Reflections of the Exotic East | Middle East & North Africa

Circa 1800-1850
Possibly made in Pennsylvania
IQSCM 1997.007.0427, Ardis and Robert James Collection

The striking turbaned horseman riding across this chintz bars quilt seems to be rushing into battle. He appears to be Middle Eastern or North African—in fact, he very well could be one of the Mamluks, cavalry soldiers who served the Muslim Arab caliphs from the 9th to the 16th centuries. As a powerful symbol of the Arab Muslim world, Middle-Eastern horsemen became a favorite subject of nineteenth-century Western artists, who admired their brave and brash image, but also wanted to remind Europeans of the threat they could pose to “civilization”.

Style and Construction Note: Strip quilts of the first half of the nineteenth century reflect a general taste for vertical stripes in European and American decorative arts of this period. Pillar prints (fabrics featuring architectural columns) and floral stripes commonly appeared in wallpapers and textiles of the period. The popular dark, chocolate brown backgrounds provided an excellent contrast to bright foreground patterns, as seen in this quilt’s horseman print.