An image of Unlined kosode ('hitoe') with design of mandarin ducks in snow covered landscape with plum trees, pines and reeds on yellow-green plain weave ramie ('asa')

Unknown Artist

Unlined kosode ('hitoe') with design of mandarin ducks in snow covered landscape with plum trees, pines and reeds on yellow-green plain weave ramie ('asa')

Not on display
Further information

A wintry landscape with thatched hut enclosed on one side by a brushwood fence and a pair of mandarin ducks covers both front and back of this superb unlined kosode ('hitoe') decorated in the intricate Yūzen technique that combines paste-resist dyeing and embroidery. The plum blossoms, snow-covered reeds, pine, bamboo grass ('sasa') and chrysanthemums are reserved in white on the yellowish-green ground. Embroidery in bright red, deep purple, light pink and gold form intriguing accents. Couched gold embroidery is also used to outline the brushwood fence and the billowing clouds at the top as well as to suggest the ice on the slightly frozen pond. Fluttering snowflakes and the stylised waves are executed in the 'shiro-age' resist-dye technique that mimics the fine lines of ink drawing. To create a sense of variety, some flecks of snow are embroidered.

Designs of seasonal birds and flowers – in this case the season is clearly winter – and objects alluding to classical literature such as the brushwood fence and the thatched hut are known as 'goshodoki', or ‘imperial court style’, and can be worn only by women of the elite samurai class. The motifs on this unlined kosode do not only represent winter, but also have auspicious meanings: pine, plum blossoms and bamboo symbolise the virtues of a scholar-official: perseverance, purity and righteousness. As they thrive in the cold season, they are also known as the ‘Three Friends of winter’. Mandarin ducks symbolise marital bliss (even though in reality they change partner every winter) and are traditionally included in winter sceneries, the time when they mate. The fact that a winter landscape is used as the main motif for a summer kosode expresses the witty spirit typical for Edoites and the Edo period. In the scorching heat of summer, the sight of snow offers a sense of freshness and relief.

Gluckman, Dale Carolyn & Takeda, Sharon Sadako. 'When art became fashion : kosode in Edo-period Japan'. With contributions by Monica Bethe, Hollis Goodall-Cristante, William B. Hauser, Kirihata Ken, Maruyama Nobuhiko, Nagasaki Iwao, Robert T. Singer. New York/Tokyo: Weatherhill and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1992

Stinchecum, Amanda Myer. 'Kosode, 16th-19th century textiles from the Nomura Collection'. With essays by Monica Bethe and Margot Paul ; edited by Naomi Noble Richard and Margot Paul, New York: Japan Society and Kodansha International, 1984.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, 2014.

Place of origin
Japan: Edo (Tokugawa) period 1615–1868
19th century
plain silk gauze weave, paste-resist dyeing ('shiro-age'), and silk and metallic thread embroidery
167.0 x 55.2cm
Asian Collection Benefactors' Fund 2014
Accession number