Kalamkari Hanging with Figures in an Architectural Setting
Not on view
Kalamkari, a multistep process for dying textiles by applying each color with a stylus (kalam) or by using resists, is a specialty of the Deccan region of India. Although the region produced many types of dyed textiles for export to Europe and Southeast Asia between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, this hanging is one of a small group decorated with multiple figures, made only in the early 1600s. This particular hanging was once attached to several other similar panels, and was probably used as a backdrop for royal ceremonies. Later the hanging was cut down and borders were added from two other textiles.
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Title:Kalamkari Hanging with Figures in an Architectural Setting
Geography:Attributed to India, Deccan
Medium:Cotton; plain weave, mordant-painted and dyed, resist-dyed
Dimensions:Textile: L. 100 in. (254 cm) W. 78 in. (198.1 cm) Mount: L. 107 1/8 in. (272.1 cm) W. 85 in. (215.9 cm) D. 2 1/2 inches (6.4 kg) Weight: 208 lbs (94.3 kg)
Classification:Textiles-Painted and/or Printed
Credit Line:Gift of Mrs. Albert Blum, 1920
Two Kalamkari hangings: nos. MMA 20.79 and Victoria and Albert Museum, London 687-1898
The figures on these two panels, once part of the same large hanging, include men and women in an array of fashions indicating their origins in Armenia, India, Iran, and western Europe. The somewhat naive depiction of figures and architectural features is quite different from that displayed in court painting of the time, but this can be explained by the fact that, similar to carpets and arms, these dyed textiles were not direct products of the court but rather created in places where the necessary materials were available. Yet, they provide interesting evidence for the circulation of European art in the Deccan, in addition to what can be gleaned from works on paper: the equestrian figure in The Metropolitan Museum of Art hanging (20.79) directly quotes an English portrait type of the 1620s and 1630s; while the men in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s hanging (687-1898) appear from their clothing to be Dutch of the same era and reproduced from an as-yet-unidentified source.
These panels, now in New York and London, were cut apart and framed with blue- and white-ground chintzes sometime in the nineteenth century. Using a textile of similar scale and layout from the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad, as a guide, one can reconstruct the original textile to which these fragments belonged: a grand hanging of approximately twenty-five feet in length with several panels like these flanking a central panel with figures on a larger scale. It was likely used to create an outdoor enclosure of the type used on special occasions in Hyderabad. A precursor to this type of tent lining in the Brooklyn Museum, dated to the 1620s, consists of seven adjoining panels, each with figures of a different ethnicity.
The effect of the enclosed space created by the hangings, in which viewers would have been surrounded by an array of figures from Indian, Persian, and European worlds, must have been overwhelming but seems to relate to an aesthetic that was widespread in the Deccan for covering the walls of palaces with paintings or textiles in a medley of subjects—great rulers, literary figures, angels, musicians, and dancers. Comparable works were also made for use in the Vijayanagara realms, and they also found a market in northern India. While neither of these panels has Amber inventory marks, the Calico Museum example includes such a mark.
Marika Sardar in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)
1- See the more detailed discussion in Sardar, Marika "A Seventeenth-Century Kalamkari Hanging at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." In Haidar, Navina Najat, and Marika Sardar, Eds,. Sultans of the South: Arts of India’s Deccan Courts, 1323–1687, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011, pp. 148–61. [Papers presented at the symposium "The Art of India’s Deccan Sultans" The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 24–26, 2008]
2- Both as identified by Irwin, John "Golconda Cotton Paintings of the Early Seventeenth Century.” Lalit Kalā, no. 5 (April), 1959, pp. 36–37.
3- Further fragments of this hanging or a related hanging may be identified in other museum collections, for example, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (39.8.1), and Victoria and Albert Museum, London (IS.16-1956).
4- Nina Gwatkin in Gittinger, "Master Dyers to the World: Technique and Trade in Early Indian Dyed Cotton Textiles." With contributions by Nina Gwatkin. Exh. cat. Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.; Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago; and Asia Society Gallery, New York. Washington, D.C.: Textile Museum. 1982, pp. 89–108.
5- One, formerly in a Japanese collection (Irwin, John, "Golconda Cotton Paintings of the Early Seventeenth, Century."Lalit Kalā, no. 5 (April), 1959, pp. 32–33, fig. 1), the other now held by the Association pour l’Étude et la Documentation des Textiles d’Asie, Paris (2221).
The impressive figural composition on this hanging, comprising two tiers of large-scale figures posed in an architectural setting with balconies and cupolas containing smaller figures surrounding them, appears to have been painted on the surface of its cotton support, but each element has actually been resist-dyed into the cloth. Reds and purples, for instance, were affixed by first covering those areas with a mordant, or fixative, and then applying a dye over the mordant. Blues were achieved by covering all the areas not meant to be that color with a coating of wax and then submerging the entire cloth in an indigo bath. Greens were obtained by painting yellow over the blue areas.
Currently, the hanging consists of six separate parts sewn together, with a border made up of seven additional sections from an entirely different piece of fabric. This combination of so many different pieces suggests that the hanging was cut down from a larger work. Indeed, there is a similar piece in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, that is believed to have once been attached to the Metropolitan Museum’s hanging. They were probably joined, along with several other panels, to form a hanging such as one in the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad. Displaying a similar arrangement of figures in an architectural framework, it measures, in its current, reduced condition, approximately seven by fourteen feet (213 × 426 cm), which suggests that its original length was at least twenty-eight feet (ca. 853 centimeters).
