The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

This smock is a rare example of a seventeenth-century garment in the Indo-Portuguese style. The motifs of its decoration are not the roses, carnations, borage, etc, so typical of contemporary English textiles, but lotus and palmate motifs characteristic of Indian embroidery. The embroidery is entirely in chain stitch in unbleached silk thread, and the seams are backstitched with silk thread. The smock is made of linen, a fabric never used in India.

Other European aspects are the T-shape of the garment, with diagonal side gores characteristic of a woman’s smock, as well as a button-hole insertion stitch in silk at the seams and a button-hole picot edging around the hem, neck and wrists. The round neck and absence of cuffs at the wrists are unlike English smocks of this period; they may be typical of Portuguese linen garments.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish trading posts in India, and brought Bengali embroiderers to Lisbon in the sixteenth century. These artisans worked with European materials and made typically European objects decorated with in the Indian style of embroidery. It is not known how long there were Bengali embroiderers in Lisbon and to what degree their style of needlework influenced local production. There are a number of embroidered linen quilts in the Indo-Portuguese style in museum collections. Garments in this style are rarer; the V&A has a cloak, T.105-1913, and part of a cloak, 1016-1877. The Museu Nacionale de Lisboa, has a linen garment (15988 MNT) of slightly different shape, but embroidered in a comparable manner.

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  • Title: Smock
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1630/1660
  • Location: Lisbon
  • Physical Dimensions: Width: 115.5 cm widest part of hem, Width: 45.5 in widest part of hem, Width: 137.8 cm sleeves outspread, Width: 54.5 in sleeves outspread, Length: 120.5 cm shoulder to hem
  • Provenance: Given by Judy Cunnington in memory of her mother Constance Periam Glover (née Elwes)
  • Medium: Linen, linen thread, unbleached silk thread, wooden button core; hand-sewn and hand-embroidered

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