Silk lampas
France, probably Lyon
19th century
222 x 172 cm

A unique coverlet (or maybe a wall hanging) of French manufacture, reproducing the highly appreciated so-called “Indo-Portuguese” coverlets (colchas) common in Portuguese aristocratic households from the second half of the 16th century. The present examples replicates in silk lampas a cotton Bengali bed cover or colcha, made in Satgaon (modern Saptagram in Hooghly district), normally white embroidered in yellow tussar silk in chain and backstitch (Mendonça 1949; Irwin 1952; Varadarajan 2010; and Karl 2011). Such luxury textiles, commissioned by the Portuguese from the mid 16th century, are recorded in some of the oldest contemporary inventories (at least some of them) as depicting hunting scenes (de montaria), which were a popular theme amongst Portuguese noblemen and courtly officials. Other more refined and erudite examples depict mythological and biblical imagery modelled after Europe- and engravings in complex compositions of narrative borders. Lampas is a compound figured weave used to produce luxurious silks (façonnés); a combination of two structures formed from plain weave, twill and, or satin bindings in various combinations. Lampas juxtaposes two faces created with these structures, generally a warp-faced weave for the ground structure and a weft-faced weave for the pattern. On our example the black main weft may be seen, with which brown weft and warp (with gold thread, brocade) interlaces in twill weave, thereby forming the pattern; on top of which the figured crimson twill weave stands. The technical features of this lampas and considering its uniqueness, material investment and dimensions, help us posit a French origin, probably Lyon, and a 19th century date. Similar textiles, modelled after Asian examples such as the so-called “Indo-Portuguese” textiles are known to scholars. In fact, one such piece, a South European (Iberian or Italian) 17th century quilt in yellow silk with cotton filling in the Winterthur Museum, Delaware, acc. no. 1954.0049 was recently exhibited (Peck 2013, pp. 138-139, cat. no. 1). These European versions would in a way be more easily available, considering their cost, than their Asian counterparts and stand as a relevant testimony to the high demand and consumption of Indian textiles in periods when access to such luxurious textiles of more distant production was restricted. It should be underscored that during the Early Modern Period and until the advent of industrialisation, textiles were one of the most expensive commodities regarding the variety of articles required for interior furnishing. Their consumption implied a financial investment that it is difficult to comprehend today. Possession of such luxurious textiles in silk and gold thread, more than painting and sculpture, was reserved for a narrow stratum of society, while the consumption of such goods was regulated by sumptuary laws, and infractions were severely punished by the crown. The presence of this exceptional silk lampas coverlet stands as testimony to the art-historical attention already given to the old embroidered Indo-Portuguese colchas during the 19th century. A period marked by a new awareness of the Portuguese cultural heritage in Europe and also encompassing the artistic imprint left on the overseas territories, the Portuguese State of India, when the word “Indo-Portuguese” was being coined.

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