This large rectangular wall hanging has a dark blue background with hundreds of animals and human figures embroidered in discolored white silk thread.Three sequential borders around a complex central architectural element and a set of royal portraits comprise the overall design. Thin bands of serpentine, stylized leaf and stem tracery separate the border designs from each other. Sharply taloned birds at each corner separate hunting scenes along the outermost border. Each hunting scene has flora, fauna, and men dressed in colonial European garb on horseback and on foot. They carry guns and spears and have hunting dogs that pursue a wide variety of prey, including birds, rabbits, deer, snakes, and cattle. The middle border is the same, but has fantastical animals such as winged, fire breathing dragons. The hunters in the middle border are European colonials, some in wheeled vehicles, and indigenous people riding mythical and realistic animals. The inner border shows native musicians, hunters, and half human, half animal chimeras surrounded by swimming fish as well as other animals and plants. The section adjacent to the innermost border is crowded with additional embroidered animal and plant forms swirling around eight oval medallions. Each medallion contains the bust of a crowned man surrounded by star- like flowers. Paired human figures, most playing instruments, separate the oval portraits. The eight medallions form a horseshoe shape that top off a large seven-tiered triumphal arch in the center. Each level of the monument is decorated with columns, architraves, fantastical animals, plants or figures. There is a figure in a white robe and hat standing within the central arch.
Wall Hanging: Triumphal Arch,
mid 17th century
Silk chain-stitch embroidered on blue silk with cotton backing
267 x 211 cm (105 1/8 x 83 1/16 in.)
This wall hanging was made by Indian embroiderers in Bengal working under Portuguese commission in the mid-17th century, when Portugal held colonies along the west coast of India. The imagery provides insights into shifting political and cultural alliances during the period. The central field of the embroidery contains the façade of one of twenty triumphal arches erected in Lisbon in 1619 to celebrate the visit of Philip III of Spain, who ruled Portugal as Philip II (r. 1598-1621). An etching published in Madrid 1622 documents the arch and is the source of the imagery in the embroidery. The arch was sponsored by the Flemish community living in Lisbon at a time when the provinces of the Netherlands were struggling for independence from Spain. The Flemish merchants used the decorative program of the arch to express their dissatisfaction with Spanish rule. For example, there is a representation of Discordia, the goddess of strife, at the center. Little is known about the artisans who created embroideries such as these, but several embroiderers probably worked on it simultaneously in a workshop.The original white chain-stitched silk on a blue silk ground has become discolored over time.