Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection
Not on view
This striking Indian embroidery graphically illustrates the brutality that facilitated the growth of Europe’s maritime trade networks. Rival groups of infantrymen and cavalrymen face off across a field where dead soldiers lie among severed heads and limbs. Flags marking the Military Order of Christ (the red cross) and the Habsburg double-headed crowned eagle (lower left corner), suggest that this cover may have been a celebratory record of a Portuguese military victory. The Portuguese discovery of a direct sea route to India in 1498 led to numerous military conflicts on land and sea, with other powerful trading empires such as the Ottomans and Persians. By the early seventeenth century, their rivals included the British, French, and Dutch, who began to successfully challenge Portugal’s naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean.