Silk; cut and voided velvet with continuous floats of flat metal thread
Textile: H. 40 in. (101.6 cm)
W. 17 in. (43.2 cm)
Mount: H. 45 in. (114.3 cm)
W. 22 1/2 in. (57.2 cm)
D. 3/4 in. (1.9 cm)
Gift of V. Everit Macy, 1927
Not on view
This fragment from a royal tent, produced during the reign of the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp, displays qualities typical of textiles from this period. Densely woven silk threads form the warp and weft of cut and voided velvet, and supplementary metal threads create a shimmering effect. The central peony of the design is surrounded by ogival palmettes, spotted ribbons, lotus flowers, tulips, and rosettes. Owned by the Sangusko family of Poland until 1920, this and other fragments from the tent may have been brought to Eastern Europe in 1683, following the defeat of Ottoman troops in the Battle of Vienna.
Along with several other pieces in museums and private collections, these two fragments (MMA 27.51.1 and MMA 27.51.2) were once elements of a royal tent and belonged to the Sanguszko family of Poland until 1920. Some scholars have put forward the hypothesis that all the pieces reached eastern Europe after the defeat of the Turks outside Vienna in 1683. Part of the same tent is now preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Figured with an elaborate depiction of the hunt, it is cut in a circular shape with a hole at the center, where the tent pole was fitted, and was employed as an element of the ceiling. In the history of textiles, Safavid velvets represent the zenith of structural technique and decorative complexity. They are very densely woven, with hundreds of threads per square centimeter, and the silk is always of the highest quality. The complicated structure of these two examples accounts in part for the richness of their texture and design. Three structural characteristics are noteworthy: luxury silk warps and wefts forming the foundation weave; supplementary warps creating the velvet pile and allowing for an intricate pattern and lush texture; and supplementary metal-thread wefts giving the textile its shimmering silvery surface. All these elements together produce a thick, heavy material suitable for furnishings, cushions, interior hangings, tent panels, and ceremonial robes.
The first fragment (MMA 27.51.1), cut in the form of a polylobed ogival medallion, portrays a young man hurling a rock at a dragon, as two birds watch from a nearby tree. The image may depict a popular scene from the Persian epic, the Shahnama, in which Hushang "grasps a rock and flings it with all his royal strength at a beast," an act that leads to the discovery of fire. The rich color scheme of this velvet textile was achieved by introducing short warps of different hues into various parts of the repeat units. The velvet would originally have had an even stronger visual impact, since each individual silver thread of the background had been gilded. The gilding created a golden luminosity that has been lost with age.
This shimmering effect is better preserved in the second tent fragment (MMA 27.51.2), in areas where the edge was folded under and some of the gilded threads were thus protected from damage caused by light and wear. Here, two mirror-image fragments have been joined to make an oblong panel decorated with a stylized peony at the center as well as with ogival palmettes containing rosettes. Sinuous spotted ribbons with dark blue edges intersect four lotus flowers; smaller rosettes and stylized tulips complete the composition.
During the reign of the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (1524–76), a number of professional artists worked side by side in the royal atelier in Tabriz to produce works of art commissioned by the court. Paintings by the royal miniaturists were used as the basis for making technical repeat units known as naqsha, which would be reproduced in continuous patterns to be woven into the velvet by the highly skilled naqshband. A highly favored motif was the hunt, but many Safavid textiles, including the first velvet discussed here, featured scenes from popular poetry, which was considered by the court to be the highest form of cultural expression.
Elisa Gagliardi Mangili (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Sanguszko family, Poland(until 1920); V. Everit Macy, New York (until 1927; gifted to MMA)
Reath, Nancy Andrews, and Eleanor B. Sachs. Persian Textiles and Their Technique from the Sixth to the Eighteenth Centuries Including a System for General Textile Classification. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937. pp. 9, 11, 39, 40, 64, 123, ill. pl. 82 (b/w).
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. 169, pp. 244-245, ill. p. 245 (color).