This is a superb example of Mughal art. A tent hanging associated with the royal hunt, it is a quintessential emblem of the pleasures of the Mughal courts of India and a proud reference to the dynasty’s nomadic Central Asian heritage. The image of the flowering shrub or tree, emerging from an elegant urn or rocky mound, was a favourite motif on the tent hangings that were a vital part of the extensive provisions accompanying the royal entourage on expeditions and military campaigns across the realm.
This large single panel is one of a long series of embroideries that, when erected side by side on poles, formed the walls of the luxurious enclosures within which the noblemen camped overnight. Providing protection from the elements, the decorated panels facing the interior pleased the eye while evoking the manicured natural surroundings of Mughal gardens, themselves a mirror of Paradise. Indeed, the glorious large flowers in the central field are most likely a fanciful composite creation. The elegant floral arrangement is positioned within a pointed and cusped niche, a design element also prevalent in Mughal art and architecture. The flowers in the borders are lotuses.
The fine chain-stitch silk embroidery and delicate quilting on the brilliant red cotton ground was created in one of the royal embroidery workshops, possibly in Gujarat. Embroidered tent hangings appear to have been relatively rare, and companion panels from this celebrated qanat are in important collections around the world. The Gallery’s newly acquired qanat panel was recently included in the British Library’s exhibition Mughal India: art, culture and empire.
Robyn Maxwell Senior Curator, Asian Art
in artonview, issue 75, Spring 2013