"An exquisite early batik shouldercloth hand-drawn in Lasem on the north coast of Java by Peranakan Chinese batik-makers with an elegant design that closely follows the style and format of the typical Indo-Chinese sarong of the period. The 4 repetitions of a flowering tree sweeping to the left is a subtle but effective departure from the usual symmetrical tree, a movement the eye is led to follow by a bird and butterfly hovering at its tips. The composition sustains its balance but the upward reaching star-shaped leaves, echoed in the stamens of the flowers. Large red flowers give a vivid accent to the otherwise rich and subdued color composition of red-brown, sea green, and cerulean blue.
The geometric end panels form a regular, solid base for the asymmetry of the centerfield by recreating the traditional head panel of the sarong, in which a row of alternate short and tall upright triangles are joined at the points to form a grid of diamonds between them—here, each end presents one half of such a head panel. The triangles are filled with a flower on a sprig, and the diamonds with flowing geometric figures. The collage of motifs that often appears crowded in this format is remarkably harmonious and gentle in this piece.
Of special note is the remarkable lightness of touch created by the basketwork motif forming the background, and the older colors, which later gave way to brighter ones; the variation of rich tones in the (natural) red-brown is especially beautiful and gives the design great depth. While this color composition suggests that this batik was intended for (or at least influenced by the tastes of) the large export market in Sumatra or Malaysia, unlike many export pieces it is unusually finely drawn on high quality cotton, possibly indicating that it was specially commissioned. A wonderful and special batik executed with traditional, refined artistry.
This batik originates in the heyday of north coast Chinese batik on Java, from the workshops of the Peranakan Chinese batik makers in Lasem which were well known for their high quality. Its design format embeds the evolution of the traditional sarong design, which originally had separate end panels of a row of triangles on a plain ground, after the typical design of Indian batiks from the Coromandel coast. In the second half of the 19th C, these end panels were joined to form a single head panel, placed at the side or middle of the cloth, and eventually the geometric grid created by joining the points of the triangles took over as the dominant element of the panel. By splitting the panel into 2 halves at the ends, but retaining the richly decorated grid of diamonds, this piece shows both the development and the origins of the showpiece of north coast batik.
The shouldercloth is in excellent condition. There are no holes, stains, or tears, the colors are rich and deep, though there is a little light fading of the blue in one end panel. The cotton is of the finest quality, smooth, waxy, crisp and cool to
the touch. "