Situated on the north coast of west Java, Cirebon is one of the oldest surviving royal centres in Indonesia. It is famous for distinctive designs that draw on ancient indigenous symbols, Hindu Javanese narratives and Chinese imagery. Fantastic landscapes are often depicted, with Chinese influence most clearly seen in the compositions of layered rocks and clouds prominently portrayed on Cirebon’s cotton batiks. Fragrant garden (taman sari or taman arum) designs comprise horizontal bands of rocky mounds and mountains, filled with and sometimes even composed of real and mythical creatures. Shrines for pilgrimage and grottos for meditation can often be found among the forest peaks and groves.
Suitable for both men and women of the royal court, this rare nineteenth-century skirt cloth displays the distinctive blues, purples and pinks of Cirebon natural dyes. Close inspection reveals craggy elephants, spotted kijang deer, snakes and serpents, rabbits, monkeys, and various types of birds. In between are pools where fish and crustaceans swim among the lotuses. The most important motif is the shrimp-mermaid archer, Dewi Urang Ayu, daughter of a great sea god and the wife of Bima, a hero of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008