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When examining silk textiles attributed to the early modern Persianate world, there is always some uncertainty as to whether they were produced in Safavid Iran or Mughal India. The confusion is warranted: the two courts share many of the same ideas, images, and even family connections, creating a broad cultural overlap. This becomes apparent in the arts from the mid-sixteenth century onwards, as politics and patronage prompted the migration of key Safavid artists, including weavers, from Iran to Mughal India. As Persian painting was developed in the royal atelier, luxury silks were also produced with Safavid techniques.

Examining these imported skills through a group of figural silk textiles depicting scenes from Persian-language poetry of the Khamsa, this study hypothesizes that some silks previously believed to be of Safavid provenance may have been produced by weavers who had immigrated to the Mughal court from Iran. The silks are analyzed with regard to iconographic details, weaving techniques including velvet and lampas, and textual evidence supporting the Mughal interest in Persian literature. The source of the poetic narrative depicted is also in question, as literary responses to the Khamsa were created and circulated throughout the Persianate world. Lastly, the study also poses questions as to the determination of provenance itself with regard to immigrant labor, and how scholars assign labels to objects made by people from one country who are creating objects for patrons or consumers in another.


Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020.

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0092



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