union of a perfect couple.
The wheels of the gosho-guruma also became decorative motifs, in and of themselves, called Genji-guruma. The Tale of Genji, considered the world's first great novel, was written by a Heian court woman. Genji-guruma are named after the story's protagonist, Prince Genji. This section of a maru obi has Genji-guruma wheels decorated with auspicious symbols woven in brilliant silks and metallic threads.
In contrast, Yukihira's life before exile is suggested by a gosho-guruma at lower right of this detail and a Heian palace veranda shrouded in clouds. Clouds are often included in scenes referring to the Heian Court since courtiers were referred to as "Those Living Among the Clouds" (Kumo no Uebito).
The white sea water buckets near a salt hut symbolize the beloved sisters left behind in Suma. Soon after Yukihira's departure the sisters hear of his death. Devastated, they both die of broken hearts, but their love is so deep and enduring that their spirits are unable to pass from this world into the next. They narrate the play Matsukaze as ghosts.
Produced by: Anita Jones, Curator of Textiles, Baltimore Museum of Art; and Ann Marie Moeller, Consulting Curator
Project and Content Management: Emily Reichert
Photography: Mitro Hood
Image Rights & Services: Zoe Gensheimer, Anna Fitzgerald, Meghan Gross
Project Support: Emily Brown, Amelia Eldridge, Helen Beckstrom, Louise Wheatley