Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


In this article I analyse the iconographic programme of a large size embroidered textile dating from the early 17th century from the Hugli region in Bengal. The textile is part of subgroup (c) of the Solomon group. India has an extremely rich textile tradition. Every region has its peculiarities and techniques. Quilts were made all over the Indian subcontinent throughout the ages. Worn out clothes were not thrown away but were instead reused: Several layers of cloth were laid upon each other and were sewn together to be used in Indian homes. Most of them were very simple but some pieces were painted, printed or embroidered. The group of large size textiles (about 100 pieces) that I analysed in my PhD thesis belong to the latter category and were mainly produced for the export market. In the earliest Portuguese records they were called “colchas.”

The word colcha is Portuguese and has Latin roots: culcita means mattress or pillow, the modern Portuguese word colcha means quilt, which is quite a restrictive expression in this case. Colchas are among the first surviving embroideries of India. They are evidence of migrating forms and ideas and feature some of the most successful motifs that were developed in the long history of art and transmitted by different cultures in different ways. Examples include: animal fights, the animal master, mounted figures etc. Their prototypes date back to prehistoric times. In the colchas these different elements were fused with more recent ones to create a new harmonious whole.

Colchas were destined for sale to wealthy households. Since its establishment in Goa in the early 16th century, Portuguese colonial society showed a keen interest in the luxurious forms of Indian representation. In order to compete with local sovereigns, the Portuguese adapted certain customs for their own purposes and, in doing so, created an art form that appealed to all tastes. The colchas were thus used as hangings like tapestries or panos de armar - showing coats of arms - or door hangings, used to adorn rooms for special occasions. They were hung out of windows when processions passed by and even participated in processions.