When I first saw this Noh robe I thought about the changing of seasons, though not the change from winter to spring that I am eagerly anticipating at the moment. The robe’s colorful brocaded chrysanthemums remind me of the beginning of autumn. The robe conjures images of the chrysanthemum’s overwhelming beauty during the Japanese fall celebration, kiku matsuri. The gilded paper shines through the warm terracotta silk fabric and illuminates the carefully patterned, iconic flowers, reminding me of the warm, long evenings at the beginning of fall.
But this robe has a grander story to tell. Dating from about 1800, brocaded robes like this one were used in Japanese Noh theater. Noh Theater is a combination of dance, chant, music, mime and costume, and has been performed in Japan for over 500 years. The costume itself is considered to be part of the scenery, as the stiff fabric folding over the body creates a dramatic silhouette on stage. The intricate motifs and colorful costumes serve as an extension of a characters’ mood and give the audience a clue to the actor’s emotions. The Noh costume helps transport both the actor and the audience into the play.[i] I can imagine how magnificent Cooper-Hewitt’s Noh robe once looked on stage as it moved gracefully with the actor. The craftsmanship and beauty of the fabric combined with the function and purpose of the costume makes this robe an important example of design in Cooper-Hewitt’s collection.
Nadia Vanek is Cooper-Hewitt’s School Programs intern for Spring 2013. She is currently earning her Masters Degree in Museum Education at Bank Street College of Education. Nadia is from Los Angeles and holds an undergraduate degree in Studio Art: Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach.
[i] Okochi, Sadao. The Tokogawa Collection: Noh Robes and Masks. Translated by Louise Allison Court & Monica Bethe. New York, NY: Japan House Gallery, Japan Society. 1977. Print.