EXHIBITION: “Kingfisher Headdresses from China” at The Art Institute of Chicago

Cap, China, Qing dynasty (1644–1912), 18th–19th century
“While at first glance the vivid turquoise portions of this cap appear to be stone, they are in fact delicate kingfisher feathers, precisely cut and carefully pasted in place. At the center, a phoenix with a peacock-like tail is flanked by a pair of dragons.” [AIC]

The vivid feathers were expensive, with the most prized specimens imported from Cambodia and Vietnam. Artisans cut them to shape before painstakingly pasting the feathers onto gilded metal backing that formed the structure of the headdresses. Precious and semiprecious stones such as rubies, agate, and jadeite as well as other valuable materials including amber, coral, and pearls added to the splendid effect. Although the most sumptuous examples were worn by empresses and consorts, aristocratic and wealthy women also wore kingfisher crowns and jewelry on special occasions such as birthdays and weddings. Popular motifs—bats, butterflies, dragons, and phoenixes—symbolized various aspects of good fortune.

This exhibition brings together over 20 objects crafted from these extraordinarily beautiful feathers, all promised gifts from Barbara and David Kipper. They include ornate headdresses as well as smaller pieces of jewelry and hairpins, which provided a less cumbersome touch of glamour.

Source: Kingfisher Headdresses from China | The Art Institute of Chicago

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