Parasol. Dupuy. French. Cotton, wood, metal, porcelain. 1900–08. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Paul Pennoyer, 1965 2009.300.2535
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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 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.)

Goddess and Attendants. India. Terracotta. H. 10 1/2 in.; W. 7 7/8 in., 1st century B.C.–1st century A.D. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1990 1990.281

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.

En tout cas. American. Silk, wood, metal, synthetic. 1920–29. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the estate of Theodora Wilbour, 1947 2009.300.2363

“The Actors Nakamura Tomijirō in the Role of Ono no Komachi and Sanogawa Ichimatsu in the Role of Her Servant.” Torii Kiyohiro (Japanese, active ca. 1737–66). Edo period (1615–1868). Polychrome woodblock print (beni-e); ink and color on paper. H. 12 1/8 in.; W. 5 3/4 in., ca. 1756. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Estate of Samuel Isham, 1914 JP842

Parasols (from the Italian para-, against, and the Latin sol, sun) and umbrellas (from the Latin umbra, shade) became fashionable accessories in the 18th century. These terms have been used interchangeably, though the latter is associated more with rain. The unusual hybrid en tout cas (“in any event”) pictured above 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. The frilly version shown here is one example.

Parasol. French. Silk, metal, wood, ivory. 1860–69. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the trustees of Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, 1969 2009.300.2587

Indeed, the chic 19th-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, including Claude Monet, below.

“Garden at Sainte-Adresse.” Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926). Oil on canvas, 38 5/8 x 51 1/8 in., 1867. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1967 67.241

Our folding Renaissance Ornament Umbrella adds a touch of Italian style, $28. The American Tree of Life Stick Umbrella features a pattern borrowed from a beautiful quilt in the American Wing at The Met, $45.

Discover a range of exclusive umbrellas at The Met Store, all inspired by 5,000 years of art.

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