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History of Art's Sylvia W. Houghteling Awarded Grant for New Book

August 13, 2021

Sylvia W. Houghteling, an assistant professor of history of art, was awarded a publication grant from the College Art Association through the Millard Meiss Foundation Publication Fund.

Houghteling's forthcoming book is The Art of Cloth in Mughal India (Princeton University Press, 2022).

The book explores the vast array of textiles that circulated throughout the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Made from rare fibers and crafted using virtuosic techniques, these exquisite objects animated early modern experience, from the intimate, sensory pleasure of garments to the monumentality of imperial tents. The Art of Cloth in Mughal India tells the story of textiles crafted and collected across South Asia and beyond, illuminating how cloth participated in political negotiations, social conversations, and the shared seasonal rhythms of the year. Drawing on small-scale paintings, popular poetry, chronicle histories, and royal inventory records, Houghteling charts the travels of textiles from the Mughal imperial court to the kingdoms of Rajasthan, the Deccan sultanates, and the British Isles. She shows how the “art of cloth” encompassed both the making of textiles as well as their creative uses. Houghteling asks what cloth made its wearers feel, how it acted in space, and what images and memories it conjured in the mind. She reveals how woven objects began to evoke the natural environment, convey political and personal feeling, and span the distance between faraway people and places.


Houghteling specializes in the visual and material culture of the early modern period with a focus on the textile arts of South Asia, Europe and Islamic lands. Her interests include the interconnections between early modern courtly cultures, the cosmopolitanism of provincial centers, and the active role of the decorative arts in the pageantry and politics of everyday life. Although grounded in the art historical discipline, her research and teaching engage with the interdisciplinary meanings of art objects: their economic worth; their visual content, architectural placement and sensory value; their political agency, literary referents and ritual purposes.

History of Art