In Japan, the word kesa indicates the typical dress of Buddhist monks, as well as the habit worn by the Buddha himself. The kesa, however, is not a simple garment and has an extremely deep symbolic meaning, linked to awakening, to the awareness of the practitioner who wears it and to the connection with the entire universe.
This robe is traditionally made by the monk himself by assembling strips of fabric with overlapping seams and, in the case of ritual kesa, it can be made with precious and decorated fabrics.
The collections of the MAO Museum of Oriental Art boast a collection of precious Japanese kesa that need to be periodically set aside for conservation reasons, as happens with paintings on paper and silk or prints; although they are displayed in special display cases with an inclined plane, necessary to avoid excessive yarn tension, the fabrics are particularly delicate and subject to the stress of exposure: the minute decorations present in some specimens are in fact obtained with silk threads and strips of golden paper , a technique that makes them both precious and fragile at the same time.
From 24 September 2020 to 28 March 2021 some kesa will be exhibited at rest for several years in our warehouses: these are three ritual silk cloaks of the nineteenth century, which have different motifs and patterns.
The first is a silk kesa with a brown-red background, made up of seven vertical bands probably obtained from a kosode, a type of short-sleeved kimono. Stylized blue and green flowers emerge from the background, each of which is inscribed in intersecting circles: a particularly essential and sober chromatic and decorative choice.
The second kesa features a white background with brown dragon designs amid peach, orange, green, purple clouds, and blue wave patterns. The dragon shows the typical attributes of the unryū, the dragon lord of the clouds: the expression is fierce, with wide open jaws and protruding eyes; this fantastic creature has long whiskers, forked horns, thick eyebrows, bristly hair, numerous scales along its serpentine body, and its clawed paw encloses a cloud.