Throughout history, clothing has provided a way of communicating without needing to say anything. The types of fabrics, designs, colors and styles of the garment could mean a variety of different things from a person’s social status to who their ancestors are. The Frist Art Museum’s exhibit,“Weaving Splendor: Treasures of Asian Textiles from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art” takes a deep look into the variety of fabrics and designs used in ancient Asian cultures. The installment has examples of ceremonial robes, hand-woven silks, and elaborate tapestries that not only defined the cultures but spread these techniques to the rest of the world.
The exhibit opens with intricately designed robes of the Qing Dynasty. The first piece is a gold robe that was worn by the emperor hundreds of years ago. Though it is faded and missing a collar piece, craftsmanship on this robe is undeniable. The nine dragons and clouds that the designer embedded into the body and along the hems of the garment “carried positive associations that served as a blessing for the prince.”
Repeated symbols like the dragon, moon, ax, fire, and more can be seen in the robes worn by the emperors and other members of the royal family. The yellow color of this robe signifies the hierarchy of the royal family, and the imagery in the design was used to speak to the power and prosperity that was naturally bestowed upon the royal family.
Different clothing styles were not only used to tell nobility from the common people, but also in theater to give the actors more definition and character. Lightweight textiles that flowed with the graceful movements of the actors were worn by more feminine characters, while stiffer textiles were used for those who needed to appear more rigid and masculine.
Chinese culture is known for creating silk, but they were also the pioneers of velvet and tapestry. Both of these weaving techniques took incredible skill, from the base foundation of the fabric to adding the designs. There are many examples of these techniques on display, including panels from one of the most famous tents in history. No one knows what it looked like in full glory because long ago, it was cut into panels and sold across the world. Though we can take educated guesses, we will never truly know how the original tent was designed.
Other items on display include hand woven velvets and tapestries that were used to personalize and beautify someone’s home. These fabrics had to be durable enough to last being used as decoration, but also malleable enough to store and transport. The undeniable craftsmanship can be seen all over the exhibit. The weavers had to know exactly where their strings were going to land so they could add all the delicate details that we see.
As appreciation for Asian techniques grew in other parts of the world, these textiles began to play a major role in diplomatic exchange and global trade around the 1600’s. Now, the beauty of these designs are being shared around the world and we can see the influence in modern and contemporary textiles from China, Japan, India, Pakistan, and Turkey.
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