Monday 1 December 2014

Doors of Jannah-Turkey and the Mediterranean


Saph carpets are furnishings for the House of God.

Perhaps the Saph form is older than the single niche prayer rug,having often been used in war and ceremonial tents.But the earliest representations are of single niche prayer rugs

2-Freer Art Gallery

The above,from a 14th century il-Khanid illustrated work,shows the Prophet seated upon a prayer rug.The word"Allah"can be made out in the niche.

The earliest depiction of a Saph can be seen in a 15th century Khamsa of Nizami

3-MET 1994.232.4

This index unfolds from the Middle East to the borders of China.

Most Saphs were woven sideways,on normal sized looms.Exceptions have been noted.The original number of panels cannot always be ascertained,as the fate of a Saph is to be cut into fragments and used for solitary prayer.

The Middle East.

Depictions of arcades appear in early Arab literature and painting

4-Kuwait,12th century

5-Al-Hariri,Maqamat,13th century

Only one Mamluke prayer rug has survived

6-Museum of Islamic Art,Berlin

Two Saphs attributed to Cairo include a rough-hewn example now in Chicago

7-Field Museum,Chicago

A related fragment was sold at Christies London in 2011 for $58,500

8-Christies 4 October 2011,lot 101

A prayer rug fragment from the Wher collection might once have formed part of an arcaded example




The oldest known Saphs are two fragments now in the Turk ve Islam Museum in Istanbul.A Holbein style carpet on blue-green ground features two rows of niches,thus effectively creating the first tiered-style.The niches are so schematic that they could also depict rows of tents


12-TIEM 744

The more elegant of the two incorporates all pious accessories found in later carpets,as well as introducing the "re-entrant" theme

13-TIEM 720

The lamps appear in another fragment from the Textile Museum,along with rosettes from the "Chessboard" group

14-Textile Museum R 34.00.2

Many fragments of genuine mosque fittings have survived.Three design types are said to have been made for the Selimiye mosque in Edirne.Whether contemporary or not cannot be confirmed,but they may well be late 16th or early 17th century

Group 1,Hatayi style

Many fragments exist with the floral arabesque design.They appear to be from one carpet featuring a niche-lamp and a medallion not unlike that seen on some Cairene prayer rugs

15-TIEM 474

16-TIEM 776

17-TIEM 804

18-TIEM 196

19-TIEM 479

A fragment once in the Michaelian Collection later passed to Harold Keshishian,and was auctioned twice,at Sothebys on December 13 1986 for $16,500;and again at Sothebys on 7 December 2010 for $62,500.It relates directly to the TIEM`s 196,sharing the same elongated Medallion


Group 2,White Rosettes style.

Distinguished by strewn white rosettes,a device borrowed from Iznik tile-work

21-TIEM 22

22-TIEM 54

23-TIEM 127

24-TIEM 139(4 panels)

25-TIEM 543

26-TIEM 774

27-TIEM 774

28-TIEM 777

Two very similar fragments were with Eskenazi and Thompson respectively


The Jon Thompson fragment sold at his sale on 16 December 1993 for $43,700

30-Sothebys 1993

An impressive double-decker variant was once with Campana

31-Textile Museum Journal II-4-17

The Textile Museum also owns a "piece"


And a last part of the puzzle was published by Ledacs in 1977


Group 3 Chintamani style

At least three examples are known,presumably from the same ensemble,featuring symbolic position-markers at the base of the mihrab.Probably more are stored in Istanbul.

34-TIEM 465

35-TIEM 555-975

A third example was published by Ledacs in 1977.It is not clear where it belongs in the scheme of things


A coarser,more "industrial" quality is said to have lain in Istanbul`s Süleymaniye Mosque.Less courtly,it paves the way for a larger group of "Ushak" Saph carpets

An imposing two-tier item,sold twice at Lefevre`s in the 1970`s(the last on 5 October 1979,Lot 29,for 7500 pounds)eventually reached the Al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait


A second large piece is now in the Vakflar carpet Museum

38-Hali 168-91

A third item is in Chicago

39-Chicago,Finnerud Bequest

A related,perhaps earlier group from Edirne with feet and lamps has a more elegant spandrel decoration

40-TIEM 88

41-TIEM 337

42-TIEM 115

A two-tier piece in the possession of the Istanbul dealer S.Haim was published by C.G Ellis(Antique Rugs of the Near East,Bode-Kühnel,plate 28)


Offered three times in the London auction market"the property of a lady"first appeared at Christies on 9 June 1977,selling for £5000;it was offered,curiously,against a reserve of £ 600/1200 at Sothebys on 25 April 1979;before sinking at Sothebys on 23 April 1980 against an estimate of
£ 4000/6000.A seven panel model with elegant borders.

