Thursday, 28 May 2015

Lineage IV : Palmettes

A stiff,angular palmette emerges on Persian Medallion Carpets of the 16th Century.Some of these are amongst the oldest known Safavid carpets,and it`s likely that the Angular Palmette is a Timurid inheritance,as it can be seen on a painting from 1486.


The design does not occur in other media,being conditioned by the limitations of the carpet grid.A very fluid depiction can be seen on the Blumenthal carpet in the MET.The palmettes are placed at 45 degrees at the corners of the central medallion;in all four directions a "Buddhist" palmette has been inserted,such as will be seen later in the Emperor`s carpets.


A carpet from the McMullan Collection features a riot of ornate palmettes,including split arabesques which will later assist in the formation of the Afshan design.


A piece in the Purrmann Collection was Christina Klose`s candidate for the oldest Persian carpet;the palmettes are embossed upon half-cartouche border elements in the field.


Simpler in layout than the McMullan,a carpet once with Chris Alexander has the palmettes placed at intervals around the inside of the medallion;again,the field tracery with split palmettes will later contibute to the Afshan design.


Another fragment from McMullan,now in the V&A,places the palmettes in a vertical and horizontal position on a field interspersed with split leaves.


Divided between the V&A Museum and the Keir and Alexander collections are pieces from a medallion carpet with a fully explicit Palmette arrangement.



Originally,the fragments would have constituted a carpet such as one formerly in the Mikaeloff Collection.


A fragment,which went unsold at Christies in 1999,documents the "stiffening"customary  in all carpet chronicles,but is still probably 17th century.


And the aforementioned Bardini carpet(250) places the palmettes between leaves and sidewinders.


Designs,carpets and their progenitors wandered all over Persia.In the East,a group of heiratic carpets in monumental style adopted the Angular palmette for their own purposes.Classified as 17th Century Khorasan,this group may well have emanated from Herat.The Spiral-Vine tracery has been replaced by a thick series of connecting branches,no doubt a borrowing from South Persia.


Two further fragments utilise a primeval version of the Bacri carpets`border.Although child-like in their awkward  use of classical elements,the group is consistently epic.


Great was the joy when three fragments were united in Berlin.


A fragment at Rippon Boswell on 19 May 2007(1) fetched $9,765.


A last example survives only as a pieced together fragment in the Bardini Museum,but contains all the ingredients of a successful Angular Palmette rug.


A small carpet seems but a faint echo,and went unsold at Christies on 2 April 1998(98)Apparently Persian Knotted,open to the right(?)


A carpet in the MAK,Vienna,has all the characteristics of the Herat-Group,but is Turkish knotted on a cotton foundation.Edwards explains that the Persian and the Turkish knot are used equally in Mashhad-perhaps there are very old Khorasan carpets which are Turkish knotted as well.


There are not so many pure palmette-form carpets in North-West Persia;the design seems to have mutated quickly into the Harshang.A small group from the "Golden triangle" underline this.


Plus a fragment in Munich.

309-Völkerkunde Museum Munich

A fascinating patchwork with a rare combination of Palmette and Tree design resides in the Dixon collection.


The impressive Lichnowski carpet reinstates the stiff palmettes in an obsessive way.The carpet,reduced by a half,is in the MAK in Vienna.


A fragment recalls its Khorasan origins in the border,but the Harshang field is now main-stream Caucasus.


A carpet fragment discovered at Chaalis by Christina Klose is matched by an example in the Dixon Collection.Here the palmettes have  sickle leaves mounted on them like horned helmets;eight pointed stars are arraigned along the spine and Karagashli Göls dot the field.


In the Caucasus,the Angular Palmette becomes the main filler on many different types of rugs,united by their descendence from the Red Ground Floral layout.A refined group of Caucasian carpets,christened the "Vine-Leaf" group by C.G Ellis, employs them in a radically angularised environment.



Much rougher in execution are a group of large Kelleh,mostly found in Anatolian Mosques,with a simple version of the Holbein Göl.These were copied in the 19th century by simply reducing the spinal field,as in a carpet once with Battilossi.


Then follows a rapid process of decline,although the first or second carpet may have been copied in the Balkans.


An immaculate pair of carpets bears an allover stiff palmette design.The first was published in the 1920`s by Jacoby,and later in a decimated version by Serare Yetkin.Grote-Hasenbalg published a colour foto of one corner,and another fragment surfaced in an American collection.The second is the Pohlmann carpet,auctioned successfully a number of times.Both have the simplified strapwork border originating from the Bacri carpets.




Another 18th century example has abandoned the complex design for a simple repeat pattern.

321-Sothebys 2004

A magnetic remnant was uncovered in Sivas,and published by Serare Yetkin in her standard work.

322-Yetkin 61

Yet another carpet in Istanbul was also published by Yetkin,although she had nothing to say about it.It has a very capable and quite Anatolian style border,unmatched by its crude field design.


A seminal carpet is the yellow ground piece once in the McMullan Collection,now lost at the MET,which seems to be pulling in all directions simultaneously:the Palmette,the Harshang,the Bacri border...


