Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Silk Kashan Carpet

Object Name:
second half 16th century
Made in Iran, probably Kashan
Silk (warp, weft, and pile), metal wrapped thread; asymmetrically knotted pile
Mount Dimensions: L. 105 1/2 in. (268 cm) W. 76 1/2 in. (194.3 cm) Weight in mount: 555 lbs (251.7 kg)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Accession Number:
Not on view
This carpet, possibly woven in the silk trade and carpet manufacturing center of Kashan, has a dark blue quatrefoil medallion at its center. Decorative elements on this and other related carpets from Kashan and Tabriz indicate that weavers may have used pattern books containing popular motifs to guide them in production. These designs are also present in other media, particularly in the arts of the book. The use of metal-wrapped thread in a silk Kashani carpet of this size is unusual, but the high knot count of about 600 knots per inch may have made this expensive material worth its cost given the fine quality of the work.
In this classic example from the group of small silk Kashan rugs, the field pattern has a central deep-blue quatrefoil medallion with four lobes that contain a palmette flanked by forked leaves. At the corners of the field are yellow quarter medallions that mirror the central one in form but not in color or exact content. Between these medallions in the red field is a symmetrically distributed array of palmettes, leaves, and cloud forms connected by a scrolling-vine system. The main border pattern consists of a row of two palmettes, alternating in type and direction, each flanked by a pair of curved leaflike bands containing a string of blossoms. Adjacent curved bands overlap, creating a striking and unusual reciprocal pattern with a silhouette effect. The field pattern is closely matched in a rug in the Mobilier National (Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins) in Paris,[1] but the two are not a true pair, as they have different colors and main border patterns as well as slightly different dimensions overall. The field pattern also resembles that of a rug in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon,[2] though the latter incorporates a figural component—dragons and phoenixes in the central medallion and animal combats in the field. In surveying the similarities and variations within this group, one has the overall impression of a stock vocabulary of patterns, motifs, and colors that are employed interchangeably.
Of the four silk Kashan rugs in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (see also no. 14.40.721), this one has the finest weave, with about 620 knots per inch. It has been said that the small silk rugs of the group, unlike the large ones, lack any brocading of metal thread, but here metal thread (in this case a thin silver strip wrapped around a white silk core) can be seen in the cloud forms in the field and centers of some of the palmettes in both field and border. It may be that other objects in the group do possess the metal thread, but it simply hasn’t been observed, or it may be that the metal thread brocading was reserved for the pieces of highest quality (and cost).
The attribution of this group to the city of Kashan, while not implausible, has acquired a level of near certainty through years of repetition, but it rests on circumstantial evidence.[3] The use of the place-name is thus a matter of convenience for identification, not necessarily the actual origin of the rugs.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See Gans-Ruedin, E[rwin]. The Splendor of Persian Carpets. New York, 1978, p. 79.
2. Thompson and Canby 2003, p. 293.
3. The attribution is discussed in sources cited under the catalogue entry for no. 14.40.721 in footnotes notes 1, 2, and 4, and also in Walker, Daniel. "Carpets. ix. Safavid Period." In Encyclopaedia Iranica 1985–, vol. 4 (1990), p. 869.
Benjamin Altman, New York (until d. 1913; bequeathed to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Four Silk Kashan Rugs," August 2, 1994–February 5, 1994, no catalogue.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 291, ill. fig. 193 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S., and Jean Mailey. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. no. 14, pp. 56, 102, ill. fig. 80 (b/w).

Ellis, Charles. Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988. p. 178.

Ferrier, Ronald W., ed. The Arts of Persia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. p. 122, ill. pl. 8 (b/w).

Thompson, Jon, and Sheila R. Canby, ed. "Court Arts of Safavid Iran 1501–1576." In Hunt for Paradise. Milan; New York: Skira , 2003. p. 293, ill., (related).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 183, pp. 4, 263-264, ill. p. 264 (color).

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