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Silk-embroidered colcha
Indian (Bengal) for the Portuguese market, second half of 17th century
121 x 90 in. (307.3 x 228.6 cm)

Embroidered in chain stitch with a tambour hook or ari on a deep blue satin ground, this colcha displays a dense network of symmetrical yet flowing floral vines, incorporating stylized tulips, peonies, lotuses, carnations, and whimsical blossoms. Borders, enclosing a rhythmic succession of balanced flowerheads, separate the panel into nine rectilinear sections. At the center, an octagonal medallion contains two birds, of ambiguous significance, craning their necks to reach the nectar inside two yellow flowers, set atop four round motifs (possibly a misinterpreted coat of arms). Wide-eyed "wild men," with pointed beards and curled mustaches, in leafy loincloths and European hats, appear at the corners.

The floriated style is a mingling of international decorative styles, influenced by the Northern European fashion for still-life paintings, botanical prints, and floral marquetry, and the Mughal court style of Bombay, which had, in turn, developed its own reciprocal taste for European goods, embroidery in particular. The "wild men" (apparently unique to this colcha) may be derived from Germanic tapestries and prints.

The most potent influence on this and other floral colchas was probably the so-called Louis XIII carpets, themselves an attempt to imitate and surpass Persian examples. They typically feature lush florals on dark green or brown backgrounds, and, like colchas, could be used on tables.

The chain stitches on this piece do not resemble the minute mochi work of Gujarat, but rather the later kanthas produced in Bengal. A small group of similar colchase, on indigo blue satin ground with octagonal central medallions and nearly identical floral motifs, suggests a common workshop operating in the latter half of the seventeenth century, probably in Satgaon (Rhode Island School of Design, 1996.99 and Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 4594 Tec).

For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg 2018 catalogue.

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