Carpets with standard palmette designs abound in the Caucasus,and the Nigde carpet is an example invoking its Khorasan predecessors in a resplendent way.


Prince Sanguszko once owned an earlier Persian variant of the Nigde carpet-here the two for comparison.


A piece in the TIEM,Istanbul has quite East Asian Lotus Palmettes,and a Turkmen feel to the layout.


Simple repeat designs based on the RGF design occur also in degenerate 18th century examples.



An iconic group of "tree" carpets feature large palmettes in a heraldic way.The tendency is always to animalise vegetal forms.Carpets of this type were frequently copied in Eastern Europe.


Two massively drawn carpets, in Persian and Caucasian style ,continue the heraldic modus.


Two fully loaded items clear the way into the 19th century,the borders reminiscent of certain Star Kazaks.


An exceptional group of eight carpets and fragments continue the animalised palmette style.





A group of three pieces transitions from the 18th to the 19th centuries.The palmette designs re-appear later in Avar rugs.


Exquisite smaller items were also produced at this time.


The Lenkoran style is also an example of addorsed palmettes in an emblazoned,heraldic style.


Two later pieces in the "Chelaberd" mode represent an ultimate reduction in which the individual design elements seem to float in space.


Cloudbands also feature in a few Caucasian examples.The first item is clearly derived from the Bardini Medallion carpet.


One of Herr Kirchheim`s finest moments was certainly this Cloudband-Harshang-Angular Palmette rug,which exudes greatness.


A medallion carpet once at Sothebys appears to be the progenitor of all Chondzoresk carpets.


The sidewinders in the Rossi carpet have been straightened and tamed.No longer dangerous but decorative,it fetched $70,535 at Sothebys in 1999.


All of the classic Caucasian carpet types feature palmettes in some way. Primarily the Transitional "sunburst" category springs to mind.


A second group influenced by the Vase Carpets of Iran always displays palmettes,Lotus and angular palmettes.


In the strange Davis carpet the palmettes have mutated and resemble those found on Ersari carpets of the "Richardson" type.


At Bonhams in 2008,the following featured an offset central medallion wrought out of split palmettes,in the Polonaise manner;and our old friends the horned palmettes make a return.


A carpet from Alberto Boralevi employs an RGF Saz border and a system of ascending palmettes.


On view at the ICOC in Milan,the following seems in the throes of dissolution,yet the Harshang format is clear and the figures keenly observed.


A  fragment in Austria combines palmettes and large black bugs not unlike the whiteground Selendi carpets,and achieves monumentality in a limited space through its sparse but forceful drawing.


Lineage III : India and Khorasan

After the disintegration of the Safavid carpet tradition in the 18th century,the RGF design split into three different styles:a group with predominantly Palmette design;another with Palmette and adjuncts,called the “Harshang”,or crab design;and a repeat design  of split-leaf arabesques,named “Afshan”,elements of which had already appeared in early 17th century Persian carpets.These borrowings had presumably occurred before the downfall of the Safavid Dynasty;but by the 18th century they were in full swing.A small group of Indian carpets employs the Harshang design,but its origins likely lay in Khorasan.
The “Trinitarias “ Group,named after a carpet now in Australia,originally descends from a grand Persian carpet in the Bardini Museum,Florence.

250-Bardini Museum 730/456


This carpet has been dated by some authorities to as early as 1500,due apparently,to its circular medallion.Murray Eiland demolishes this line of thought in Ghereh 21/42.The field design is basically that of a middle-period RGF,already showing signs of simplification.The border is a standard in the Tabriz(?) Medallion repertoire,but a superior example was once in the McMullan Collection.Its gigantic sidewinders reveal to what lengths cloudbands can go.


Nevertheless the field of the Bardini carpet had a great deal of influence in the North-West Persian Zone of the 18th Century.


Next in the chain of command is another medallion carpet in the Musee des Arts decoratifs,Paris.

253-von Scala 1908


The Paris and Florence carpets are roughly the same size,but the Paris carpet appears more packed in the vertical.The border has changed to a cartouche type,with round and oblong shapes connected by Astragals. 

The Trintarias carpet is the largest of all,weighing in at a mighty 1044 x 336 cms.It represents a further simplification,and on this piece real Harshang forms appear to have mutated out of the flaming palmettes on the other carpets.



The palmettes have become larger and more frequent in the field.Note the corner solution at the beginning-identical to that in the Bardini.

257-The Trinitarias Carpet

Another piece in the Burrell Collection features even more prominent Harshang palmettes.



A fragment published by Pope from the Collection of Edith McCormick Rockefeller(of Emperor`s Carpet fame)employs the same border as the Paris/Auckland carpets,but also introduces animal depictions.Pope does not describe the piece in his text,but it clearly belongs to the Trinitarias Group.


After a journey to Istanbul in 1964,Ulrich Schurmann wrote a report for Weltkunst in which he described a NW Persian carpet seen at the Turk ve Islam, attributed to Azerbaijan.It is large,but simpler in design than the preceeding examples.


