pages 22-23 pages 26-27 

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Indian (Coromandel Coast) for the European Market, ca. 1700–1740

Throughout Mughal rule in India (1525–1858), decorative arts reflected a pronounced artistic interest in native flora and fauna. Courtiers and members of the upper echelons of society favored carpets, textiles and clothing patterned with birds and animals amongst rocky landscapes, shimmering ponds and naturalistic vegetation. In a fortuitous development for trading purposes, Mughal tastes and those of Europeans overlapped in the eighteenth century; this exceptional chintz palampore, made by Indian textile artisans for export to Europe, brilliantly captures this cross-cultural confluence.

In the West, the fashionable vogue for chinoiserie, which in the eighteenth century alluded to anything of Eastern (and not specifically Chinese) origin, encouraged exoticism in materials and design. Seen here is the iconic Tree of Life, an instantly identifiable motif of eighteenth-century Eastern and Western symbolic importance. The graceful branches, rendered in soft shades of purple, display a pronounced bark texture with scrolling flourishes. Exuberant blossoms, some recognizable as tulips and densely-petaled peonies, were painted in intense red hues and highlighted with detailed filigree patterns. The sumptuous palette of this painted-and-dyed cotton remains rich and saturated centuries after its creation—even shades of green, the most fugitive of all colors, retain their original luminosity.

Animal and avian denizens of this luxuriant paradise are abundant. Birds of paradise alight on leafy perches, while a diminutive yet regal peacock hovers at center, amidst flamboyant foliage; near a lobed leaf with beaded edges, a hummingbird plunges in the direction of an inviting peony bloom, and nearby (also repeated in two other areas) a startled-looking owl peers straight out from the painted surface. At the base of the tree on the craggy, scalepatterned mound, two spindly-legged cranes—their plumage shaded with delicate hatch marks—dip their beaks into clear blue ponds teeming with fish. Above this tranquil scene, two squirrels with wispy, fringed tails scurry up and down the tree’s trunk. A parrot dangling a hooded cobra from its beak in a deadly embrace adds the final flourish of exoticism to the composition. The sophistication and liveliness of these animal depictions are quintessential of Mughal art.

At once exotic and familiar, this palampore would have been perfectly suited to European interior furnishing schemes. Despite the absence of its original borders, this highly refined palampore demonstrates the combination of superb workmanship with the fertile imaginations of artisans working in eighteenth-century India.

89” H x 50.75” W

pages 22-23 pages 26-27  
Painted-And-Dyed Cotton Palampore

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