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Item Details
Mid Edo period (1750-1825)
This rare and stunning chirimen (crepe) silk uchikake wedding kimono which features twenty-five embroidered tortoises. One fraying turtle and a few tears in the inner lining. 48" from sleeve-end to sleeve-end x 63" height. The richness of the dyes and silks, the extensive metallic embroidery, and the extraordinary design indicate that this was created by talented artists for a high-ranking samurai family. No other extant kimono found in museums or known private collections bears design similarities to this unique example. It so unusual for a kimono to be decorated with only tortoises, that one scratches one's head about the intent: it has the padded hem typical of uchikake, but could this robe have been created for a different function than a wedding, such as for the stage or a different ceremony, a Shinto one perhaps? The embroidered tortoises were created with silver and gold couching. Some of the turtle shells are of gold, while others are of a gold/silver mixture. This couching is unusual in that it involves not only the main outside, but also the interior and the padded hem. The five mon (family crests) are couched in gold thread. The inner lining is of a beni red sha silk. Young samurai women of high birth were dressed in this particular color of red - known as "akahime" to mean red princess. The red represented the passion hidden within a blue blood. Japanese notions regarding the tortoise (kame) form a complex tapestry woven from Hindu, Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist traditions. These traditions claim that the tortoise helps prop up the world, guards the northern quadrant of the universe together with the snake, and carries on its carapace sacred inscriptions. The animal is believed to live an exceptional age, at which time, it develops a flowing white tail and exhales special vapours that conjure up sacred jewels. Beliefs in the tortoises longevity have linked it, in turn, to the Taoist paradise of Mount Horai and to the underwater palace of the Dragon King of the Sea. . This latter linkage is reflected in folktales. "Urashima Taro" the most prominent among them, that feature a tortoise navigating between the real and imagined worlds and the terrestrial and marine domains.
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