The dazzling cloths presented here are the visual record of one of the great untold stories of Asian design history: the trade in Indian textiles to Southeast and East Asia.
The chintzes made for export to Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are now well known; but for over a thousand years Indian cloths were traded for the spices and forest and mineral wealth of the East by Asian, Arab, and European merchants.
Universally in demand, the textiles were designed to suit specific markets: attire for royalty, diplomatic gifts, displays for festive occasions, and clothing for rites of passage and other ceremonies. Outstanding among them are the patterned cottons—the famous chintzes—and the tie-dyed silk patola, reserved for rulers and nobility.
John Guy is Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.