Pekalongan - European Fairy Tales


Towards the end of the 19th century with the expansion of Dutch colonial power, completely new batik designs with naturalistic images began to appear.  The themes of these batik designs included boats, trains, card games, fans, bicycles, bank-notes and coins, and European fairy-tales.  The European fairy-tales which were popular as themes for batik designs included Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty but Red Riding Hood was especially popular.  Fairy- tales were popular as batik designs from around 1900 until 1920.  The Indo-European made versions of these themes were also made in Javanese and Chinese workshops, with interesting variations occurring.

Please click on all images to enlarge.

Detail 1- Red Riding Hood (Roodkapje) theme was very popular as a theme for European and Indo-European batik-makers from about 1900 to 1920.  These themes were also adopted by the Javanese and Chinese batik-makers with some very interesting variations in interpretation occurring.  The Chinese maker of this cloth has chosen to supplement this design with the integration of fish and prawns into the borders of the work as well as two lobsters into the kepala!
[Photo Mick Richards].

The variations that occur in the batik designs with the Red Riding Hood (Roodkapji) theme are many.  This does not depend on the maker being Indo-European or Chinese or Javanese.  Eliza van Zuylen produced works with a particular theme that differed from others she had produced with that theme and differed again to others executed by her colleagues, with the same theme.  Perhaps this may have been an attempt by each batik-maker to personalise the design as many batik workshops including van Zuylen's, worked from large drawings purchased from freelance artists.  Hence all workshops who purchased the large drawings began with identical patterns.  The large drawings were used as the support for the wax tracings.

The background of this cloth is decorated with a classic Javanese motif, the banji (Detail 1).  The basis of this motif is the swastika.  The word 'banji' is of Chinese origin and carries symbolic meaning for the Chinese of happiness, wealth and prosperity.  There is certainly a feeling of happiness as the wolf strides along-side Little Red Riding Hood who is carrying a bunch of flowers. 

The format of kain sarungs had gradually changed over time.  Initially the kepala bisected the badan then later it was placed at one end of the cloth and finally in Indo-European designed cloths the kepala was placed at one hand's width from the end of the cloth.  The Chinese batik-maker of this cloth has adopted the Indo-European format as seen below and in Detail 2.

The borders at the top and bottom of this cloth are symmetrical. The same design is used in the outer edges of the kepala.  The bow border consists of unrecognisable flowering creepers which have been interwoven with fish and prawns.  The drawing style of the large lobsters in the kepala and the fish and prawns in the borders reminds me of the Indramayu style except in this work, the flow of line is not as free.  There is an outer edge of small vertical lines at both the top and bottom.  These vertical lines appear to be further apart then seen in earlier examples.

Pekalongan, 1900 - 1920
Skirt cloth kain sarung
Cotton, synthetic dyes; batik tulis
Greg Roberts & Ian Reed Collection
[Photo Mick Richards]

Note the variations in the colour of each wolf with the left and right wolf being blue and the wolf in the middle is red.  Also the batik-maker has varied the colours used in the hem line of Red Riding Hood's dress: again the left and right are the same colours and the middle one is different.  An aubergine colour applied by hand over red, has also been used sparingly and with no consistency- on the odd flower or leaf, and all prawn heads.  It is as if it was a new colour that had to be utilised by the batik-maker!


Detail 2- kepala with diagonal bands- the use of diagonal bands, dlorong, in the kepala was one of the decorative innovations introduced by the Indo-European designers at the turn of the 19th century.  The central panel within the diagonal band of the kepala consists of only plant forms- creepers with cream stems and tendrils, blue leaves and red flower buds all placed on a green background.  The large central band has three smaller diagonal bands on each side.  The centre band of these three smaller diagonal bands are the more dominate because of the use of the cream colour and its width being double that of the other two. 
Intriguingly, the design of the two red triangle shapes each side of the central diagonal band, consists of a large lobster interwoven with flowering creepers.  For me, this combination of marine and plant forms is very unusual!  The design and use of colour and line in both the kepala and borders almost disguises the marine forms.   
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 3-  apart from the wolf displaying his vicious teeth the scene seems one of happiness.  Birds and butterflies flutter above her amongst the flowering trees.  In Eliza van Zuylen, Liem Metzelaar and other Indo-European batik-makers' versions of this theme the trees were usually more European in style and rarely were flowering.  The slender roots of each tree reach down into the soil unlike many of the European designs where the roots were thick and heavy.   Her clothing and the basket she carries on her left arm, are European in style.  The Peranakan Chinese batik-maker of this cloth has combined both Chinese and European design elements.  The actual design of the tree that is, the placement of branches and leaves, does have similarities to one produced by Lies van Zuylen on a kain panjang in 1900 (Batik from the north coast of Java- Fabric of Enchantment, Catalogue no. 34, p. 140).

It is interesting to compare the design of the flowering tree in this batik with those in the two earlier posts.  All three batiks were produced by Peranakan Chinese batik-makers and have been influenced by the buketan style.
[Photo Mick Richards]

Detail 4- highlights the use of the banji pattern as background. The banji pattern (its basis is the swastika)  is the oldest type of ornamental motif used for batik.  Red Riding Hood is dressed in European designed clothes and carries a basket over her left arm, which is also European influenced in designed.  This section of the border highlights the incorporation of  sea-creatures including fish and prawns, into the floral border. The fish and prawns are not immediately recognisable as they have been cleverly interwoven with the floral elements.
[Photo Mick Richards] 

Detail 5- this cloth could be given as a present to a young woman expressing the hope that she will be happy in marriage.  The tree is certainly full of life, the birds are singing, the butterflies flutter freely and it is a rich red that holds the work together.
[Photo Mick Richards]  


Maxwell, Robyn J.  Textiles of Southeast Asia: Tradition, Trade, and Transformation.  Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd, 2003 design and National Gallery of Australia and Robyn Maxwell, 2003 text.

Heringa, Rens and Veldhuisen, Harmen C.  Fabric of Enchantment- Batik from the North Coast of Java.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Weatherhill, Inc.,1996.

Van Roojen, Pepin.  Batik Design.  Amsterdam: The Pepin Press, 2001.

See you again soon and as always, I would love to hear your comments, thank you.


  1. Hello Greg,
    Great blog! Interesting informations about Batiks.
    I have a question about the Red Riding Hood Batik above.
    Is it signed or know who made this Batik?
    And where is it now (depot of museum)?

    Thank you,
    Best regards,
    Sabine Bolk (The journey to Batik)

  2. Thank you sincerely Sabine for your kind words and for responding to the blog. It is marvellous to have a response to the art work. The batik is not signed unlike many of the Indo-European versions of the same theme. It is a very interesting work and one which always entices closer investation.

    The batik works I discuss on this blog, including Red Riding Hood, are from our personal collection.
    My best always,
    Greg Roberts.

    1. Wauw, really nice to have such a beautiful Batik in your own collection! And to have such a collection!
      Thanks for the extra information!
      Best of wishes,
      Sabine Bolk

  3. hi,i was proud to be a pekalongan batik designer.

  4. I love batik Indonesia too.
    now I'll develop the Batik Bekasi motif to add the motif Batik Indonesia collection.
    greet from Batik Bekasi

  5. The various batik designs included many famous characters. They differed with the author's interpretation and some other features from the traditional ones.

  6. This was really interesting to read. Non-Central Javanese batik in general is overlooked let alone colonial-era, very different and beautiful designs.

  7. Are these types of batik still being made and sold? Unfortunately I never see this type of batik at Indonesian exhibitions in Europe.


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