Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Panel from a Tent Lining (Qanat)

Object Name:
Panel
Date:
17th century
Geography:
Attributed to India, Deccan
Medium:
Cotton; plain weave, mordant dyed and painted, resist-dyed
Dimensions:
Textile: L. 103 in. (261.6 cm) W. 50 in. (127 cm) Mount: L. 114 1/4 in. (290.2 cm) W. 59 in. (149.9 cm) D. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm) Wt. 165 lbs. (74.8 kg)
Classification:
Textiles-Painted and/or Printed
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1931
Accession Number:
31.82.1
Not on view
The size, shape, and design of this panel tell us that it was probably once joined to a series of similar panels that would have enclosed an outdoor space. These textiles, known as qanats, were used in gardens within the palace compound and for camping during overland journeys. The central motif of a flowering plant is a fantastic hybrid of blossoms including irises and Chinese lanterns.
Framed within a cusped arch, a tall plant with purple and red flowers and green leaves, silhouetted against a white background and flanked by smaller plants, forms the central motif of this textile panel. Tiny stylized clouds float above and behind the plant. The size, shape, and design of the panel indicate that it was probably once joined to a series of similar units and used to enclose an outdoor space. The fact that an identical piece is held by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu,[1] supports this interpretation, as do several contemporary paintings depicting such enclosures, often made of textiles with this exact scheme of ogival frame and flowering plant. These textiles, known as qanats, were used in garden spaces within the palace compound and for encampments during journeys. The Mughal chronicle the A’in-i Akbari mentions that Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) owned several sets of qanats and that they were set up in advance of his arrival at each camping ground.[2]


The production of this textile is attributed to the Deccan region of India, known for the complicated dyeing technique, called kalamkari, used to create it. Elements of the drawing and color palette also suggest this place of origin. The panel, however, later found its way to the northern part of the country, as indicated by a seal on the back identical to those on textiles from the treasury of the Kachhwaha rulers at the Amber Palace in Rajasthan.[3] By studying the seals and marks on dozens of textiles, scholars have been able to reconstruct parts of the Kachhwaha collection, which was dispersed around the world in the early twentieth century, and to date many textiles that otherwise lacked a context.[4] This research has brought to light two facts relevant to the Museum’s panel: first, that the Kachhwaha treasury contained many dyed textiles from the Deccan, which provide evidence of an Indian market for works otherwise best known in the context of trade with Europe and Iran; and second, that these textiles can be attributed to the seventeenth century or earlier, for that is the date by which they were recorded in the treasury.

Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]

Footnotes:

1. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, no. DDFIA 83.13.


2. Abu’l Fazl ‘Allami. The A’in-i Akbari by Abu’l Fazl ‘Allami. Translated by H[enry F.] Blochmann and H[enry] S. Jarrett; edited by D[ouglas]
C[raven] Phillott. 3rd ed. 3 vols. 1927–49. Calcutta, 1977, vol. 1, p. 47.


3. The Museum owns three other painted textiles from this collection, all rumals decorated with figural scenes (acc. nos. 28.159.1–.3).


4. Smart, Ellen S. “A Preliminary Report on a Group of Important Mughal Textiles.” Textile Museum Journal 25 (1986), pp. 5–23, and Thompson, Jon. “Shaped Carpets Found in the Jaipur Treasury.” In In Quest of Themes and Skills: Asian Textiles, edited by Krishna Riboud, pp. 48–51. Bombay, 1989.


Burhanpur figures in the mid-seventeenth-century reports of many foreign merchants as a center for good-quality textiles. As French diamond dealer and traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier wrote, "There is a large trade in this town, and both at Burhánpur itself and in all the province an enormous quantity of very transparent muslins are made, which are exported to Persia, Turkey, Muscovie, Poland, Arabia, Grand Cairo, and other places. Some of these are dyed various colours and with flowers."[1]

This tent panel is typical of the products of Burhanpur, and its ornamentation derives from the Mughal floral style that also spread to designs for bidri ware, carpets, and other decorative objects. Linking this piece most strongly to Burhanpur is the central flower, similar to the one in Tavernier’s description, and the flowering plants painted in the niches of the tomb of Bilqis Begum (Image of Interior Wall Paintings, Kharbuza Mahal (Melon-Shaped Hall), Tomb of Bilqis Begum, Burhanpur, ca. 1632). But a strong element of Deccani fantasy still prevails. The plant sprouts different blossoms on each stem, including an iris and a Chinese lantern, a flower mentioned in poetic descriptions of Deccani gardens.[2]


A defaced inscription on the back of the panel is illegible but has long been thought to be an inventory note from Amber, the northern Indian palace of Mirza Raja Jai Singh I (reigned 1622–67).[3] This suggestion was confirmed by the discovery of an inscription on another panel from the same tent lining that states the textiles were inventoried at Amber on a.h. 16 Jumada al-Thani 1076 (December 23, 1665).[4] The inscription not only links this panel to the collection at the Amber palace but also places its production prior to 1665, and therefore closer in date to the construction of Bilqis Begum’s tomb around 1632.


Marika Sardar in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)


Footnotes:


1. Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste, "Travels in India". Translated by V. Ball. 2 vols. London: Macmillan. 1889, vol. 1, p. 51.

2. Ali Akbar Husain, personal communication to Navina Najat Haidar, 2011.

3. Smart, Ellen S., "A Preliminary Report on a Group of Important Mughal Textiles." Textile Museum Journal 25, 1986, p. 14.

4. This panel is in the Doris Duke Foundation of Islamic Art (83.13). Inscription as found and read by Rahul Jain; personal communication to Navina Najat Haidar, February 21, 2014.
Kachhwaha Royal Treasury, Amber Palace, Rajasthan, India (in 17th century); [ Imre Schwaiger, London, until 1931; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015, no. 181.

Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 181, pp. 304-305, ill. pl. 181 (color).



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