October 10, 2011

At the Met: Pattern

Jar (Guan), China, Neolithic period, ca. 2650-2350 B.C.; earthenware with painted decoration.

I try to go the the Metropolitan Museum of Art each time I go to NYC because I enjoy it so much. Even after visits over many years I feel as though I'm discovering new things. Taking photographs helps me see even more, pay attention to more. Sometimes I come up with a theme to focus on while I'm in the museum, but for this trip I had decided beforehand to go on a treasure hunt for pattern, since I was using it in my recent textile work. Although not alone in this – crows line their nests with shiny objects – our species has decorated the most common of objects for centuries. I'm very drawn to the simple, dramatic forms of ancient pottery, and this example, with irregular circles on the upper part of the jar, is very engaging. The small handles repeat the circles, while the narrow neck contrasts with a web of crossed lines.

Vase; late Roman, found in La Guierce, central France; made 250-300 AD; copper alloy with champlevé enamel.

Another beautiful container, with a much more complex design. I love the way the curved forms are closed in the lines of red and green, open in the blue. The shapes draw our eye upward as they become smaller toward the neck of the vase.

Section of a marble mosaic bathhouse floor; Byzantine, from Antioch, Roman Syria (now Antakya, Turkey); 537-387 AD.

I love this pattern of a floor mosaic, less for its floral motif than for the way the lines of tesserae radiate outward and create interlocking arcs.

Infant's Sleeping Mat, probably I-Kirbati people, Kiribati, a Pacific Island; late 19th-early 20th century; pandanus leaves.

Surrounding repeating diamonds are delicate horizontal lines of black with bands of verticals. I love the way they meet at the center in a one-above-the-other weaving pattern. You can see that each center is a little different; whether this was deliberate or inadvertent doesn't matter to my enjoyment in seeing the variations.

Mask: Butterfly, Burkina Faso in Africa, Boni village, Bwa peoples; 19th -20th century; wood, paint.

The swooping triangles of the tips of the wings and central ears(?) are repeated over and over in a bold red and black. I can imagine that when used, a face behind that central square, a figure dancing, the mask would truly appear to fly.

Embroidered Patchwork Panel; China, late Yuan-early Ming, ca. 14th century; silk and gilt paper.

In the Korea gallery at the museum was a small show of patchwork, in which different pieces of fabric are sewn together to make the design. This ancient piece from China has repeating squares of color put together randomly, but the jump from one color to another creates a sense of rhythm nonetheless. The squares are embroidered with intricate designs, with details repeating from one square to another, making a very elegant textile.

Miniature Dress, Peru, Inca, 12th - 13th century; feathers on cotton.

There were two fantastic little feathered dresses in the show, each 10 or 12 inches high. Brightly colored bird feathers were prized in ancient Peru and were used to decorate clothing and textiles. The miniatures might have been used in religious ceremonies. I love the alternating bands of color and the way the feathers are cut into stepped shapes. Imagine having a dress like this!

Patchwork Wrapping Cloth (detail), Korea, ca. 1950-80; silk.

This was not the most interesting of the three Korean patchwork textiles on display, but what I liked about this detail was the careful piecing of the floral motif, the raised edge along each petal, the tiny gathering of fabric at their centers. I can look at it as quite sentimental because of its sweet candy colors, but there are those spots of dark, and I love the repeating curved diamond shapes that are background, yet push themselves forward. It's a beautifully crafted piece of work, and along with others in this post, have me scribbling ideas for my own textiles.

I've written quite a few blog posts on collections at the Met. Here are links to previous posts:
Tang Dynasty Ceramics
Some Portraits
Flowers at the Met: Thinking of Spring
Sensuous Greek and Roman Sculpture
Relief Sculpture
Medieval Mourners
Buddhist Sculpture
Animals from Ancient Iran
Ancient Egypt, and Iran
Chinese Porcelain
The Greek and Roman Study Collection


  1. I always enjoy your forays to the Met. This is probably as close to being there that I will be.

  2. good finds Altoon, really enjoyed the tour and the surprises. your thematic treasure hunt is a great way to tour a familiar museum.

  3. Thanks, Lisa, I'm happy to share my experiences at the museum and glad you enjoy them.
    rappel, thanks. I'll have to come up with other topics for future forays.

  4. Thank you, Altoon, for the tour of interesting and beautiful works in the Met; I love pattern as well--it sort of exists on the edge of abstraction and realism, I think.

    The topic reminded me of a ceramicist who lives down the street from me and patterns his pots with only a church key. I thought you might enjoy looking at his work:

  5. I'm glad you liked the tour, Erik. And the work of your neighbor is very unusual and interesting; thanks for the link.

  6. I love it that you go to the museum so often and share it with us. It always feels so different than reading the NYT arts stories, like you are talking directly to us. And you have such a good eye!