Rare Bengali Colcha
Rare Bengali Colcha
Rare Bengali Colcha
Rare Bengali Colcha

Rare Bengali Colcha
Early 17th c

A very rare border fragment (B) from a colcha or coverlet embroidered in Satgaon, the mercantile capital of Bengal, near Calcutta (Kolkata).  Colchas were commissioned by the Portuguese for the lucrative export market from the mid-16th to the mid-17th century.  The Portuguese arrived in India in 1498  with the Portuguese settlement of Satgaon established in 1538. Bengal was recognised for its beautiful textiles and the merchants realised the commercial opportunity of selling colchas to their aristocratic domestic market as well as to elsewhere in Europe. Colchas were also popular in England, where they appeared at auctions in the early seventeenth century.* Many of the colchas or bedcovers were quilted and depicted Portuguese hunting scenes.

Embroidered on local cotton in tambour stitch in natural rich yellow Tussah silk, which grows wild in Eastern India. Sometimes these are brightish yellow, rich cream and more neutral shades.  For Western export market goods the designs would be supplied by the Portuguese traders, often resulting in both Eastern and Western motifs. Hunting, biblical, marine or mythological scenes were frequently portrayed with people dressed in Portuguese clothing, together with scrollwork. One wonders who in Portugal actually designed these. A design would have been drawn on paper and then pricked and pounced on to cloth. The embroidery lines then drawn in with ink. They were then sent out to Satigaon where the Bengali man embroidering the piece would have interrupted the design, hence the charmingly naive people, animals depicted. Coverlets and hangings, but also clothing was made in the same manner, sometimes quilted.  Marika Sardar writes in Interwoven Globe that a visiting Dutchman Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, who was in India from 1583-1589, wrote that pillows, shaving cloths, children's baptismal cloaks, hair mantles (to protect clothes when combing hair) and capes fashionable amongst Portuguese men at this time were all being produced**

I have several more pieces from a coverlet, mainly borders with pairs of birds and rabbits,  the central panel with stars. Please ask for photos.

I have included this piece in the English & European Textile section because these embroideries were made for the Western market. You will also find this is World Textiles.


The border with pairs of lions? and birds flanking a continuous branching tree with flowers and leaves, the central field with two sizes of diagonal stars, all in yellow Tussah silk on a white cotton ground, edged with hand made needlelace.

16 1/2 x 5 1/2 - 7 1/2 in; 42 x 14 - 17 cm


Very very good.


* The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall. Santina M Levey p 389.

Interwoven Globe. The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800. A Peck (ed). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013. p 147. www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/22946

Arts of Bengal Veronica Murphy. Whitechapel Art Gallery/V & A exhibition.

Indo-Portuguese Embroideries of Bengal Art. J Irwin. Journal of the Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society. Vol. XXVI, No. 2, 1952, pp. 65-73.

Indian Embroideries John Irwin & Margaret Hall 1973, pls 43-45.

Portugal and the East through Embroidery. 16th to 18th century coverlets from the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon. p 18

Embroidered quilts from the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisboa, M J de Mendonca. exh. cat. Kensington Palace, London, 1978, no. 6;

The Narrative Scheme of a Bengal Colcha Dating from the Early 17th Century Commissioned by the Portuguese,  B. Karl, Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2006, pp. 438-448; 

Arts of India 1550-1900. John Guy & Deborah Swallow p 46-50.  The V & A has a coverlet with the arms of a Portuguese family.

The earliest survivors? The Indian embroideries at Hardwick Hall, in R. Crill, (ed.), Textiles from India: the Global Trade. Calcutta, 2006, pp.245-260.

 Indian embroideries for the Portuguese market, end of 16th century/beginning of 17th century, The Textile Collection of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, T. P. Pereira and C. Serrano, Lisbon, 2007.

A. Peck (ed.) Interwoven Globe, The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013. p 147. www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/22946

KARL, Barbara (2016), Embroidered Histories: Indian Textiles for the Portuguese Market during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Vienna and Köln: Böhlau Verlag.

Price: £200 | $250 | €230

Ref N°: B

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