Washington’s Textile Museum is celebrating The Year of the Dragon with a new exhibit “Dragons, Nagas, and Creatures of the Deep”, portraying them as everything from demonic to delightful.
“Dragons, Nagas, and Creatures of the Deep” offers 16 objects from around the world and across the centuries, showing dragons as nagas (divine snakes) of East and Southeast Asia, and as flying, flaming beasts of Western traditions.
The word “dragon” comes from the Greek “drákōn”, meaning “water snake” or “large serpent.”
In this widely international exhibit, the letters “D-R-A-G-O-N” emblazon a mola (reverse appliqué) panel made by a Kuna Indian woman in Panama’s San Blas Islands in the 1960s.
In China, only the emperor and ruling class were allowed to use certain styles of dragons — symbols of power and prestige — to decorate clothes and furnishings. Front-facing dragons could be used solely by the noble classes. And only imperial family members were allowed to wear dragons with five claws.
Two of the most exquisite of all the 16 gorgeous items show five-clawed dragons:
· a Buddhist priest’s mantle, with golden five-clawed dragons superbly woven in precious materials on royal blue satin, mid-18th century China.
· a royal robe with five-clawed dragons lavishly embroidered from shimmering, gold-wrapped silk yarns on tawny yellow satin, late 18th-early 19th centuries China.
Another stunningly woven 18th century coat from China includes several four-clawed dragons. One claw was removed from each foot— indicating that the second owner altered the garment to suit their social standing.
Some of the most intricate, brilliantly colored embroidery is by the Miao people in southwest China. These 20th century beasts are friendly, even humorous. They take the forms of a buffalo dragon with curved horns, serpentine body, and billowing tail; and a silkworm, a fish; even a flower.
Another spectacular item is a crimson and gold banner for a Buddhist temple in Japan. The 19th century weaving shows beneficent dragons, associated with water, rainfall, fertility and prosperity.
A fuchsia and gold shoulder cloth from 19th century Indonesia shows nagas which either provide water — sometimes as floods — or withhold it, causing droughts.
Some of the earliest pieces are:
- a 5th-century Egyptian tunic fragment, depicting a sea goddess riding a mythical horse-fish beast.
- a 16th century Persian luxurious velvet fragment, showing heroes fighting serpentine beasts.
- a 17th century Grecian weaving with dragons, griffins, peacocks, and scorpions finely embroidered in red silk, metal-wrapped yarns.
The exhibit, drawn entirely from the Textile Museum’s collection, is delightful, demonic, and delovely.
It continues through January 6, 2013. A donation of $8 is suggested for admission to the Textile Museum, 2320 S Street, NW, Washington, DC.