44-Sothebys 1977

Another example with lamps,pendants and Hatayi field was published by Stanley Reed,and what is possibly a closeup from the same carpet,in the Textile Museum Journal


46-TMJ 1973

A further three examples with lamps and feet have been published

47-Sülemaniye Mosque,Hali 168-90


49-Sothebys June 1989,Lot 116

A group of green ground Ushak saphs appeared on the market in the 1980`s, realistically dated to the 18th century.A piece from the Chris Alexander collection was auctioned at Christies in 2008 for $83,850

50-Christies 10 April 2008(106)

It seems to match up nicely to the two-tiered item in the Linden Museum Stuttgart

51-Linden Museum

Two large fragments were also acquired by the Swedish dealer J.P Willborg.The draughtsmanship of the niches and spandrels appear to originate from different sets


David Sorgato also published a similar item,probably from the same unidentified mosque

53-David Sorgato,Hali 

His colleague Alberto Levi featured another fragment on his website

54-Alberto Levi"as found"

Many fragments of the same have appeared down through the years


In a similar style,but with different treatment to mihrab and spandrels was a piece sold twice at Rippon Boswells,first on 17 November 2001 for $5,330;and again on 1 December 2007 for $28,225.A second very similar piece in two-tier
form was offered by the Indigo Gallery

56-Rippon Boswell;Indigo Gallery

One last item,for a special space (or minbar) features a stacked mihrab style and went unsold at Christies on 23 April 2013(80)

57-Christies 2013

Three further items from the Ushak zone segue into the 19th century

58-AAA 1914-109

59-AAA 1914-295


The 19th Century.

Multi-tiered examples are more common from this time.These fulfilled a less functional,more decorative purpose

61-Sothebys 14 December 1995(211)

62-Nagels 9 November 1999(67)

63-Nagels 20 October 2006(24b)

Representative for a whole group of Ghiordes Saphs,often of mediocre quality,is a double-decker from the Sulimanye Mosque

64-Hali 168-92

A carpet from the collection of H.Keshishian is interesting for its inscription


Pieces attributed to the Ushak zone include a carpet sold at Sothebys on 11 June 2008(29) for $11,250,although this may well be from the Mujur-Kirshehir triangle


Two fragments from Alberto Boralevi display an interesting colour change from row to row



As mentioned,Mudjur seems to have taken the lead in the 19th century and produced some beautifully coloured examples


70-Vakflar Museum-Hali 178-11

71-Erol Kazanci

Long rugs with up to 12 panels are known

72-Phillips 25.April 1995

One group features a square in the Mihrab made up of multi-coloured triangles

73-Udo Langauer

74-Christies 8 October 2009-84

75-Christies 8 October 2019-81

76-Sothebys October 1990(654)

Very few carpets emanate the numinous quality of the Turkish Saph now lodged in the  Museum of Islamic Art,Berlin.A skeleton of well-ordered lazy-lines reveals the weaver`s perpendicular technique


The carpet has all the simple refinement of an Indian Dhurrie,and does in fact recall the Kilim style of old Karapinar,from whence it may hail

78-Berlin,ex Bernheimer,impossible to date

Conventional wisdom attributes it to Ushak(red wefts),but it is unlike any of the Ushak productions shown here.A second fragment,from the Haim Collection,is known only from photo,and features 6 full and two half niches.The Berlin museum also possesses a wonderful Karapinar kilim,the "Seven Sleepers"

79-Berlin,purchased 1919

Sunday 28 September 2014

On the Origin of the Herati Pattern

Considering its  widespread use,the Herati pattern has not received much scholarly attention.It appears suddenly at the beginning of the 19th century in an absolutely crystallised form,probably in Khorasan;an ultra-compact and dense Gestalt rarely seen in Persian carpet-making,which had always favoured more generous designs.

One group of carpets from the late 19th century,apparently produced in the Ferdaus/Qaen/Birjand area represent a last creative use of the Herati pattern and connects deftly to its progenitors.These “Baluch” style carpets(invariably on a blue ground) can be divided into two clusters,the first of which employs a large blown-up screenshot of the Herati pattern without serrated leaves


2-L-R:ebay,Sothebys 2008,Private Collection

In the second,more numerous group serrated leaves have been inserted,often in a clumsy way.The group is on the whole not so illustrious

3-L-R:ebay Gasparion;ebay DM;ebay oldandnewrugs

The borders on these rugs are derived from Indo Persian examples of the 17th century,much simplified


5-L-R:T.Hubbard;Davoud,Amsterdam;Koch Collection

Occasionally a palmette is added to the border system,and the ground colour may vary

6-Clockwise:Akif rugs;A.C Edwards;Anthony Fahmie;Peter Hansen

A final example,with arabesque borders,is a return to origin

7-Private Collection

The earliest carpets to use the Herati pattern are a distinguished group of large Kelleh.These frequently employ an arabesque border,”the turtle” of Edwards,and a distinct narrow yellow guard.The border concept seems to have been borrowed from a group of Polonaise carpets


The wool is soft and shiny,the colours of impeccable quality.Extensive use is made of jufti knotting and the ground structure is all-cotton,with a classic three weft structure,often of blue cotton.The general impression is more of a thin and pliable textile than of a heavy carpet.The design concept was later transplanted to western Persia where it was adopted by Kurdish weavers,border and all.The creators of these early Herati Pattern carpets also wove rugs with the Harshang design,whose elements were drawn from a variety of Classical sources.It is likely that they consolidated this design as well,which appears in a perfected form at the same time.The Harshang was also taken to West Persia and penetrated into the Caucasus.Interestingly the Herati pattern never made much headway into Caucasian weaving until the late 19th century,most prominently amongst a group of Persianate style rugs attributed to Perepedil

9-Ulrich Schurmann

An equally early and elegant form of the Mina Khani design also appeared,featuring the three petal border.

