Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Noh Costume (Chōken) with Paulownia

Edo period (1615–1868)
18th century
Silk gauze brocaded with silk and metallic thread
44 1/4 x 80 in. (112.4 x 203.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Howard Mansfield, 1950
Accession Number:
Not on view
The paulownia (kiri), with its large leaves and purple flowers, figures in the literature and arts of Japan. In the early eleventh-century Japanese classic the Tale of Genji, the protagonist's mother, Kiritsubo, was identified with the part of the palace where she lived, a court planted with paulownia in large containers (tsubo). Kiritsubo died tragically young, and her loss permanently colored her young son's life.

The paulownia has been used along with the chrysanthemum as an imperial crest since the twelfth century, and it became a prestigious crest of the warrior class in the fourteenth century. Toyotomi Hideyoshi used it in the Momoyama period, when paulownia leaves and flowers also frequently occurred on the lacquers preserved at the Kōdaiji temple. In the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate did not use the paulownia crest, but the leaves and flowers of the paulownia still appeared as a decorative pattern in all the arts; they frequently occur in theatrical and nontheatrical garments alike.

The chōken is an unlined gauze dancing cloak usually worn for women's roles in the Noh theater. Its large sleeves are joined only slightly to the body of the garment, allowing them to move freely during the performance.
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