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Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade,
1500–1800

September 16, 2013–January 5, 2014

Indian Painted and Printed Cottons: Inspiration and Imitation

Length of chintz (detail). Indian (Coromandel Coast), first quarter 18th century. Cotton; Overall: 153 x 46 in. (388.6 x 116.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Rogers Fund, and Gerald G. Stiebel and Werwaiss Family Charitable Trust Gifts, 2005 (2005.166)

Colorful and colorfast Indian cottons were prized all around the world from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Their vibrant designs were either painted by hand or printed with carved wood blocks. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, these all-cotton textiles were washable, lightweight, and largely affordable. Indian textile producers understood their customers' diverse design and color preferences, and catered to the tastes of people in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Merchants often worked with Indian producers to design saleable products for particular markets.

The height of Indian technical and commercial dexterity is evident in the multicolored palampores used as bedcovers and hangings that were favored by Europeans. These luxuriant hand-painted cottons usually depict a central Tree of Life from which a variety of fantastic flowers bloom.

Intricately patterned Indian cottons were also popular for clothing in Europe. Fearing that imports would damage the local wool and linen industries, England and France responded in the early eighteenth century by barring the domestic use of Indian cottons and began printing their own imitations. Whether motivated by economic competition or creative fancy, European printed textile designs during this period reveal the influence of India.

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