Victor Victoria: The Story of Taste and Influence That Shaped The Popularity of Oriental Rugs in Europe & America

Handmade rugs have always added color and texture to our homes. But if one must establish an era, when oriental rugs in general and Persian rugs in particular, achieved an ever present status as part of home decor in many western capitals, one must start by their flourishing popularity during Victorian era in England.

Queen Victoria’s reign(1836-1901)touched all aspects of English life and beyond. The experience was of course part and parcel of the British colonial expansion with its notable example being that of India and with that came many cultural artifacts, including textiles that were imported from the East, from India and Persia.

Some would call the Victorian era’s decorative taste as one of excess with its filling up every nook and cranny in the house with an objet d’art! The concept of “layering”(note queen’s dress in above photo)was also part of the Victorian decorative taste. In terms of home decor it meant that you would place rug upon rug and dress up the chair and sofa in a similar fashion, covering them with throws and textiles from the East.

Queen Victoria with Abdul Munshi (Subject of a 2017 film, Victoria & Abdul), whom she appointed to be her Indian Secretary, showered him with honors, and obtained a land grant for him in India. Note the Indian handmade embroidery / woven spread over the table.

Captured In Material and Spirit

Inevitably Queen Victoria’s reign over Indian sub-continent meant a certain”ownership”of all things oriental. That included both an imaginary East as well as a tangible one. And in fact one always legitimized the other.

British“discovery”of the East was pre-staged by the development of orientalist attitudes in 19th century with emphasis placed on such studies as philology and anthropology as well as the creation of various Royal Geographical societies that aided such studies in Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and England. The purpose was to explore the East as a project, to develop new economic resources to sell products, and to exploit natural resources such as spices, gold, silver etc., which would create opportunities for colonial expansion in to Asia, Africa and beyond.

The effects of developing an intellectual framework(read justification)for colonial expansion can be found in 19th century visual and literary artistic movements.

“Rudolf Swoboda
(1859–1914) was a 19th-century Austrian Orientalist Painter. In 1886, Queen Victoria commissioned him to paint several of a group of Indian artisans who had been brought to Windsor Castle as part of the Golden Jubilee preparations. The Queen liked the resulting paintings so much that she paid his way to India to paint more of her Indian subjects.”