Imperial splendour: textiles and royal life

Opulent textiles were leveraged by kingdoms and empires to affirm their place in society while also revealing deep societal imbalances.


Video transcript  and image credits.

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Terms to know

The Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886
An exhibition inaugurated on 4 May 1886 at the South Kensington Museum, London, that lasted for six months. The Indian Court of the show displayed art, textile and other goods. Several architectural structures, such as the Jaipur Gateway, Durbar Hall and the Gwalior Gateway were commissioned for display. The exhibition also featured “living exhibits,” notably thirty-four artisans from the Agra jail, demonstrating different crafts and professions.

Great Exhibition of 1851
Also known as The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, it was held between 1 May and 15 October 1851 at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, the exhibition was the first in a series of world fairs organized in the nineteenth century that showcased industrial and cultural exhibits from around the world. The exhibition collection formed the basis of the Indian textile collection of present-day Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A long, embroidered sash worn around the waist that was an essential part of Mughal male attire. It was decorated with floral and foliate motifs and made from cotton, silk, or wool. It also served a functional use, allowing the wearer to tuck a dagger or a sword inside it.

A ethnic community from the north-west region of Rajasthan, which was historically known as Rajputana. Rajputs regard themselves as descendants of the warrior caste. The community attained political importance from the seventh century onwards, with small kingdoms being established across north-western India. They remained independent during the rule of the Mughals, from the sixteenth to early eighteenth century, and became their close allies while simultaneously being embroiled in territorial and political contestations with them. The decline of the Mughal empire after Aurangzeb’s rule gave impetus to Rajput kingdoms to grow independently, in the absence of a centralized provincial rule.

From the MAP Academy Glossary


Additional resources

To learn more about Textiles from the Indian Subcontinent, sign up for MAP’s free online course.

Performing Art, Displaying Culture: Artisan Exhibits in Colonial Exhibitions (From The MAP Academy)

The Great Exhibition, 1851

Art of the Mughal Empire

The Art of the Mughals before 1600 on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History

The Art of the Mughals after 1600 on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History

Daniel Walker, Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, exhibition catalogue (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997)



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Cite this page as: The MAP Academy, "Imperial splendour: textiles and royal life," in Smarthistory, August 17, 2022, accessed July 18, 2024,