'God is as everlasting as the dyed textiles of India'
A recent Friday theory excursion to the South Asian and British galleries with historian Clare Rose was a thoroughly interesting experience and gave me incredible insight into the strong influence of the east. It appears Indian textiles have been around since the year dot.In the year 700 in a written Bible the question 'How wise is God?' was posed. The Catholic church replied with a metaphor translated as 'God is as everlasting as the dyed textiles of India'. Incredible! The V&A displays a selection of medieval Indian textiles found in an Egyptian rubbish tip around 1300, and still in a beautiful yet extremely fragile condition. Indian textiles were of high quality and remarkable skill.
This stunning yellow coverlet embroidered with silk thread from special silk worms only found in Bengal displays the coat of arms of a Portuguese family. Indian bedcovers were seen as a prized possession in Europe and therefore many Indian hand crafted goods were destined for the western market.
This handspun muslin gown, once again embroidered in Bengal has the unmistakable design of a British 'Jane Austen' style couture dress. Once again, designed in Europe, made in India.
As well as textiles, other Indian goods such as jewelry were imported in the 1850s to show and inform British students on 'good design'.
One thing I found particularly fascinating was the emergence of 'Bizzare Style' in high fashion during the period 1700-1720. It is basically a Chintz hand painted in India with a mishmash of design references, e.g. peonies and pegodas' from China alongside Turkish tulips.
Another interesting concept which arose took me back to our initial Rough Guide project. We had to write about three objects- one found or second hand, one from a shop and one from a museum and discuss how placing them in a different context altered our perceptions of them. In the British galleries, many items convey this concept. For example a cheap Chinese ceramic bowl, probably considered to be a common and worthless everyday item in China has been perceived by the west as an item of extreme beauty and value and thus gold handles and a gold lit has been added to the bowl. Take an item out of its everyday surroundings and it gains a whole new identity. One of the strangest examples of this is the gold mounted coconut cup-
As such a rarity in the West, the coconut must have been seen as extremely exotic and desirable. I for one will never look at a coconut in the same way!