Marriage Quilt (Colcha)
Unknown artist, Indian; Portuguese, Portugal
Marriage Quilt (Colcha), 18th century
Silk plain weave with silk chain-stitch embroidery
Length: 271.8 cm (107 inches)
Jesse Metcalf Fund 1996.99
(June 10, 2014 – March 8, 2015)
With the establishment of its colonial trade center in Goa, India, in the early 16th century, Portugal was flooded with imported Indian luxury textiles, which left a distinct mark on furnishings such as this marriage quilt, or colcha. Abounding with painstakingly embroidered carnations and scrolling vines on a silk ground, it was either made in India for the Portuguese market or crafted in Portugal as a version of the Indian originals. The artisans who made this piece substituted the carnation—a flower indigenous to the Mediterranean—for a lotus-blossom motif that would have been more familiar to the Asian market.(February 18 –April 16, 2000)
Once in a while, the Museum has the opportunity to purchase a masterpiece of great beauty. This 18th-century quilt, embroidered by women either in Portugal or in India for the Portuguese market, is just such an object. Quilts had been popular in Portugal since the 16th century, but the 18th century was the “golden age” of these embroideries. They were indispensable items in a bride’s trousseau at all social levels, and examples exist from both rural and urban Portugal. This coverlet is of great elegance, made in silk instead of the more commonly used linen.
RISD’s quilt is especially important because its source is known: it came from the collection of Portuguese Comandante Ernesto Vilhena, which was formed in the mid-20th century and sold in 1995. Several colchas from this collection are in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, Portugal. In addition to its beauty, the coverlet gives an insight into the lives of Portuguese women in the 18th century, whose descendents are numerous in our own community today.