The Emperor’s Flowers

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From the Bulb to the Carpet

Throughout the 16th century, Europe’s extensive relations with the world reshaped its knowledge of nature. New products and previously unknown plant and animal species were brought to Europe from the West and East Indies. Seeds and bulbs of exotic flowers were brought from the Levant. Deeply admired for their beauty, these flowers attracted a growing amount of attention from botanists, who dedicated themselves to the study of both exotic and local flora. Cherished by curious laymen, scholars and aristocrats, flowers were given a privileged position in newly created gardens. Only the gardens of a fortunate few, however, were able to show off specimens of the highly sought-after exotic plants. Described by botanists and scholars, flowers were depicted in richly illustrated botanical albums. Such printed volumes were widely circulated in Europe and across the vast expanses of Empire. Taken on diplomatic, religious and trade missions by European travellers and emissaries, by the late 16th century the albums had arrived at the Mughal court, where they were greatly admired. Under imperial patronage, local artists copied the drawing techniques and methods of depicting plants from these European compendiums.

This exhibition offers an analysis of the decorative motifs found on two rugs produced in Mughal India during the reign of Shah Jahan (1628–1658) and now belonging to the Islamic Art Collection of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian – Founder’s Collection. The naturalist style and typology of the floral designs of these pieces is indicative of the dialogue established between East and West over the 17th century, while also reflecting the global movement of people, books, images and botanical specimens.

Curators: Clara Serra and Teresa Nobre de Carvalho


About the exhibition



Additional Activities


Guided tours
In Portuguese only

Talk with the curators and guests…
Wednesday, 18 April, 15:00
With the curators Clara Serra and Teresa Nobre de Carvalho

Pilgrim Flowers between East and West
Saturday, 5 May, 16:00
With Manuel Miranda Fernandes



The Flower Decoration in Mughal Art
With Nuno Vassallo e Silva
Wednesday, 21 March, 18:00 – Room 1
Know more

The Gardens of Shah Jahan: Floral Decoration in Mughal Architecture
In English
With Ebba Koch
Wednesday, 4 April, 18:00 – Auditorium 3
Know more

The Flower Carpets of Mughal India
In English
With Daniel Walker
Wednesday, 18 April, 18:00 – Auditorium 3
Know more

The Stories That Plants Weave
With António Carmo Gouveia
Wednesday, 9 May, 18:00 – Room 1
Know more


Guided tours for groups by previous booking only
In Portuguese or English
Booking: (+351) 217 823 800)
[email protected]

More information
[email protected]


         Sponsor                 Main  Sponsor




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