Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Banyan

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The banyan

replica by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, circa 1835 (1813)
European interest in the cultures of the Ottoman Empire was inspired by travellers’ accounts of foreign lands, translations of works such as One Thousand and One Nights and the spectacle of Ottoman ambassadors at European courts. Cultural crossdressing became fashionable amongst Europeans stationed in the East, and merchants often wore ethnic dress as it helped them assimilate into the community.
Image copyright V & A Museum London
Image copyright V & A Museum London
Robes like this became popular in Europe from the mid-17th century, brought back by members of the East India Company, and by the 1670s European tailors were making banyans.
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It became very fashionable for gentlemen of an intellectual or philosophical leaning to be painted wearing Turkish costumes or banyans thus portraying themsleves as wordly travellers and suggesting a superior cultural knowledge.
Benjamin Rush wrote:
“Loose dresses contribute to the easy and vigorous exercise of the faculties of the mind. This remark is so obvious, and so generally known, that we find studious men are always painted in gowns, when they are seated in their libraries”
The word “banyan” is derived from the Indian word, banya, for a merchant or trader. Also called a morning gown, robe de chambre or nightgown, the banyan was a loose, T-shaped or kimono-like cotton, linen, or silk gown based on those worn in India, China and Japan. It was worn at home as a sort of dressing gown or informal coat over the shirt and breeches. The typical banyan was cut en chemise, with the sleeves and body cut as one piece. It was usually paired with a soft, turban-like cap worn in place of the formal periwig. An alternative style of banyan was cut like a coat, fitted, with set-in sleeves, and was closed with buttons and buttonholes.
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Image copyright National Museums of Scotland
In the American colonies in the 1700s, the banyan was worn inside and outside the home. A banyan allowed a greater freedom of movementand often were very fully cut, with vast sleeves, and bore no actual closure whatever.
They were most often made up in fairly heavy weight fabrics, and were typically far more spectacular in color and pattern than a man’s everyday wear. Costly silk brocades, tapestry fabrics, and rare imported stuffs from China, India, and the Middle East were the most sought after and admised by Europeans.
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Image copyright the V & A Museum London
his banyan and waistcoat are a unique blend of Chinese textiles and Western tailoring. They are clearly cut, tailored and sewn in a European style. The survival of the waistcoat and robe together is extraordinary.
Both have been made out of a silk woven especially for the Chinese Imperial Court. There were specific garments known as ‘dragon robes’ to be worn at court in China, and these were usually not available for export to the West. They were richly brocaded in gold and coloured silks with dragons on the front and back of the robe and stylised landscape borders. Dark blue, along with yellow and black were the colours worn by the Emperor and his family, according to occasion. Imperial dragons always had five toes; the four-toed dragons depicted here were intended for a relative of the Emperor. The landscape includes mountains, associated in Chinese symbolism with happiness, and rivers, representing longevity. The colours used, design and quality of weaving are typical of silk to the late Jia Qing dynasty or 1800 to 1825.
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In the American colonies in the 1700s,  the banyan was worn inside and outside the home. A banyan allowed a greater freedom of movementand often were very fully cut, with vast sleeves, and bore no actual closure whatever.
image
They were most often made up in fairly heavy weight fabrics, and were typically far more spectacular in color and pattern than a man’s everyday wear. Costly silk brocades, tapestry fabrics, and rare imported stuffs from China, India, and the Middle East were the most sought after for banyans.
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Image copyright the V & A Museum London
This banyan is a rare example of a printed Toile de Nantes, intended to be furnishing fabric, but here made up as a very masculine garment, cut to conform to the height of male fashion. The printed textile, depicting the army uniforms that influenced mainstream dress, looks back to popular military scenes of the Napoleonic Wars.
While Jouy, in northern France, became most well known for producing plate-printed cottons, Nantes (in the west) was also an important centre for textile printing in France. Nothing is known of Jamet, the engraver, not even his first name, and only five toiles of his design are known to have survived.
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