The coat of arms on this carpet (in the center and at each end) was mistakenly understood to belong to the Polish Czartoryski family; consequently, the term "Polonaise" was applied to this carpet and others like it. The field is filled with flowers, leaves, and scrolling vines, all typical of Persian carpet design of this period. Polonaise carpets are noted for their extensive use of silk and metal-wrapped silk thread. The somewhat muted colors are due to the silk pile; though valued for its strength and softness, silk does not hold dye as well as wool and its color quickly fades. Polonaise carpets were created both for the local Iranian market and for presentation and sale to Europeans.
About the turn of the seventeenth century or just before, during the time of the Safavid Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629), a new aesthetic appeared in a carpet type that has come to be known as Polonaise. Most rugs in the class have strictly floral design elements such as palmettes, curving leaves, and vines organized in about a dozen different field patterns. The new designs largely replaced the figural motifs and centralized medallion patterns favored in the sixteenth century, reflecting the decline of the royal book atelier’s influence.
The palette of most of these rugs is now rather sweet and muted owing to the use of pastel tones and to substantial fading, especially of red. Visible materials are luxurious, even ostentatious, and include silk pile and abundant metal-wrapped brocading, but economies were also made by including the widespread use of cotton in the foundation instead of the silk that was used in earlier deluxe weavings (see nos. 43.121.1, 14.40.721 and 14.40.715), the attachment of silk fringes to conceal the use of cotton warps, and a relatively coarse weave (typically 125 to 225 knots per square inch) for rugs with silk pile. Polonaise rugs must have been produced in large quantity, for over two hundred examples survive. They were made for local consumption and also for presentation and sale to Europeans. Unlike the small silk Kashan rugs, which have many similarities to each other but never match completely, at least twenty-five pairs of Polonaise exist, including two pairs in the Metropolitan Museum.
The Czartoryski Carpet belongs to this group. It occupies a special historical niche because it was mistakenly identified as Polish, hence "Polonaise," when displayed at the Paris Exposition of 1878 along with other carpets belonging to Prince Władyslaw Czartoryski, scion of a noble Polish family, some of whose carpets were allegedly taken as booty in the siege of Vienna in 1683. The coat of arms, repeated five times, was thought to be the prince’s own, but it is probably a pastiche and not Polish at all. The term Polonaise, a misnomer, continues to be used for convenience.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Spuhler, Friedrich, Preben Mellbye-Hansen, and Majken Thorvildsen. Denmark’s Coronation Carpets. The Royal Collections, Rosenborg Palace. Copenhagen, 1987, pp. 30–35.
2. For these carpets (nos. 50.190.1–.4), see Dimand and Mailey 1973, nos. 19–20.
3. See Livret-guide du visiteur à l’exposition historique du Trocadéro, 1878. Exhibition, Salle Polonaise, Palais de Trocadéro, Exposition Universelle de 1878, Paris. Catalogue by Philibert Breban. Paris, 1878, pp. 63–64. Other Polonaise carpets belonging to Prince Czartoryski were donated to the Muzeum Narodowe, Cracow; see Biedrońska-Słota, Beata. "Classical Carpets in Poland." Hali, no. 163 (Spring 2010), pp. 81–82, figs. 10, 11, 13.
4. Correspondence noted in Dimand and Mailey 1973, p. 103, no. 17.
Prince Wladyslaw Czartoryski, Krakow, Poland(in 1878); [ Mr. Larcade, Paris, until 1927; sold to Rockefeller]; John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York (1927–45; gifted to MMA)
Paris. Palais du Trocadéro. "Grande Exposition Universelle," May 1, 1878–November 10, 1878.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Persian Rugs of the So-called Polish Type," June 10, 1930–September 21, 1930, no. 6.
Dimand, Maurice S. "New York June 10–September 21, 1930." In Loan Exhibition of Persian Rugs of the So-Called Polish Type. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. no. 6, p. 5.
Dimand, Maurice S. "The seventeenth century Isfahan school of rug weaving." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 258, ill. fig. 4 (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. 17, pp. 61, 103, ill. fig. 84 (b/w).
Berinstain, Valerie. Great Carpets of the World. New York: Vendome Press, 1996. p. 148, ill. pl. 119 (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. 186, pp. 173, 267, ill. p. 267 (color).
Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. pp. 88-89, ill. figs. 75-76.