During the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the Portuguese acquired trading outposts around the world. In 1482, they built a fort on the Guinea coast of Africa to protect their exportation of slaves, ivory, and gold. Vasco da Gama's renowned expedition around the Cape of Good Hope gave his nation important contacts with the Malindi in East Africa and with the cities of Calicut, Cochin, and Goa in India. This last city became the jewel of the empire.
In 1510, Goa was made the capital of the Portuguese state of India. From this Indian colony, Portugal was able to obtain luxury items unknown to the rest of Europe. It was also able to use the age-old craft traditions of India for the production of custom products in the Portuguese taste; this rug is such a piece. Made in India in the 17th century, the textile features brightly colored butterflies, birds, horses, cattle, and flowers in a gardenlike setting. In the center is a double-headed eagle surmounted by a crown. Although the meaning of this particular device is unknown, the double-headed eagle is traditionally associated with the Habsburg family of Austria and Spain. More in keeping with Indian taste is the border motif of carnations and pomegranates. The airy quality of this design and the light-colored ground relate to Indian inlay work in stone and ivory.
"Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection," page 36