Thursday 28 May 2015

Lineage I : Iran,16th Century

From the tent of the Grand Vizier

Now divided between Vienna and New York,a pair of Safavid animal carpets have had a long-term impact on carpet design.Due to intrinsic technical difficulties the tradition of animal-combat scenes could only be maintained by a few specialised producers,but the basic layout of addorsed Lotus Palmettes was continued into the 19th century.The pair have  been designated as Hunting Carpets,but they lack human participants.They were first exhibited and published in 1920 by the Museum of Fine Arts in Vienna(MAK). It seems the accompanying show may have been a discrete catalogue of Sale goods intended to finance war-reparations(or to carry out much needed repairs to the MAK) But the authorities backpedaled,and the subsequent auction seems to have flopped.Only one of the Habsburg animal carpets sold,and a Medallion carpet associated with Charles V subsequently entered the Gulbenkian Collection.The animal carpet came into the possession of the British company of Cardinal & Harford in 1925,or more accurately,its director Victor Behar.
A good deal of publicity was drummed up,including the issue of a pamphlet with contributions from Pope,Kendrick and W.G Thomson-(“The Emperor´s Carpet,and Two Others”).At this point the association with Peter the Great was erroneously mooted,and the carpet became a “Hunting” carpet.In the meantime the MAK`s remaining piece had been published in Sarre-Trenkwald(1926).The MET`s  carpet was sent on a promotional tour to America,where it was exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery(1926)and at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1927.
But to no avail.The author`s copy of the Cardinal &Harford catalogue once belonged to Creasy Tattersall,who noted on the cover”Christies sale of July 5 1928,bot(sic) by Duveen £23,100($112,600).Auction record”It seems that the carpet was brokered by Arthur Pope to Edith McCormick Rockefeller.The tragic and free-spending Edith may have kept the carpet at her Villa Turicum,but in 1943 it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum,again through the agency of A.U Pope.

Edith McCormick Rockefeller

The two animal carpets have not been published together.

1 - 2

The Met`s carpet was said by Royall Tyler to have been in worse condition,but both seem to have suffered a good deal of samovar damage during their long careers.Interestingly,the ornaments are more generously depicted in the upper half,beginning exactly above the focal point,and curtailing in the last field sequence.This is quite deliberate,as it occurs on both pieces,and was in no way intended to correct a false start.The Ardabil carpets were designed in the same way.However,it certainly allowed minor alterations in the overall size whilst still on the loom.

3-the focal point

Almost all Red Ground Floral ("RGF")carpets have a focal point,around which a quartered design revolves.Invariably two large palmettes jut out laterally.The border itself may also be marked with a special design at this point.

The MET`s example,halved,mirrored and reversed demonstrates clearly the differences in the upper register.Note how the yellow dragons have separated.


For comparison,the London Ardabil.It has often been noted that the upper lamp is larger,but in fact the entire field is more generously woven.Note the substrate medallion around the lamp;the Emperor`s Carpets have it also,three medallions created by free-falling animals.

6-7 The London Ardabil

The lower left and upper right of the field show very clearly the difference in drawing,but was it achieved by adjusting the weave?If so,this might explain the differences in knot-count noted in the Ardabil carpets.Differences in knot count between upper and lower halves should be investigated in the animal carpets.It seems the figures were made larger by reducing the amount of tracery in the surrounding field.


The borders tell a similar tale,and also reveal what colossal liberties were taken with the pattern


The menagerie in each quarter is as follows:Fenghuang bird-Fallow deer-Khilin-Fenghuang bird-Dragons on leaf-Wolf-Khilin on leaf-Leopard-Lion attacking Bull-Tiger-Ibex-Leopard attacking Gazelle-Fenghuang bird-Lion-Beixi attacking Khilin-Red Horned Lions-Fenghuang bird


It`s not known who designed this carpet,although a strong possibility is Aqa-Mirak,a boon companion of Shah Tahmasp,who was certainly capable of it as a laquer cover in Hamburg shows.

