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Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade,
1500–1800

September 16, 2013–January 5, 2014

Looking East, Looking West

A Portuguese (detail). Islamic, mid-17th century. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; Page: H. 12 1/4 in. (31.1 cm) W. 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1955 (55.121.23)

By the end of the seventeenth century, objects imported through the well-established maritime trade routes between Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas served as conduits of information about the cultures that produced them. Although not always accurate, the textual and visual material from books, engravings, and decorative objects—especially textiles—that moved around the globe stimulated an intense interest in what was deemed "exotic." Images of fantastic flora, fauna, architecture, and people portrayed in paint, ivory, porcelain, and silk reveal how Europeans imagined China, India, and Turkey, as well as how those living in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia envisaged the newly arrived Europeans. The resulting designs and artworks demonstrate a shared curiosity between East and West, marked at times by wonder, misunderstanding, and even parody.

Fashion was also an effective medium for engaging the exotic. In Europe and America elite men donned Asian-inspired dressing gowns and women posed for portraits wearing alluring Turkish robes. These choices, represented in many objects throughout the exhibition, illustrate the status exotic garments conferred on their wearers, who wanted to project an aura of refined worldliness.

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