Samuel Pepys, the famous British diarist who often ended his daily entries with “and so to bed,” wrote in 1663, “…bought my wife a chintz, that is, a painted Indian callico, for to line her new study, which is very pretty.” During the later part of the seventeenth century, Indian callico or chintz became a fashionable fabric to use in the decoration of bedrooms and small cabinets or dressing rooms. Because of the private nature of these rooms, exotic trade goods from the “Indies” were often used to furnish them: lacquer screens and Indian chintz on the walls, Chinese and Japanese ceramics on mantle pieces and cabinets, and oriental motifs on toilette services and bed hangings.
Unfortunately, little evidence of the massive number of textiles imported from India to Europe during this period has survived. Among the rare survivals are two sets of hangings—one of Indian embroidered cotton and the other of hand-painted Indian callico or chintz—that hung in the bedroom of a member of the Ashburnham family. Sold when the contents of Ashburnham Place, the family’s Sussex estate, were auctioned in 1953, two wide curtains entered the MFA’s collection. Using the curtains as a starting point, “And so to Bed” explores the influence of the “Indies” on interior decoration of private spaces in seventeenth-century British architecture, the design and production of the curtains, and the textile trade between Europe and the East.