Kalamkari Rumal, Cotton; plain weave, mordant painted and dyed, resist dyed

Kalamkari Rumal

Object Name:
ca. 1640–50
Attributed to India, Deccan, Golconda
Cotton; plain weave, mordant painted and dyed, resist dyed
Textile: H. 32 in. (81.3 cm)
W. 35 in. (88.9 cm)
Mount: H. 31 in. (78.7 cm)
W. 38 in. (96.5 cm)
D. 1 in. (2.5 cm)
Textiles-Painted and/or Printed
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1928
Accession Number:
Not on view

MMA 28.159.1/ 28.159.2/ 28.159.3

Within the group of mid-seventeenth-century kalamkaris with figural decoration are eight smaller pieces with a central rectangular field surrounded by borders of varying widths.[1] The central field is typically filled with scenes capturing intimate interactions (a music performance, a look between lovers) or mundane activities (sewing, hunting). Though unrelated, the individual vignettes are united by the application of pattern to all elements of the textile and a busy background of trees, plants, rocky outcrops, and animals in action.

Such textiles have been called rumals, a word literally meaning "face wiping" and used to designate cloths employed not only as handkerchiefs and towels, but also as coverings for trays.[2] It is this last context that has been proposed for the kalamkari rumals, and it has been speculated that they were used specifically in the presentation of gifts.[3] Paintings of court scenes do not depict gifts being presented under such cloths, but that does not rule out such an identification; we might also propose their use as furnishings, covering cushions, or laid on the floor as a small sofra (spread) for an individual.

Though produced by artisans outside the court workshop system, the imagery on the early seventeenth-century kalamkaris shows an awareness of the latest trends in paintings, and they may have been made from designs provided by court artists.

These three rumals are among a set of kalamkaris bearing inventory marks from the Amber storehouse, dated between 1650 and 1701; perhaps these were purchased by or presented to Mirza Raja Jai Singh I (reigned 1622–67) of Amber, who served in the Deccan and died at Burhanpur.[4]

Marika Sardar for (Haidar and Sardar 2015)


1- One in each of the following collections: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (66.230), Cincinnati Art Museum (1962.465), and Victoria and Albert Museum, London (IS.34-1969); two in the National Museum, New Delhi; and the three in the present entry.

2- Yule, Henry and Burnell, Arthur, "Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive." New ed. Edited by William Crooke. London: John Murray. 1903, p. 769; Indian Heritage 1982, p. 171.

3- Ellen S. Smart in Smart, Ellen S., and Daniel S. Walker, Pride of the Princes: Indian Art of the Mughal Era in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Exh. cat. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum, 1985, p. 90.

4- The amassing of fine textiles during his reign has been studied by Smart, Ellen, "A Preliminary Report on a Group of Important Mughal Textiles" Textile Museum Journal 25, 1986, pp. 5–23.
Inscription: In Prakrit, in devanagari script on corner of back in black ink.
Translation: Presumably names of clerks, one deciphered as Lachman Gajanan (or Vajanan) and dates 1061 (1650 A.D.) and 1062 (1651 A.D.).
Notes: Dates probably when deposited in treasury or inventoried.

Marking: See link panel.
Kachhwaha Royal Treasury, Amber Palace, Rajasthan, India (in 17th century); [ Imre Schwaiger, London, until 1928; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Indian Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18, 1973–April 1, 1973, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015, no. 162.

"Goldonda Cotton Paintings of the Early Seventeenth Century." Lalit Kala vol. 5 (1959). p. 43, ill. fig. 16 (b/w), pl. XII (b/w).

"Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York." In The Arts of Islam. Berlin, 1981. no. 141, pp. 326-327, ill. p. 327 (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. p. 167, ill. fig. 5.

Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 162, pp. 171-173, ill. pl. 162 (color).