A fragment in the Burrell Collection is perhaps from the same group,although it has corner medallions in the field.The Harshangs lay horizontally in the field and are very mature.Perhaps it is Khorasan work.


A number of examples exist which are obviously simplified copies,from the area known in rug-circles as the"Golden Triangle"One such was sold at Christies in 1998.

263-Christies 15 October 1998(301)

Even an embroidery with this pattern is known.


A fragment published by the TKF shows impending horizontal Harshang Palmettes on what is said to be an Indian carpet;no tech info is available.

A carpet in Coimbra in standard Indian garb depicts palmettes at 90 degrees and   upright jewel in the Lotus.



No review would be complete without examples from the Deccan,those poor cousins of Lahore.

267-Japanese Collections

The author has deliberately avoided the contentious issue of "Persia or India"for the mass of apparently later RGFs.More important seems to be"17th or 19th Century",in the face of a number of excellent later reproductions.One carpet in Berlin springs to mind,which was discovered to be 19th century after dye analysis.


Mr.Perez could still remember the ustad of this carpet,said to have been alive in 1953.


270-Reverse side of two Khorasan carpets

Herat,the capital of the Timurid Empire and of Khorasan,has now fallen into disfavour as a carpet-weaving location,but it is far too important historically to dismiss.It was the artistic and administrative capital of the Timurids until 1507.Surely such a centre would have produced the most exclusive and luxurious carpets?That was at least the thinking behind the earliest carpet attributions.The following selection of carpets with Harshang design may or may not have originated in Greater Khorasan.Otherwise they should be described as “East Persian”Many of them include extensive Jufti-Knotting,said by Cecil Edwards to have been a characteristic of Persian Khorasan weaving.Combined with a two-shoot weft structure,this leads to a floppier weave and more painterly style.Edwards considered the Jufti knot to be a fraudulent technique.It seems to have been employed in large areas of plain field,but it is actually a method of drawing fine contours,used even in China.It should be further noted that Edward`s drawings of Persian and Jufti knots are incorrect.The designs were later copied in North West Persia by a process of design osmosis,till now not quite understood.

What appears to be the earliest Persian rug with Harshang design and a drop repeat from an RGF  is an august gentleman once with Duveen and then Yves Mikaeloff,twice auctioned and reviewed by Hali,and even including"fat parrots" in its field design.


Initially ascribing this carpet to Isfahan in their 1988,review,Hali`s hardy editorial team backpedaled to a Khorasan attribution(Hali 40-80+96-141)The Harshangs are lain out vertically,but the whole is more relaxed than the Trinitarias group,perhaps due to the jufti knottting and 2 ply blue weft.

Almost eight metres long and with 2 ply weft and jufti pile,the next example in Vienna has a field with 2/3 re-knotting:the rest is worn away.Attributed by Angela Völker to the 17th century.


Two fragments from a single carpet have emerged in the past few years,quite similar to the MAK carpet.They both employ elements borrowed from Vase carpets,and with elegant chi forms and palmettes.The first piece appeared at Cheflins in 2009 and was sold for $22,050.Now in Milan.


The second fragment was sold at Sothebys in 2014 for $37,500.


A comparable Vase Carpet fragment is in the MET,ex-Ballard

275-MET 22.100.68

Continuing on from the Mikaeloff rug,the following was at Christies and Freeman`s with a stopover at Peter Pap.It sports the old curved Saz border.Illustrated next to a Kuba area carpet sold twice at Sothebys in 1990 and 1992.


Worn but distinguished by a yellow ground border.

277-Christies 25 April 2002(74)

Published by Grote-Hasenbalg in 1922,the next item is adorned with in and out palmettes,Harshang,and a nascent Afshan design,underpinned with lozenge trellis pattern-the last remnants of the spiral vine.


The Toms carpet was an exercise in decorum with arabesque ragged palmette border.

279-Toms sale 2

A distinguished group of Kelleh feature Nastaliq inscriptions and are frequently dated.

280-Published Pope-dated 1808

An interesting blue ground variant appeared at Christies in 2014.


Finally,some comparisons between Khorasan and West Persia and the Caucasus.

282-Left: Khorasan.Right:Kuba area.

283-Left:Khorasan(note Bardini-style corner solution).Right:NW Persia.

A carpet fragment sold at Rippon Boswell`s on 28 May 2011(75)for  3294€ was described as hailing from Azerbaijan,although the border has a distinct Khorasan flavour.


A wonderful fragment in the Baranowicz Collection has fully-fledged Harshang palmettes and a minor border filled with Armenian inscription


Possibly from Khorasan are some border fragments in the Museum of Ethnography,Konya.


A fragment published by Daniel Walker in Hali 149(76)bears a Lotus design of arresting beauty.


Nagel`s fragment  on a rigid lattice groundwork is a possible candidate.A second fragment is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.


But we are on solid ground with an item from the James Burns Collection,published in Visions of Nature,where a small white tree is becoming Harshang.