Rare Indo Portuguese
Rare Indo Portuguese
Rare Indo Portuguese
Rare Indo Portuguese


Rare Indo Portuguese
First half 17th c

A very rare border fragment 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 in1498  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 naturally yellow Tussah silk, which grows wild in Eastern India. Sometimes these are brightish yellow or 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**

This piece must have been part of the wide borders of a coverlet. The lower edge is a finished edge.

I have several more pieces from the coverlet, mainly borders with pairs of birds and 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.


The wide border with intertwined scrolling floral arabesques, a central plant with exotic curving entwining leafy sprays, a small rabbit running along a branch and four cawing birds perched on others, between narrow borders with a repeat design of small stylised flowers and leaves, the top central field with star like motifs. the left hand corner with two small creatures flanking a flowering branch.

13 x 15 in; 33 x 38 cm longest measurements.


Fresh and lovely colour. There is a diagonal tear 4 1/2 in; 11 cm long to the upper left hand side. We have supported this with a piece of cotton and hand stitching, but feel sure a conservator could improve on this!




* 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; 

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.


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