" A lovely old batik cloth hand-drawn in Lasem on the north coast of Java for export to the batik market in Sumatra, and a mystery piece: it has the format of a shouldercloth, with wide end panels similar to the type used as a baby carrier (gendongan), but is much too short for this purpose. It may have been made to order as a ceremonial covering cloth. The class of pattern is known by its classic red and blue colors as bang-biru, appropriate for married women and weddings.
The centerfield has a classic, free-flowing design of 4 phoenixes amidst flowering vines, in deep lacquer red and blue on a fresh white ground. Particularly striking are the red end panels, which show an unusual treatment of the teardrop-shaped paisley motif connected and enclosed in an intense organic pattern by irregular squares traced in leafy stalks. Separating the end panel from the centerfield is a blue band with a small vine outlined in sparkling dots, and the borders framing the entire pattern like a picture have a pretty, also unusual, treatment of the banji (swastika) motif. An extremely charming and unique piece in both format and design, drawn with a lively vigor and spontaneity.
This piece was collected in Sumatra, and its exceptionally rich red identifies it as made in Lasem, which was famous for its intense red dye that appealed to the large export market in the wealthy southern Sumatran cities, where red was the favorite, fundamental textile color. The premium set on color is shown in the Lasem classification of batiks by their color combinations, not by motifs: bang-bangan (red /cream); bang-biru (red /cream/ blue); bang-biru-ijo (red /cream /blue /green). Hence Lasem batiks are often designed with the colors as the primary elements. The outlining of motifs with white dots was a style of drawing fashionable in north coast batiks before WWII, in the 1930s, especially on the head panel (kepala) of sarongs, and helps identify the age of the piece.
The batik is in very good condition, with 1 repair and a few tiny holes—the repair and 2 most obvious holes are noted in the images, the other holes are barely visible unless the cloth is held up to the light. The red and blue are vivid and unfaded, and the cotton is of high quality, heavy, a little crisp with age, fresh and strong. 58" x 33 ".