A splendid example was published by Gans-Ruedin


At least two dated pieces are known

11-Sothebys 1983,dated 1806

12-Christies 1995,dated 1807

It must be said that the inwoven dates are hard to see.An often cited piece was at the Bernheimer Sale


Once in the MAK,Vienna,but now lost


An example published by the London dealer Jekyll

15-Jekyll 2-24

A small fragment highlights the typical multi-plane spiral vine framework derived from classical sources,and the delicate coloured outlining


A distinguished weave


Heinrich Jacoby also published two border fragments,well knowing they were early pieces from Khorasan


A number of Khorasan carpets with Herati pattern entered the Victoria & Albert Museum in the 19th century

19-V&A 436-1884

Another V&A piece has a central medallion

20-V&A 256-1892

A further two items, on a rare white ground, feature medallions

21-Christies 1993

22-Christies 2003

Three carpets display a border with white petals,probably Indian-derived

23-Christies 2012

The following with an elaborate border which also appears in a Mina Khani field variation

24-Druot 1979

25-The V&A `s 437-1884

A last white-petal border carpet in the V&A also occurs on later Baluch rugs

26-V&A 300-1884

Two carpets are known with a square format(always supposing that they have not been cut)


28-James Burns Collection

That these carpets,woven for Persian homes,were not suitable for everyday Western use is clear,and many have survived only in fragmentary condition

29-Bob Maurer;Bertram Frauenknecht;Private Collection

30-Patrick Pouler;Private Collection;Gene Dunford

A carpet in the V&A entered the Museum in 1927 in poor condition yet has an interesting combined Herati/Mina Khani design forming substrate medallions

31-V&A T65-1927

And a last kelleh format rug with standard border features an Indian type medallion lattice

32-MAK Vienna,now lost

Contemporary productions also included a group of exquisite Harshang design carpets,some of which are dated.They all feature Nastaliq inscribed verses from Sadi and Hafez

33-Bernheimer,dated 1808

34-Clockwise:Bausback;Bernheimer,dated 1813;Sothebys 2001+2012,dated 1718;Christies 2006

Mention has been made of the copies of the Khorasan carpets later executed in West Persia,chiefly amongst Kurdish weavers.These are generally easy to recognise

35-Christies 1980

An example in the V & A Museum is much more difficult to detect


Dated 1860-61,it entered the museum in 1880,so the dating is likely to be correct,and not simply copying.It is of very high quality,but the colouring is earthier,with less coloured outlining and a folksier approach

37-V&A 390-1880

The motif of a diamond lattice with rosettes and palmettes is a recurring feature in carpets of the 17th century.It is used extensively on Vase carpets as the integral bracket of a scrolling vine system

38-Sothebys 1969

Two carpets,perhaps from Khorasan,exhibit the nascent lattice rosette and leaf designs and also incorporate an arabesque split leaf,which was later carried over into the Caucasus to become what is known as the Avshan design.A heightened marshalling of design elements is apparent

39-Prinz von Schwarzenberg

40-Textile Gallery

Essentially a sickle-leaf design,the Herati can also be deduced from a carpet such as the Gulbenkian


Two Khorasan carpets seem to pave the way for the Herati design inception


The above described as North West Persian by Kurt Erdmann.The Avshan split arabesques are still present but a lot of pruning has taken place.Another item appeared at Christies in 2014


For comparison,an 18th century Caucasian carpet with the "Avshan "design

44-Sothebys 1993

Khorasan was always a clearinghouse for ideas coming from India.An Indian inspiration for the Herati is not inconceivable.With a little historical squinting the Altman Mughal carpet with its rosette-sickle leaf composition(a recurrent in Cairene carpets)might well have led the way

45-Altman Collection,MET

A Lahore carpet in the collection of the Duke of Buccleugh reveals more of the Herati`s underlying vine system


Another Lahore production is,shortly before conception,almost Ferahan-like

47-Benguiat sale 1932

And for design compression nothing can surpass a Millesfleurs carpet( the white petals of Safavid origin)


Much maligned,the Herati pattern eventually led to a trivialisation of the oriental carpet.In the West it entered people´s consciousness through the medium of what Cecil Edwards termed  the"Gentlemen`s Carpet".Future generations grew up on its playingfields


The history of Iran can be read in its carpets.After the downfall of Isfahan in 1722 the old regime was finished.By the early 19th century a group of workshops in Khorasan  had developed the Herati,Harshang and Mina Khani patterns in a concerted effort,and a new era began.