Buddhist Priest's Vestment (Kesa) with Phoenix
Edo period (1615–1868)
Silk and metallic thread tapestry
Overall: 44 x 80 in. (111.8 x 203.2 cm)
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1919
Not on view
A spectacular phoenix with cascading tail feathers dominates this large tapestry-like expanse of fabric; below it is a branch of paulownia. As a motif, this fantastic creature reached Japan from China. According to Chinese tradition, the phoenix appears at times of peace and prosperity, singing in a paulownia tree during the just rule of a benevolent emperor. This is a Japanese Buddhist priest’s vestment (kesa), an outer garment usually worn draped over the left shoulder. Traditionally kesa are made of many small pieces sewn together in a configuration of columns. This kesa was woven in one piece; however, the columnar design is indicated with a cord that is sewn to the surface.