To understand the composition of this hanging, it helps to look at the local tradition of wall painting, which similarly mixed several subjects in different scales on the same surface. Perhaps this hanging was made to imitate the extensive murals once found in palaces and aristocratic homes in the Deccan. Note, too, that this work prominently features European figures—subject matter that was in vogue during the Mughal period.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. No. 687-1898. See Crill, Rosemary. Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West. Victorian and Albert Museum. London, 2008, p. 20.
2. Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad, no. 403. An appliqué panel in the Victoria and Albert Museum (no. IS.16-1956), with figures very similar to the smaller ones in this hanging, perhaps indicates how other fragments were cut up or otherwise disposed of. See ibid., p. 69.
3. See the discussion in IrwIrwin, John. “Golconda Cotton Paintings of the Early Seventeenth Century.” Lalit Kala, no. 5 (April 1959), pp. 19–27, pls. 1–20.
4. Nizam al-Din Ahmad, Mirza. Hadiqat al-Salatin Qutbshahi. Hyderabad, 1961, pp. 60–65. This seventeenth-century chronicle describes the walls of the Qutb Shahi royal palaces in Hyderabad as covered with images of the sultan, kings from around the world, and characters from Persian literature.
5. Attesting to the popularity of such images is British Ambassador Sir Thomas Roe’s mention that “pictures of the King of England, the Queene, my lady Elizabeth, the Countesse of Sommersett and Salisbury,” given to Shah Jahangir by Roe’s predecessor, William Edwards, could be found in the durbar hall of Mandu, decorated for the celebration of the Persian new year. Quoted in Jaffer, Amin, et al. Furniture from British India and Ceylon: A Catalogue of the Collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum. London, 2001, p. 111.
Much of the seventeenth century India converges in this kalamkari (literally, worked with a pen), a delightful painted cotton strongly influenced by the art of Golconda, whose sway extended to the centers of textile manufacture on the Coromandel Coast. Contained in its theatrically flat facade is a visual fruitcake of motifs-Indian, Iranian, and European, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian—pleasing to every sort of taste, salable to anyone from a Golconda or Safavid nobleman to a rich Hindu merchant or European factor.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, makers of traditional kalamkaris adjusted to European customers, who wanted bedspreads, bed curtains, and yard goods for their rapidly expanding markets. These extended as far as America, where many colonial houses boasted spritely patterns made by Indian artisans.
In the center, proud and happy parents admire their curly-haired babe, whose pose recalls that of the infant Krishna crawling as butter thief. The mother is richly jeweled, and her mustachioed husband seems to be a Muslim of high degree, even though his jama is tied in the Hindu way, under the left shoulder. Most of the other Indian gentlemen are Muslim, and several are dressed in Safavid style. Whether enthroned, hunting, riding in a bullock cart, on horseback, performing music, arguing, gossiping, drinking, or just milling about, they are almost as decorative as the ladies, who range from the mother to a yogini, from a musician to the refined and sumptuously dressed trio. Resembling the Three Graces out for a stroll, they seem destined to meet the gentleman of similar scale who waits at the right, his arm casually resting on his typically Deccani straight-bladed sword. Everyone in the picture is engulfed by flowers, blossoming in every nook and cranny and strung into the garlands that dangle from every cornice. Between the parents and the trio of ladies is a row of coffers, vases, bowls, cups, a crutch, and a walking stick, superbly adorned with dots, dashes, curlicues, and arabesques.
The courtier at the right is balanced by two Europeans, probably traced from prints: a wide-eyed gallant on a rearing horse, and, below, a down-in-the-mouth traveler or merchant leaning against an Indian bolster. Except for him, every personage, bird, deer, horse, and bullock exudes cheerfulness. Down to the last squiggle of flower, crockery, or molding on the gimcrack facade, drawing and coloring flowed mellifluously at the hand of this anonymous but accomplished painter, who had sampled the world's artistic motifs and chosen some as his own.
This magnificent hanging—along with a companion piece in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London—was not expected to outlast a few years of use; but its artist, and his family of fellow craftsmen, never stinted in following the many complicated ideas and procedures that went into its manufacture, an entire science of mordants and dyes, infinite numbers of washings, dryings in the air, masking out of areas not to be colored, and of course the exuberant act of drawing.
1. For the companion piece, which has identical floral borders, see: Gittinger, Mattiebelle. "Master Dyers to the World: Technique and Trade in Early Indian Dyed Cotton Textiles." Exh. cat. Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.; Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago; and Asia Society Gallery, New York. Washington, D.C.: Textile Museum. 1982, pp. 112–13, no. 103.
Mrs. Albert Blum, New York (until 1920; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of the Art of India from The Museum's Collections," January 18–May 31, 1973, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "INDIA !," September 14–September 14, 1985, no. 212.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20–July 26, 2015, no. 163.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Armenia!," September 21, 2018–January 13, 2019, cat. no. 135.
Evans, Helen C., ed. Armenia : Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 135, p. 292, ill. (color).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. p. 222.
"Goldonda Cotton Paintings of the Early Seventeenth Century." Lalit Kala vol. 5 (1959). p. 37, ill. pl. 5 (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. India: Art and Culture 1300–1900. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985. no. 212, pp. 315–16, ill. p. 315 (b/w), p. 316 (color detail).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 154–55, ill. fig. 119 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 279, pp. 341, 392–94, ill. p. 393 (color).
Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia." In Sultans of the South: Art of India's Deccan Courts. Brugge, Belgium: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. pp. 150–51, 153, ill. figs. 1, 2, 4.
Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 163, p. 274, ill. (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam. How to Read Islamic Calligraphy. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018. p. 109, ill. fig. 42.
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