Art

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London is currently featuring a retrospective of the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. In addition to the main exhibition space, Yohji pieces are also tucked into rooms throughout the museum, interacting with the permanent collection of varying regions and time periods. One of the best satellite spots was in the V&A’s tapestry hall, which boasts some of the most important European tapestries preserved from the 15th century.

There were three Yohji Yamamoto ensembles on mannequins at the center of the large and virtually silent gallery, darkened to protect the aging textiles. The pieces were from Yamamoto’s Autumn/Winter 1995-96 Collection. Two were coats of red felt and one of black. Underneath the thick red wool, black dresses accented with black mesh were layered. The red and black palette and the weighty, stiffened nature of the wool interacted perfectly with the heavy tapestries draping the walls all around.

One of the largest and most memorable tapestries in the room was the The Swan and Otter Hunt, a wool textile woven from about 1430-40 in the Southern Netherlands is part of a group of four called the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries which hung at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire in the 16th century.

The theme of the hunt was particularly powerful and represented a privileged pastime. Hunting was an activity of sport and practicality; in this scene, otters were hunted for their pelts and to control their effect on the fish population needed for human consumption. Swans were hunted for their meat, and in this tapestry boys are seen robbing a swan’s nest of eggs. A bear hunt is seen on the right, the bears struggling to fight back against hunters dressed as Saracens in turbans. Fancy dress and costumes at tournaments and feasts was a popular feature of court life.

The visual style of this tapestry is unlike the others in the room, depicting the figures and their surroundings in a naturalistic but not illusionistic manner. Bold colors and strong lines define the images, and yet there are equally careful details, like the simple chain of the drawbridge. A perfect match for Yamamoto.

-EM

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