Like the coverlet in catalogue number 6 in this volume and the hanging in catalogue 8, this cape can be attributed to seventeenth-century Bengal and associated with the group of embroideries made there for the international market. These textiles are related in technique, material, and subject matter; they were embroidered with yellow tussah silk on a white cotton ground and were richly decorated with figural scenes and floral motifs.
Wile the coverlets and hangings survive in the greatest numbers, several types of clothing were made in the same manner. Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, a Dutchman who was in India from 1583 to 1589, wrote that the Bengali embroiderers produced "pillows, shaving cloths, and children's baptismal cloaks, like those which women in confinement wear round their shoulders, and they embroider them with leaf and flower-work and all kinds of Figures one can think of or imagine." In addition, items known as "hair mantles," which might have been used to protect the shoulders during hairdressing, as well as capes of a type fashionable among Portuguese men in the early seventeenth century, are known in museum collections. These capes and mantles have short collars and are constructed of trapezoidal panels sewn together to create a flaring shape, wider at the bottom than at the top.
The garment here is different in that it is constructed of a single panel of a semicircular shape and has no collar. A similar piece is at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York. On both, the decoration is arranged in bands around the edges of the garment and within and between two quarter-circular spaces inside the bands. The motifs include hunters riding on elephants and horses, rows of coursing beasts, and figures in European dress. On the Metropolitan Museum's example, the stitching that attaches the face of the garment to the lining is completed in a dense vegetal pattern that surrounds the figures and fills the background.
Because of their construction and shape, the Metropolitan and Cooper-Hewitt garments have usually been identified as copes, the full-length semicircular ecclesiastical vestments. Their roughly arm-length dimensions and decidedly unbiblical decorative motifs, however, argue against such an identification. Instead, they probably indicate that these items were yet another type of cape, a short, shoulder-length style worn by the Portugese in India and illustrated in an engraving from Lindschoten's Itinerario.
Marika Sardar in [Peck 2013]
Linschoten served as bookkeeper to the archbishop of Goa and published his Itinerario, voyage ofte schipvaert...naer Oost ofte Portgaels Indien in Amsterdam in 1595–96; this translation in Irwin, John. "Indo-Portuguese Embroideries of Bengal." Art and Letters: The Journal of the Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society, n.s., 26, no. 2 (1952), pp. 67–68.
2. For the hair mantles and their identification as such from a sixteenth inventory see Wilckens, Leonie von. "Ein Haarmantel' des 16. Jahrhunderts," Waffen und Kostümkunde 22, no. 1 (1980), pp. 39–44. For the capes see Maria Fernanda Passos Leite in Trnek, Helmut and Nuno Vassallo e Silva, eds., Exotica: The Portuguese Discoveries and the Renaissance Kunstkammer. Exh. cat. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2001, p. 182.
3. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York (no. 1951-41-1)
4. The engraving was also published in Mendes Pinto, Maria Helena, et al. Vasco da Gama et l'Inde. Exh. cat. Lisbon: Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian; Paris: Chancellerie des Universités de Paris, 1998, p. 146.