Copies of Classical carpets surface regularly at auction,although less frequently than in the 70`s and 80`s. But occasionally a carpet appears of such decorative merit as to be truly outstanding.One such was an Agra sold at Christies in 1998.(1)Measuring 851 x 391 cms,it is a shortened version of its progenitor,which is now in the Metropolitan Museum New York.That carpet,from the interesting but little-known Lehman Collection,was first published by Arthur Upham Pope in his Survey of 1939,plate 1179(2)It was then owned by French & Co,and had formerly been in the Collection of Genevieve Brady,via Dikran Kelekian.Lehman acquired it in 1937.According to Daniel Walker in his notes to the Lehman Collection ,the carpet is one of a pair,once probably belonging to the Maharajah of Jaipur.The Met piece is not registered in the Campbell inventory of Jaipur carpets,so must have left India before 1929.Its mate is said to be in a European Collection.
The Lehman carpet,which so impressed Arthur Pope that he included it in the 1940 New York Persian Art Exhibition,measures 1121x 391 cms(or as given by the MET,1120 x370 cms)It is a member of a sub- group of “Isfahan” carpets produced in the 17th century,featuring arabesques and medallions,quite distinct from the traditional Red Ground Floral style,and is interesting for its combination of abstract baroque leafage and realistically drawn trees,long forgotten since the days of the Stockholm Hunting carpet(3)It portrays a landscape in motion wherein a gentle breeze wafts over a torrid red plain.The usual battery of lotus palmettes stabilises the euphoric sickle leaves,pairs of which are coyly wrapped in a lover`s embrace.An elaborate curved Saz-leaf border inserts an extra overlapping pair of fork-leaf arabesques between the main saz and palmette devices.A similar border can be found on another large carpet in Jaipur,purchased in 1667(4)
Four different medallions were devised for this carpet,two variations in the field,(5)a half concealed blue-ground corner piece which is not quite reconstructable,and an impressive tree medallion form(6) which as a montage resembles the central medallion of the Morosoni medallion carpet,now in Manilla(7)
Structurally the carpet is securely anchored within the Central Persian tradition inherited from the Emperors carpet,albeit on a cotton foundation with the ubiquitous triple weft(8)Daniel Walker has dated this carpet and others like it at Jaipur to the third quarter 17th century,which seems plausible considering the known dates of purchase,even though they may not corroborate with the time(and place!) of manufacture.The apotheosis of this style is the LaFoes carpet(9),one of the stars of the recent Clark/Corcoran Sale,13,49 metres long,and 4,645,000 dollars heavy(10)
A different timeline arises with the Agra copy,attributed by Christies to the late 19th century,as it was first published by Pope in 1939.However,carpets from Jaipur are known to have been lent to the Yeroda jail for copying.
Perhaps spurred on by the Christies sale of 1998,a second very similar carpet was offered at the same venue in 2000(11),de-accessioned by the Saint Ignacious Retreat,and described as "a Turkish Carpet".Whereas the Agra version clearly lacks the military discipline of its Safavid forebear(giving it a dreamy,surreal quality)the carpet sold on 13 December 2000(Lot 13)is a much more faithful copy.Apparently the Lehman carpet has been extensively repiled,making parts of it later than its own reproduction.Thus the attempt to compare what might be a genuinely old,very worn and faded carpet with a re-enactment from the 20th century is the point at which the study of carpets solely through photographic evidence reaches a dead-end.For might not the St.Ignacious carpet be the Lehman carpet`s twin?Or is it just a very accurate” Jail-bird “?An enquiry at the Ignacious Retreat is pending.Perhaps a whole series of reproductions may one day emerge.
Despite severe damage the Ignacious Retreat carpet fetched $30,550.The Agra version in 1998 brought $112,500,a modest sum for a major work of art.
Postscript:The Aita carpet,Lahore c. 1900,sold at Christies on 18 October 2001(lot 215)for 44,650 pounds.