Composed of approximately 950,000 precious ‘Basra pearls’, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and colored glass beads in elaborate floral arabesques, this exquisite pearl canopy is a true testament to the sophistication and grandeur of the courts of the maharajas. It is one of only two surviving pieces of the renowned five-part suite of carpets commissioned by the maharaja of Baroda, Khande Rao Gaekwad (r. 1856-1870), reputedly intended to adorn the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. The unparalleled craftsmanship of this canopy bears witness to the flourishing pearl-trade between the Arabian Gulf and India, which reached its golden age in the mid-nineteenth century. At that time, the highest quality pearls were sold in Basra to the Indian elite where they adorned lavish jewelers and textiles, used here in an astonishing quantity.
Even the earliest accounts of this textile stress the striking visual effect of the abundant jewels and pearls. Among them, George Birdwood wrote, around a decade after its production, “when spread out in the sun it seemed suffused with a general iridescent pearly bloom, as grateful to the eyes as were the exquisite forms of its arabesques." (Birdwood, 1884, p.284) The only other surviving piece from this magnificent carpet was acquired by Qatar Museums at Sotheby’s, Doha, 19 March 2009, lot 401.