13-Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 1894.27

The new mode of laquer work had been adopted from the last years of the Timurid era.The combat scenes on the animal rugs are part of a long East-West tradition stretching back to the Scythian Steppe


The roaming predators are psychological portraits culminating in the wily orange lion


16-Hunting wild Boar,Taq-e-Bostan

The winged Khilins writhe and bray as if in death-agony;one beast is esconced Alice-in-Wonderland style on a leaf


alas! the Persian Deer and Ibex are now endangered



The Fenghuang depictions are the most diverse,befitting the harbinger who appears in different guises


The winged dragons are perhaps borrowed from a Sung bronze mirror and about to de-materialise into wispy cloudbands.Their role seems pivotal,conjoined at the beginning,parting ways at the end


23-Palace Museum

24-The Baghdad Gate

Lion masks adorn the palmettes in field and border


Manifold are the beasts concealed in the undergrowth of the border,the most exciting and complex ever lain on a carpet


The author has arrived at the following tally,but makes no claim to completeness:

lower left border 1-8 animals:-

1-grey wolf,lion biting,brown bear-rabbit-
2-blue wolf biting,grey brown wolf
3-monkey,red cow,grey ram,horned
grey sheep,muzzled animal,horned grey sheep,grey cow,muzzled horse,blue rabbit(2  yellow lion masks)
4-yellow lion,simurgh-1 red lion mask
5-Crowned king,opposed blue horses?,yellow lion
6-boar,yellow grey head,lamb,lamb,ram,1 red mask
7-red cow,2 red lion masks,1 yellow lion mask
8-white horse,lynx or leopard,grey lion? (29 animals)

Upper left border,

9-grey griffin,lynx or leopard,white horse
10-grey cow,1 red lion mask
11-monkey,red cow,ram,yellow grey head,grey horned head,1 red lion mak
12-boar,yellow lion,1 yellow lion mask
,blue horse biting,simurgh
,leopard head,1 lion mask
14-wild boar,grey head,brown horse,yellow lion,ram,1 yellow lion mask
16- sheep(ears)grey sheep(onager),yellow lion,yellow grey head (26 animals)

55 animals-5 yellow lion masks-6 red lion masks

lower right border

1—grey wolf,monkey,red cow,ram,grey wolf,muzzled horse,boar,green rabbit,lion,eagle?,wolf?,2 blue horses,wolf?3 red lion masks,3 yellow lions masks,1 king(14)

2—boar,blue rabbit?,sheep?,sheep?,ram,red cow,white horse,yellow lion,white lion-2 yellow lion masks,2 red lion masks(9)

upper right border

3—white lion,yellow lion,white horse,grey head?,,leopard,lion,ram,boar,grey head,grey head,white monkey?,2 red lions masks,(11)

4—yellow lion?simurgh,grey bull?,2 blue horses,grey bull?,simurgh,yellow lion,boar,blue rabbit,boar,sheep,ram,3 yellow lion masks(13)

47 animals-7 red lionmasks-8 red lion masks

 The Simurgh,which does not appear in the field,is a frequent visitor.


It was perhaps the vaq-vaq layout which prompted Murray Eiland to attribute the animal carpets to India.However the border`s initial inspiration seems to derive from a calligraphic source,and it is the mixture of animal energy and arabesque which gives these carpets their panache.A good deal of improvisation occurs;in fact human error is now part of the creative process.

28-Arabesque fencing

29-Mahgreb,14-15th century,MET 1999.146

30-Herat 1425

The palmettes are amongst the most noble ever devised,in particular a dominant"jewel-in the lotus" type with cloudband diadem, the carpet`s central statement


Flanked by two Fenghuang,its real meaning has never been decyphered.One is reminded of the power-rings transferred at royal investiture.


