PAINTED-AND-DYED COTTON PANEL
Indian (Coromandel Coast) for the Sri Lankan Market, ca. 1730–50
A predominance of vivid reds is the most identifiable characteristic of Indian trade textiles made specifically for Dutch commerce, both for export to Europe and in Indonesia. This striking example of painted-and-dyed cotton, collected in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), shows the distinctive palette favored by Dutch colonists and native Sri Lankans.
To achieve the breadth of red tones found in Indian painted cottons, several natural dyes were used. One of the principal red dyestuffs was madder; another was sappanwood, a timber imported from Southeast Asia. Both yield various ruddy shades. Chay, however, was the preferred source for radiant claret hues. Extracted from the roots of the Oldenlandia umbellata plant, chay was considered far superior to other red coloring agents, and the finest specimens were grown in the Krishna River delta in northern Sri Lanka. The rich colors produced with chay and its mordant, alum, were praised in a letter written by the Dutch East India Company’s Commissioner-General, Hendrick Adriaan van Rheede, in 1688: "The red color is made of four, and possibly more, roots and barks, the most beautiful of which is chay…. It is remarkable to see how they put a piece of white cloth in the dye vat, which, when they take it out, shows nice red flowers and leaves or tendrils, while the rest remains white."
Though van Rheede mentioned red motifs against a white ground, a variation—colorful decoration rendered against an expanse of red—is more typical of cottons for Indonesian markets. This panel, originally part of a sarong, has a discernibly Western aesthetic. Realizing the skills of Indian textile painters, Western merchants sent luxurious brocaded silks to India to be copied in chintz form. The translations, though rarely exact, chronicle the fertile atmosphere of design exchange in early eighteenth-century commerce and also attest to the success of European inflected patterns in Indonesia. Two distinct types of silks are referenced within this piece: the serrated fronds and fanned palmettes relate to lace pattern brocades of the 1720s, and the heraldic double-headed eagle motif appears to be copied from seventeenth-century silks made in the Portuguese colony of Macao for export to Europe.
43" H x 50" W