Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Silk Fragment with a Rosebush, Bird, and Deer Pattern

Object Name:
late 17th–early 18th century
Attributed to Iran
Silk, silver- and gilded metal wrapped thread; compound twill weave, brocaded
Textile: H. 44 5/8 in. (113.3 cm) W. 27 3/4 in. (70.5 cm) Mount: H. 50 1/4 in. (127.6 cm) W. 32 3/4 in. (83.2 cm) D. 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm) Wt. 34 lbs. (15.4 kg)
Credit Line:
Anonymous Gift, 1949
Accession Number:
Not on view
Iranian silk production expanded markedly in the early seventeenth century, thanks to the patronage of Shah 'Abbas I. Silk was most intensively farmed in the Caspian Sea provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran and was woven all over Iran. Raw silk was also exported to Turkey, Russia, Central Asia, India, and Europe. The motifs of a rosebush, birds, and deer on this piece relate it to the popular group of bird and flower textiles in the seventeenth century, anticipating the fashion for bird and flower decoration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The unnatural relationship of scale among the birds, deer, and flowers is most likely the artist’s interpretation.
Thanks to the stimulus of Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629), the business of luxury-silk production expanded markedly in Iran during the early seventeenth century. While silk was cultivated in the majority of regions, it was most intensively farmed in the Caucasus and particularly in the provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran. In the Safavid period, production reached its peak around 1650 and declined dramatically after the Afghan invasion of 1722. In addition to domestic use, raw silk was exported, mainly to Turkey, Russia, Central Asia, India, and Europe.[1] As for silk weaving, this was practiced throughout Iran both in rural and urban settings. The primary urban centers of luxury-silk production during the seventeenth century were Kashan, Yazd, and Isfahan, where manufactories employed weavers to work on the full range of fabrics. While existing data for trade between Iran and the English and Dutch East India Companies does not support the notion that the luxury-silk industry was sustained by, or even substantially represented in, commerce with Europe, travelers to Iran did remark on fabrics, such as this one, woven with gold and silver.
The design of this piece—an outsized rosebush in which a parrot perches, a small deer approaching, and a bird of a different species on the wing—falls into a popular group of bird-and-flower textiles that were first produced in the seventeenth century and continued to be fashionable for the next two hundred years. The decorative device is repeated horizontally here, with each row facing the opposite direction from the one above and below it. Mary McWilliams has suggested that European treatises on natural history may have supplied the inspiration for such a grouping,[2] though the unnatural relationship of scale among the deer, the rosebush, and the birds is most likely the silk weaver’s invention. Close examination of the piece reveals that originally the colors were more intense and varied and that the silvery tone of the background, produced from silver-gilt strips around white silk, was complemented by the gold hue of the deer. Two other fragments are in the Textile Museum, Washington, D.C., and the Nelson- Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Floor, Willem M. The Persian Textile Industry in Historical Perspective, 1500–1925. Moyen Orient et Océan Indien, XVIe–XIXe s., 11. Paris, 1999, pp. 14, 61.
2. McWilliams 1987–88 (reference not in catalogue bibliography), p. 178.
Private collection(by 1935–49; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Oriental Rugs and Textiles," May 13, 1975–September 14, 1935, no. 22.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Persian Silks of the Safavid Period," December 9, 2003–March 14, 2004, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Interwoven Globe: Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800," September 9, 2013–January 5, 2014, no. 93A.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Guide to an Exhibition of Oriental Rugs and Textiles. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1935. p. 30, ill. fig. 22 (b/w).

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.

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. 176, p. 252-253, ill. p. 252 (color).

Peck, Amelia, ed. "The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800." In Interwoven Globe. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. no. 93A, pp. 258-259, ill. pl. 93A (color).

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