33-Taq-e-Bostan,Investiture of Ardashir II(note ribboned ring, Lotus,and recumbent Roman Emperor)

Straddling the focal point,a tiara emerges from the white cloudbands flowing beneath it


Four crowned figures are placed in the centre of the upper and lower borders,but below the focal point on the long sides


It is easy to lose sight of these magical flowers through an over-concentration on the rampant,frolicking animals


Probably they were the source for Pope`s illustrations


The Lotus palmette is an Egyptian device,invented somewhere around 3000 BC.Egyptian perspective consists of combining different angles into a birds-eye view.Thus a flower seen from the front will be merged with a view from the top,one or the other sepals will be left undepicted,and a side view added.A stele with falcon reduced to its individual elements appears thus:


Seen in this way,carpet design is "Egyptian Perspective"especially in the creation of Palmette forms,and their geometrical descendent,the Turkmen "Göl".
The Lotus Palmette is said to have travelled eastward via the Assyrian Kingdom,the Mediterranean,Greece(where it fused with the Acanthus scroll,and the Anthemion was born)across the Near and Middle East on its way to China through the Buddhist conduit,and thence returned with the Mongols to Persia and the Middle East.However,Egypt was occupied by the Achaemeniden during the so-called "First Persian Domination" which lasted from 525 to 402 BC.This might well explain the presence of lotus forms at Persepolis


It is worth noting that the traditional sacred Egyptian Lotus is in fact not a Lotus at all,but a water lily,of the Nymphaea family.The Indian Lotus,or Nelumbum,was introduced for a while into Egypt,but eventually died out.


The concept of animals cavorting in the undergrowth was already well established in Europe,and it may be that Safavid weavers were partly inspired by diplomatic gifts



But the animal carpets are held together by a trellis of whiplash scrolls,another device adopted from Antiquity


44-Galla Placida,Ravenna

The strategy of the palmettes and their placement  had a lasting influence.Before considering the RGF `s (Red-Ground florals) of the 17th century,it will be necessary to deal with  a number of splinter groups generated by the Emperor`s Carpets.A related cluster uses the same cartoon,but with some variations.The main difference is a giant scrolling border on white ground.For obvious reasons,the original border was never attempted again.


The border is a borrowing from the Classical world.It devolves into one of the favourite modus operandi of Turkmen main carpets.


47-The Ballard Yomut Carpet-full of Lotus Magic

The Bacri carpets have been collated as a group,first by Michael Franses in the Textile Gallery catalogue of 1986,and then by Christine Klose at the ICOC Istanbul in 2007.Her findings were published posthumously in Hali 170.The following is a condensed version of her summary with some ammendments.The Roman numerals refer to the carpets as grouped by Frau Klose.Nrs I and II are the Emperor`s Carpets.  

Nr.III.MAK,Vienna.So damaged that it was only partially reproduced in Sarre-Trenkwald,this likely companion to the Bacri carpet also reveals the expanded upper-field technique employed in the Emperor`s carpets.


49-lower and upper halves

Nr.IV,The Bacri Freres carpet,ex Textile Gallery,now Tabibnia,Milan.A re-configured carpet,of which at least five other fragments are known.The border fragment from the Wolf Collection went unmentioned by Christine Klose.

50-MATAM Collection Milan



Nr V,London.One large reconfigured part is in the Victoria & Albert Museum.


Another four parts are on record


Nr.VI.The MAK in Vienna possesses a cornerpiece from a further outstanding example,and another two fragments from the same carpet are in the North Bohemian Museum,Liberec,Czech Republic.The reconstruction of this carpet was published in Hali 171,page 25.


Nr VII.London is fortunate to own a full-width piece; a former Bernheimer fragment  once constituted its lower half.


Nr.VIII.A well known fragment in Hamburg parts company with the large scale whiteground scrolling border in favour of a more bourgeois background,soon to herald in the 17th century.But the cartoon is that of the Emperor`s carpets.Fortuitously,the second piece of this carpet,ex-Böhler,has lately been acquired by the MKG in Hamburg.A simple photomontage shows the substrate medallions,and reveals how mechanical these carpets would appear if the two halves exactly matched.Presumably,this is the reason why the scale was increased in the upper half.


