Festival Procession (Aoi Matsuri)

Creation date
silk, metallic thread
126 3/4 x 288 in.
Credit line
Gift of Otto Gresham
Accession number
Not Currently On View
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

This monumental tapestry portrays the procession of the Aoi Festival in Kyoto, one of the most impressive of Shinto celebrations. The event, named for the wild ginger plant, originated in the 6th century, when, after a period of heavy rains, a festival was ordered to appease the gods, and the downpours miraculously ceased. Though the spring ritual was suspended at times, it was permanently reestablished in 1885, shortly before this weaving was created. Patronized by the Japanese imperial household, the event takes place each year on May 15.

The stately procession depicted in this intricate silk tapestry comprises several hundred participants attired in glorious formal fashions. They follow an ox-drawn carriage adorned with garlands of wild ginger leaves, which also decorate shrines and the celebrants' garments, including the Shinto priests' robes. Intricately detailed musical instruments fill the border, along with ceremonial hats associated with an ancient ritual that is performed in Shinto shrines during the festival.

It took three years and the diligent work of many weavers to complete this minutely detailed masterpiece, which was commissioned by the Imperial Household Agency in 1890. The hanging, which once belonged to Emperor Meiji, was presented by the Legation of Japan to Mrs. Walter Quinton Gresham in appreciation of her late husband's assistance to the Japanese government during the Chinese-Japanese War of 1894-95. Walter Gresham, an Indiana native, was U.S. Secretary of State during the Cleveland administration.

As a token of . . . appreciation His Imperial Majesty has commanded . . . that a roll of tapestry . . . should be presented to you.
-Letter from Emperor Meiji's envoy, 1896