Thursday 18 July 2013

Amager Inspired By The East Indies?

In 2009 I pondered if the inspiration for the distinctive style and design of Amager works could possibly have been inspired by Chinese works having seen similar types in Blue and White, The Cotton Embroideries of Rural China by Muriel Baker and Margaret Lunt. Amager is a Danish island a bus ride away from Copenhagen. Until very recently it was a self contained, self regulating Dutch enclave which had been plucked by the King of Denmark out of the Netherlands in the 1520s and dropped down on fertile ground in order to stock the court pantry with good green vegetables as only the Dutch know how. They have such a totally fascinating history - they maintained their customs, their speech, their dress and embroidery over the centuries. When I visited Amager, I was totally struck by their wonderful indigo blue embroideries teeming with mermaids, lions, horses and angels. What most impresses me is the superb gestalt of their designs in which all these apparently chaotic motifs are positioned, not at random, but in such a studied way with respect to their neighbouring motifs that the overall composition comes together in a beautiful close harmony. This effect is enhanced by the internal patterns that powder the large motifs. It is incredibly distinctive, and although I have seen some of their motifs elsewhere - for example, the paired angels appear on Vierlander samplers - I have not seen that particular approach to design anywhere else.

I discovered that there was a Danish East India Company with warehouses on Amager which traded with South East Asia - and now having seen the Lampung Ship Cloths and this new exemplar from those cloths - the question has to be asked if the designs are from the East Indies and have spread in both directions? The Needleprint Amager Panel 1797 Chart contains more history.


  1. Absolutely. I would agree with this hypothesis 100%. There's a large collection of Chinese patterns in the archives of the Harvard University Peabody Museum. (I interned there under the archivist an aeon ago). They were gathered by missionaries from around 1880-1910. Many of these patterns are even closer visually to the Dutch and Danish works than are the designs in the Baker/Lunt book. -K.

  2. Fascinating, and you may well be right about influences. However, often the creative journey is so convoluted and multi-layered that it would be difficult to trace.