The Fabric of India

Detail of one of the panels of Tipu Sultan's tent, showing its early-eighteenth-century Mughal floral decoration. In the collection at Powis Castle, acquired by the National Trust with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Detail of one of the panels of Tipu Sultan’s tent, showing its early-eighteenth-century Mughal floral decoration. In the collection at Powis Castle, acquired by the National Trust with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

I have just been to see the inspiring Fabric of India Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Among the exhibits is the tent once owned by Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, which has been borrowed from Powis Castle for the exhibition.

A section of Tipu Sultan's chintz tent, c. 1725-50. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

A section of Tipu Sultan’s chintz tent, c. 1725-50. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

The 2nd Lord Clive acquired the tent after the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British in 1799, which is how it ended up at the Clive seat of Powis Castle.

Section of Tipu's tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Section of Tipu’s tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

About two-thirds of the tent has been set up in the exhibition, more than is usually on display at Powis. It was amazing to get a inkling of what it was like to enter such a sumptuous royal tent.

Detail of Tipu's tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Detail of Tipu’s tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

These tents were effectively portable miniature palaces. When originally set up it would have been surrounded by the tents of court nobles and officials, mirroring a real palace complex.

I learned from the exhibition catalogue that the tent is in the Mughal style and actually predates Tipu’s reign, so it may have been a gift from another ruler or an heirloom. At Powis Castle it was used for many years as a marquee during garden parties.

8 Responses to “The Fabric of India”

  1. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    I have been focusing on the Silk Route all semester and didn’t have enough time to examine India, going instead from Central Asia straight to the Stans and into the Middle East. What a shame. What the Fabric of India Exhibition showed was the making, design, and use of textiles in the Indian subcontinent was equally as important.

    By the way, from what material is this tent made?

  2. Susan Walter Says:

    It appears to be in remarkably good condition given all the use it seems to have had.

  3. Randi Crawford Says:

    Amazing, especially given its age! I am so enamoured of Indian design and especially the fabrics and ornamentation. Also, gives a hint of the secret pleasures of the rich, imagine going to a garden party at Powis Castle when this tent was in use? I can see all the ladies in their finery and the gents in evening dress.
    Regarding the question above, as to what material the tent is made of, I would hazard a guess of cotton? Or silk.

  4. Andrew Says:

    Here is the tent in the NT Collections database – http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1180731.1 -which says it is cotton chintz, with a “seperate” layer of white cotton for the outside.

    Apparently Powis also has a copy made in 1985 – http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1180731.6

  5. Andrew Says:

    Ah, possibly because it seems the tent was only acquired for the nation in 1999 – http://www.artfund.org/supporting-museums/art-weve-helped-buy/artwork/7401/tent-of-tipu-sahib-sultan-of-mysore

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helen and Randi, yes as Andrew says it is chintz, or block-printed, mordant-dyed and resist-dyed cotton, as the catalogue describes it.

    Helen, yes this exhibition opened my eye as to how vast and rich the subject of Indian textiles actually is.

    Randi, yes that conjures up a rather ‘Downton Abbey’ kind of image of Edwardian garden parties, doesn’t it 🙂

    Thanks very much Andrew.

  7. national trust archaeology sw Says:

    I hope to visit this exhibition, you have spurred me on to get a move on . I remember visiting a wonderful exhibition in Bradford of Indian artists, woodworkers and embroidery textile workers. I learnt how to attach the mirrors to cloth, and learnt a bit about my Rajasthan skirt 😊

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Excellent 🙂

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