Areas of Focus:
Global Baroque, South Asian Art and Material Culture
Sylvia 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.
Houghteling’s book project, The Art of Cloth in Mughal India, explores the period sensibility that informed the production, reception and circulation of textiles in early modern South Asia. The project deploys diverse source materials – extant silk, wool and cotton fabrics, small-scale Mughal paintings, courtly and mercantile poetry, and royal inventory records – to craft a comprehensive history of textiles within the Mughal court, the Deccan sultanates, the kingdoms of Rajasthan before the rise of European imperialism.
Houghteling received her Ph.D. in the History of Art from Yale University in May of 2015. She graduated summa cum laude in History and Literature from Harvard University, and holds an M.Phil. in History from the University of Cambridge. Her Ph.D. dissertation was awarded the Frances Blanshard Fellowship Prize from Yale University in 2015. She has been an external collaborator with the project, “Networks: Textile Arts and Textility in a Transcultural Perspective,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and based at Humboldt University in Berlin. Her research has been supported by grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Fulbright program, the Huntington Library, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and the Beinecke Scholarship Program. From 2015-2016, Houghteling held the Sylvan C. Coleman and Pamela Coleman Memorial Fund Fellowship in the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Before entering the field of art history, Houghteling tried out fashion design in London, and studied weaving, textile dyeing, felting, block-printing and silk-painting in Denmark, Guatemala, Laos and India. She has interned in diverse museum settings, ranging from the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena in Guatemala City to the Architecture and Design department of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. As someone who became interested in art through making it, Houghteling teaches and learns through conversations with contemporary practitioners and hands-on encounters with objects.
Sylvia Houghteling teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses that engage with the intercultural connections forged by art objects in the early modern period; the history of the textile medium in Asia, Europe and Islamic lands; and the visual arts and material culture of South Asia. Her 200-level course on the “Global Baroque” examines the Baroque style both within and beyond Europe, moving between Italy, France, Spain and Flanders; seventeenth-century India, Iran, Japan and China; the New World, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Kongo.