Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


In mid-seventeenth century South Asia, the taste for naturalistic floral sprays reached an apogee of artistic expression. During the reign of the Mughal dynasty (1526-1857), the aesthetic style pervaded the arts of South Asia. Its influence has been strong ever since; it continues to be prevalent in South Asian design today and has had an impact on aesthetic traditions of the West and China. The current exhibition illustrates this distinctive Mughal idiom and reveals the continuity of the artistic tradition in contemporary India and Pakistan. For many, the arts developed during the Mughal Empire are synonymous with taste, luxury, and power.

Two 17th century Mughal carpets from the Doris Duke Collection beautifully illustrate the Mughal floral aesthetic, and are the focal point of the exhibition. These Duke carpets have rarely been available for public viewing. Legend says that they once graced the tomb of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan at the Taj Mahal. Over the centuries they have passed through the hands of private collectors in India and the West before being purchased by Doris Duke for her Honolulu home—Shangri La—in 1990. When Doris Duke died in 1993 it was her intention that her collection of Islamic artifacts would become available to the wider public. What was once an exclusive pleasure of the elite is now available for the enjoyment of many.

In addition to being historically significant markers of an aesthetic tradition, the carpets stand alone as important works of art due to their unusual shape and pairing. Each carpet has an arched interior with pointed ends. When paired, the carpets form a bold field of flowers with an interior void wherein a person, most likely of royal personage, could have sat in splendor. Imagine the feeling of wealth and luxury felt by those in the Mughal courts as they sat surrounded by effervescent flowers on carpets, textiles, architecture, and precious objects while ruling over a vast empire (Fig. 1).