Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
The theme of the Trojan War has a long history in works of European tapestry, with examples surviving from the fourteenth century onward. With the rise of European powers in the global trade of the sixteenth century, the Trojan War went global, too. A large embroidered and painted hanging on this theme from the late sixteenth century is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In this paper, The Abduction of Helen, part of a series on the theme of the Trojan War, will be discussed in detail; comparative works, both Chinese and European, will also be shown. A multifigural monumental composition on this very Western theme, with Western architecture and ship in the background, the piece nonetheless affirms its Asian origins: The cotton twill foundation cloth probably originated in India. A large number of incidental details - such as stylized waves and clouds, phoenix-like birds in the border, and particular embroidery techniques - stand out as Chinese interpretations. The interweaving of elements from Europe, India, and China points forcefully to the multinational trade empire of Portugal as the most likely suspect in this "abduction" of Helen to Chinese shores and her "ransoming" in the export trade back to Europe.