umbrella or parasol?

Three thousand years ago umbrellas and parasols were created in ancient Egypt, Assyria, India and China.  They later migrated to Europe and have developed in design, material and popularity in modern eras.  Naturally, a hand held umbrella and parasol are used as shields from the elements.

With respect to vocabulary, the terms umbrella and parasol are often used interchangeably within different nations.  However, modern umbrellas (in Latin umbra is “shade”) are created with heavier waterproof materials such as polyester and nylon to block out rain, snow and hail.  Generally, an umbrella has a curved handle to allow for easy grip and storage.

A parasol, however, (in Latin para for “shelter or shield” and sol “sun”) is typically constructed from more delicate fabrics such as lace, cotton, silk, linen, canvas and plastic.  Unlike umbrellas, the parasol is primarily used for protection from exposure to the sun.  Additionally, it is expected that a parasol will contain ornate designs.  Finally, a straight shaft and handle are standard characteristics of parasol formation.

In addition to the difference in definition and purpose, their symbolism varies between cultures and time periods.  They can represent protection, prosperity, royalty, power, shelter, prestige, femininity and fashion within cultures around the world.  These attributes are represented in art, sculpture, figurines, religion, literature and practise.  Umbrella and parasol production is a skill in itself.  Today, they continue to be handmade within some cultures.

What does an umbrella or parasol represent for you?

Ives Joly Umbrella Story was first published in the Life Magazine by TimeLife. This piece stands as an appropriate first image because it encapsulates the premise of the exhibition. The black and white negative reinforces the exhibition's theme – umbrellas and parasols. Specifically, it demonstrates the difference between modern handheld umbrellas and parasols by design, material, shape and structure. In the following images, this exhibition explores representations of Umbrellas and Parasols in artworks, figurines, stones, photographs and installations. From this point forward, images are showcased in chronological order so that the evolution of the craft to be epitomised.
The Great Departure is a depiction of an event titled "Mahabhinishkramana." The narrative is carved in a schist stone. It originates from Loriyan Tangai which is the north-western part of undivided India. It dates back to 100 – 200 C.E and remains to be one of the oldest representations of a parasol. The stone depicts Prince Gautama on his quest of Supreme Knowledge. He is mounted on the horse Kanthaka, while a parasol is covering his head, held by the royal groom Chhandaka. Thus, the parasol in The Great Departure signifies protection from sun exposure for Prince Gautama who embodies power, royalty, prestige and prosperity.
As early as the 1700’s, the significance of parasols start to appear on figurines. The Group of Japanese Figures is one of two coloured porcelain figurines created November 20, 1745 by the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. Johann Joachim Kandler was responsible for the description of the piece. A man is being shielded by an ornate parasol with a dragon at the top by a woman in traditional clothing. There are two dragons that are traditional symbols among the Japanese. For the purposes of the figurine, this dragon is believed to control rain, fire and earth. Therefore, the parasol is representing more than just protection from the sun because the dragon controls practically all the earthly elements.
Linen Market, Dominica (ca. 1780) is an oil on canvas painting. It is a genre subject – the late 1700’s - which includes wealthy and privileged individuals versus slaves and the poor. There are several men and women wearing elegant and elaborate clothing while shopping at the market. Their servants follow them throughout the market. In particular two slaves are holding what appears to be umbrellas due to the lack of decoration and elegance on the canopy over their ladies' heads. However, it is a sunny day, and one may therefore assume that they are parasols. Regardless, in this instance the umbrellas or parasols represent protection from the elements, wealth, femininity and prosperity.
As time continues, photography begins to include parasols. This piece is an albumen silver print by photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Although she was born in India, she chose to reside in Britain. The two children are Freddie Gould and Elizabeth Keown. With the children, she creates an emotional setting that resembles the context of a novel. In the photography the children appear to be underprivileged by their drapery and sad expressions. They hold a bamboo-handled parasol, which attests to the migration of products to other nations. It can be rendered that the parasol represents the protection from the elements but also the children’s innocence correlating with the protagonists’ decision to retain their modesty.
Japan plays a significant role in the production and use of umbrellas and parasols. It is customary that Japanese women use umbrellas and parasols to protect their fair skin. Consequently, in the 1800s images of the makers of the products were common. There is an inscription on the right stating that the man is an umbrella maker. In this scene, he is completing the umbrellas by adding paper to the canopy. Owing to the image, it can be determined that umbrella and parasol production had become a skill trade and a source of income. The image demonstrates the contrast between today’s mass production of products and the technical skill once required. Nevertheless, some workshops continue to handcraft umbrellas and parasols in this same fashion, as can anyone who uses the various DIY tutorials available on the internet.
Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), has become an iconic oil on canvas painting, and has even been reproduced for Art History Survey courses for universities. Prior to the 1800’s, umbrellas were primarily used by women. The umbrella and parasol were considered feminine rather than masculine. Eventually, as shown in the painting men had begun to use umbrellas too. Caillebotte has included several men carrying umbrellas to protect themselves and their partners from the rain. However, they continue to be used by middle to upper class individuals. This development in umbrella possession demonstrates the significance of umbrellas in history and art forms.
This photograph has been included because it demonstrates the progression of the parasol into modern times. At this time the parasol's canopy had begun to have the same patterns as the clothing the women wore whereas previously they were embellishments to an outfit. Therefore, the parasol had continued to be for protection and femininity, but it also embodied fashion fundamentals. The image depicts two fashionable women in heels and dresses, each holding a parasol. Each element of clothing and accessories are the same colour scheme, pattern and design.
The installation depicts a digital print on umbrellas. It has been included to demonstrate that the umbrella has become a medium for installations rather than merely two dimensional artwork. The importance of the installation is that it has several colours to enhance the variation in colour and design of a simple accessory that has been prevalent throughout art history. The artist is playing with diametrically opposing elements: what is normally used as protection from falling particles is now a falling object. Symbolism and representation have altered slightly; however, they have remained to be portrayed in artwork. Today, the umbrella continues to be protection from precipitation and a fashion statement. The wealth, femininity and prosperity have decreased in importance as umbrella’s are available and utilized by the majority of classes and men.
Finally, the final image has been included as a reminder of the premise of the exhibition. It demonstrates that umbrellas remain significant subjects or additions to art pieces even in 2015. The colours can represent the colours of the sun and rain – the two reasons to physically use umbrellas or parasols. This final image denotes the tradition of femininity and protection of the elements. Lastly, the image has been selected as an end to the exhibition because she appears to be walking into the abyss, which suggests she should be followed to the next adventure or in this case the next exhibition.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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