Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Palampores and the Tree of Life

Detail of a Broderie Perse or cut-out chintz quilt from an online auction.

The imagery in early chintz applique quilts has a long history in Europe and Asia.

Indian palampore on the left; applique quilt on the right.

Parallels are quite obvious between the quilts and the hand-painted and block-printed Indian chintz that had been popular bedcoverings with earlier generations of well-to-do Europeans. The idea of a magical tree bearing a multitude of  flowers and fruits is a Biblical reference that inspired embroidery and other arts for centuries. Melinda Watt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website quotes a mid-17th century poem about an English needlewoman:
'Twixt Art and Nature: Trees of fruits
With leaves, boughs, branches, body, roots,
She made to grow in Winter time,
Ripe to the eye, easy to climb.

Detail of a 17th-century English embroidery
from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tree-of-life imagery is also found in Asian and Indian cultures. Palampores made for the European export market combined the common threads. The word palampore has roots in the word for bedcovering. Most of the Indian spreads we see were designed to please western tastes, a combination of cultural imagery that remained popular with early 19th-century appliqué artists.

Palampore from the Ismail Merchant collection,
Sold at Christies in 2009

Links to more palampores, some quilted, some not:

The photo of this 18th-century palampore from the Winterthur Museum allows you to see the details

From the New Jersey project and the Quilt Index

From the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, #2008.040.0219

The Powerhouse Museum gives you more information on the palampore in general.

The Royal Ontario Museum has posted a video showing conservation of a palampore

If you haven't seen enough go to the search page for the Victoria and Albert Museum and type in the word palampore in the search box.

Detail of Tree of Life painting
Gustav Klimt, about 1909

From the digital Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Watt, Melinda. "English Embroidery of the Late Tudor and Stuart Eras". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Here's a post on the tree of life imagery in general:  

1 comment:

suzanne said...

My mother's china pattern was called "Indian Tree" and had a central tree of life motif. I didn't know what it meant until I started quilting after age 50! Now that I know its history, it's a favorite.