Nr IX. Two fragments divided between London and Paris also implement the proprietary green ground border.A photomontage reveals the substrate central medallion.


A last item,now fragmented,concludes this section.It has the great scythe border of the Bacri group,but the animals have now been banished,with the exception of the golden pheasants.The piece transitions into a further group with green ground borders derived from Nr. VIII and IX.The carpet in question was first published in the 1910 Munich exhibition,then with the Spanish Art Galleries.It later appeared in the Tehran Carpet Museum,published by Gans-Ruedin,but reduced in length.


An RGF fragment appeared at Sothebys June 1988,ex-Rockefeller,and was acquired by Eberhart Herrmann.It is in fact the missing upper half of the Tehran carpet.A number of important classical carpets were purchased by the Tehran Museum from the Rockefellers;this is probably where the wires crossed.

Sothebys 1988-SOT X

62-The re-united Spanish galleries-Rockefeller-Tehran carpet


A detour leads us to a carpet with "Animal-Pursuit" scenes and arboreal elements,the Madre de Deus carpet now divided between Lisbon and Washington.The "Animal-Pursuit" style later became popular in India,where combat scenes were rarely depicted.Most of the beasts from the Emperor`s Carpets are present,but a striking difference is the introduction of elegant swaying Plane trees(in the style of Aqa Mirak),and a green-ground border with swooping Fenghuang.There are no combat scenes.The carpet is knotted on a silk warp,like most of the great Safavid carpets-but not all silk warped carpets are so immaculate.It seems to have fathered a small group of rugs with Chenar depictions,although that may just represent errant borrowing.

64-Madre de Deus carpet,Lisbon(upper larger part)and Washington,Textile Museum(lower border)

65-Madre de Deus,closeups

Two other medallion carpets with swooping bird borders employ Chenar trees and animal fight scenes


The proprietary green ground palmette border later seen in 17th century "Indo-Persians" is slowly emerging.Two further examples with Chenar trees and birds feature cartouche borders.


The swooping bird border appears in a number of silk Keshan rugs,which are doubtless earlier.A combat rug displaying all the finesse of this exquisite group is in New York,a second medallion-combat rug is at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon

68-Altman Collection,MET


A group of medallion carpets,some with animals or just birds,continue the Emperor`s Carpets palmette style.They mainly employ cartouche borders.Two formidable examples are in the MET and the Islamic Museum in Qatar.


An early green border example once in the Yerkes collection is actually one of a pair,now in the MET,with a fervid party sequence in the central medallion and original Emperor`s fight-scenes



A salient example with tiara-cloudband palmettes exists in Cincinatti,with Golden Pheasants and Peacocks


A McMullan fragment is reminiscent of the Seley Carpet with elaborate Animal-Combat cartouche borders,but the field is complexer


Four fragments spread out around the world are from a carpet with the palmette and bird design.Christine Klose attributed them to Khorasan.


In a similar vein,but lacking animals, are two outstanding fragments,one sold at Lefevre the other ex-Schorscher Collection


This section concludes with a group of  four fragmented carpets,of the highest possible quality.The "Sangiorgi" Group is named after a carpet from the eponymous collection,published by Pope in 1939.The carpet has been so reduced as to make a convincing reconstruction impossible.It was exhibited at Maastricht in the `80s,and hopefully one day better reproductions will be available.


It is only tangentally related to the Emperor`s Carpets,originating,as Erdmann said,from a different cartoon.In fact it seems that the design is a version of the border from the Emperor`s carpets,not really related to the Anhalt carpet as Erdmann surmised.


A large fragment from a similar carpet exists in Leipzig,but with red instead of white cloudbands,and having the same width.


Three exceptional fragments are known from another similar carpet(or two?)
The first surfaced at Koller`s in Switzerland,and was later advertised by the Textile Gallery.It is remarkable in every way.Another piece is in the Burrell collection,and a third fragment was published by Erdmann in his review of the Viale book,said to have been in the Benaki Museum.


81-Benaki Museum

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