Yorke Antique Textiles

A collection of antique and vintage textiles from around the world

Item Details
Palembang, Sumatra, Indonesia
circa 1900
"A sumptuous ceremonial headcloth (iket kepala) made in Palembang in south Sumatra, which was famous for its luxury textiles, especially in this combination of supplementary gold weaving (songket) over silk weft ikat (limar). The ikat centerfield is framed on all sides by red panels scattered with songket rosettes and boxed stars, and tiny embroidered silk flowers in bright colors. The panels are themselves framed in gleaming double borders of star and X motifs, that give a luxurious formality to the piece, and carry a large and unusual architectural motif at the corners. The supplementary weaving is particularly refined and precise, and the gold thread is the highest of 3 grades (mas jantong) which has retained its color, luster and shine undimmed over time. The centerfield contrasts the soft ikat pattern with the sharp brightness of the songket borders, and is executed in 4 colors, the premium kind of ikat highly prized for its rich effect—cherry red with touches of orange and violet blue on a very rare, beautiful green ground. The 8-petalled rosettes arranged in a grid are adopted from the Indian patola silk textiles. An extremely charming effect is created by the same scattered gold motifs used in the borders across one corner of the centerfield—this corner was meant to be shown when the cloth was wrapped around the head, and gives a dynamic appeal to the stable square format. A rare and wonderful example of the very attractive headcloth format, in a fine condition that brings out the rich, classic beauty of limar songket. Palembang has an ancient history of political power, wealth and multi-cultural influences arising from its prime location on the south-east coast of Sumatra for trade through the Straits of Malacca. It is the site of the 7th – 8th C kingdom of Srivijaya, and was later a major center along the spice route, where Arab, Chinese and European traders exchanged pepper, silk, gold, and spices. Its culture was distinguished by elaborate, richly decorated jewelry and textiles, especially in gold: the more sumptuous the display of gold on the textiles worn, the greater the wealth and prestige of the wearer's family (Maxwell, 182). This piece is one of the legendary “cloth of gold” worn by the wealthy class in Palembang at the lavish feasts that amazed 19th century European travelers. The design adapts the format and 8-pointed patola star pattern of the highly prized Indian silk patola textiles traded to the Indonesian archipelago for many centuries. The wide-spread, enduring appeal of the patola star may be due to its philosophical resonance: the 8 directions arranged around a 9th central point were part of Indic cosmology (Maxwell, 347); over time, the star became more floral, as in this piece. The social functions of the rich, light and colour-reflecting appearance of metallic-threaded textiles were important in later Islamicized cultures, whose courts emulated the cultivation of the courtly arts in the Mughal and Ottoman empires, employing lavish songket embroidery on textiles that were sometimes modeled directly on Indian and Turkish imports. Songket textiles are closely identified in Southeast Asia with Malay-Islamic cultures, many of which are still renowned for their embroidery on court and ceremonial costumes—the very rare green ground is of course the Islamic color. This textile is in excellent condition, and appears amazingly fresh for its age. There is a green discoloration (often seen on songket textiles, apparently caused by oxidation of the metallic thread reacting with the natural dyes); a minute repair in a very similar silk patch and a few tiny holes in the borders are not very apparent. The colors are vivid and glowing: the red is rich and deep, the violet is very lively, the orange is deep and bright, and the green in particular is a lovely shade that varies from a more mint to a more olive tone, depending on the light. The gold-wrapped thread has remained untarnished, with a warm yellow color and a fine, undimmed luster and glitter. The silk is slightly stiff, heavy, crisp, with a gleaming sheen and slightly nubbly texture. The piece has been attached to a piece of light, soft, gray gauze, presumably for framing—this can probably be removed, and has come partially loose along one edge. A nearly perfect and really beautiful piece of Palembang limar songket that will brighten any collection, this displays very nicely." 35" x 35"
Contact Us About This Item