pages 22-23 pages 26-27 

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Painted-And-Dyed Cotton Panel


Indian Export for the Siamese Market, 18th–19th c.

Created “in the fashion of Siam,” this chintz illustrates the remarkable achievements of Indian textile artisans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. High quality mordant-dyed cottons were made for Eastern and Western markets; the panel seen here was exported to neighboring Siam (now known as Thailand). There was great demand from the palace courts of Siam for these finely painted cloths—chintzes were not only worn as garments but also used for furnishings.

Painted-and-dyed textiles produced in India for Siamese royal patrons undoubtedly followed strict musters. Many incorporate motifs of Buddhist origin such as celestial figures and animals. Seen here, white devas—angel-like figures with their hands folded and pointed upward— are enveloped by purple palmettes set against a dark red ground. Deep plum-and-white spotted nagas, or snakes, form a lattice pattern around the ogival leafs. Below each palmette appears a small mythical figure with a pointed crown called a kirrtimukha. The contrasting shades of the paler red kirrtimukha and the rich, saturated red ground make the figures simultaneously stand out from and recede into the background, a surprising visual effect that was intentional. Borders of flame-like motifs, scrolling foliage and floral medallions painted in the same tones complete the precisely rendered pattern.

Painted-And-Dyed Cotton Panel (detail)

As an expression of piousness, members of the court often gifted their highly desirable imported Indian cottons to local Buddhist temples. Within the context of such sacred spaces, chintzes were displayed as banners and used as altar cloths or floor spreads. A sturdy piece of plain fabric sewn to the reverse suggests that this panel may have been used as a wall hanging; it is likely that this piece was cut from a long, rectangular skirt called a pha nung. Textiles as intricate as this were included in diplomatic exchanges to foreign leaders as impressive representations of the kingdom’s wealth.

This fine example was formerly in the collection of Dr. Henry Ginsburg (1940–2007), curator of Thai and Cambodian collections for the British Library from 1973 to 2003. A renowned scholar and connoisseur, Dr. Ginsburg collected rare and unusual eighteenth-and nineteenth-century chintzes made in India for Southeast Asian markets. Dr. Ginsburg shared his expertise on Thai manuscripts through his academic publications; his passion for textiles, however, was a very personal aspect of his intellectual pursuits.

An eighteenth-century pha nung fragment of identical design is in the Tapi Collection (01.200) and illustrated in Deepika Shah, Masters of the Cloth (2005), p. 28, figure 24; a related example is in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection (IS.58-1991), pictured in John Guy, Woven Cargoes: Indian Textiles in the East (1998), p. 129, figure 170.

51” H x 41” W
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