A charming Belle Epoque parasol from luxury maker Dupuy (French, 1900-1908)
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Rain or Shine: Umbrellas at the Met

As a shelter against the elements, the umbrella has been an indispensable accessory for thousands of years. The Met’s vast art collection houses a fascinating range of umbrellas and parasols, as well as images of them, from diverse cultures and periods.

Terracotta plaque with a goddess shielded by an umbrella (India, 1st century B.C.-1st century A.D.)

Terracotta plaque with a goddess shielded by an umbrella (India, 1st century B.C.—1st century A.D.)

The first umbrellas functioned as portable canopies, probably assembled from the broad leaves of a tree. Seen in ancient artifacts and sculptures from China, Egypt, Greece, and the Near East, they often indicated divine or royal status, and were generally entrusted to attendants to carry.

This delightful "en tout cas" has a spring-appropriate duck-headed handle (American, 1920-29)

This delightful “en tout cas” has a spring-appropriate duck-headed handle (American, 1920-29)

Two Kabuki actors in the play "Komachi Praying for Rain" (Japan, Edo period, ca. 1756)

Two Kabuki actors in the play “Komachi Praying for Rain” (Japan, Edo period, ca. 1756)

Parasols (from the Italian para-, against, and the Latin sol, sun) and umbrellas (from the Latin umbra, shade) became fashionable accessories in the eighteenth century. These terms have been used interchangeably, though the latter is associated more with rain. The unusual hybrid “en tout cas” (in any event) offered dual protection from both sun and rain.

During Japan’s Edo period, beautiful paper umbrellas enjoyed great popularity. They are frequently seen in colorful woodblock prints protecting users from sun, rain, and snow.

 

Queen Victoria started a trend for “carriage parasols” in the 1840s, which were used when riding in an open carriage. The fashion remained current for several decades.

A frilly carriage parasol with contrasting lace (French, 1860-69)

A frilly carriage parasol with contrasting lace (French, 1860-69)

Indeed, the chic nineteenth-century woman in Europe and America was rarely seen in public without a parasol, which safeguarded her complexion and showed off her discriminating taste. Such well-dressed ladies were depicted by many artists of the day.

Claude Monet's "Garden at Sainte-Adresse" of 1867 features two parasols

Claude Monet’s “Garden at Sainte-Adresse” of 1867 features two parasols

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