Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Velvet Fragment with Bird and Flower Design

Object Name:
second half 16th century
Attributed to Iran, Kashan
Silk; cut and voided velvet, with continuous floats of flat metal thread
Textile: H. 21 7/16 in. (54.5 cm) W. 13 3/8 in. (33.9 cm) Mount: H. 26 1/2 in. (67.3 cm) W. 18 in. (45.7 cm) D. 1 in. (2.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1972
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 455
Among the finest examples of silk velvet in the collection, this fragment is one of a small group of surviving textiles sharing a similar weave structure. While much of this piece appears today as beige, originally the colorful and intricate design floated against a shimmering surface of gold, the background completely covered with flat gilded metal threads, some of which are still visible. Such fabrics were referred to as "gold velvet" by European visitors to the Safavid court. With its finely drawn design, multihued palette, and lavish threads, this textile was one of the most luxurious produced in its day.
This exceptionally well preserved Safavid velvet from Kashan is immediately striking for its outstanding workmanship and the bright colors of its pile silks. Some of its decorative elements, including the lotus flowers, palmettes, and birds, are typical of the workshop production of Tabriz carpets and textiles; these found their way into Kashan velvets through the artistic exchange and collaboration among artisans of the two cities. This exchange, along with further innovations in velvet production, led to the creation of a truly distinctive Kashan style in the second half of the sixteenth century.
The scrolling-vine motif, common throughout Persian art at this time, is continuously repeated in the velvet. The vines are embellished with leaves, blossoms, rosettes, and palmettes, each outlined in dark blue.[1] The pheasants that perch on the vines with bowed heads convey a sense of vitality and concentration. Each closely observes the row below, where the birds are parallel, staggered, and arranged in a mirror image. With their distinctive polychrome feathers, long tails, beaks, crests, and clawed feet, the pheasants directly reflect the style and technique found in miniature paintings by Sultan Muhammad,[2] head of the royal studios in the 1520s.[3] The same birds are also seen on two other textiles: the lampas in the Metropolitan Museum decorated with a Safavid noble surrounded by rocks, cypresses, animals, and birds,[4] and the velvet with a "standing princess and keening attendant" in the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha.[5]
Velvet is a textile that has a highly complex structure. With Safavid velvets, the technique reached a new level of sophistication, a high point in the history of weaving that has not been equaled since.[6] In cut and voided velvets, the foundation weave is not immediately evident because it is covered by the thick pile that produces the pattern. Here, a supplementary warp of flat silver strips was woven between one pile and the other to create a shiny, metallic effect. The pile silks—in blood red, bright yellow, ash blue, deep blue, salmon pink, and ivory—blend harmoniously in a symphony of elegant sophistication.
Elisa Gagliardi mangili in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Ettinghausen and Yarshater 1979, p. 282.
2. Ibid., p. 273.
3. Thompson 2004, p. 36.
4. Metropolitan Museum (acc. no. 08.109.3). See Ettinghausen and Yarshater 1979, p. 272.
5. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha (no. TE.09.98). See Thompson 2004, pp. 36–37.
6. Ackerman, Phyllis. "Textiles of the Islamic Periods. A. History." In Pope 1938, vol. 5, pp. 1995–2162; vol. 6, pls. 981–1106 , vol. 5, p. 2217.
Dikran G. Kelekian, New York (by 1944–d. 1951); [ Charles Dikran Kelekian, New York, 1951–72; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A King's Book of Kings: Persian Miniatures from Shah Tahmasp's Shahnama of 1528," May 4, 1972–December 31, 1972, no catalog.

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

Harari, Ralph, and Richard Ettinghausen. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, edited by Arthur Upham Pope. Vol. I-VI. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938. v. III, p. 2092, ill. fig. 677, drawing of the motif.

2000 Years of Silk Weaving. Los Angeles: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1944. no. 240, p. 32, ill. pl. 58.

Ettinghausen, Richard, and Ehsan Yarshater. Highlights of Persian Art. Persian art series ; no. 1.. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1979. pp. 272–73, 282.

Thompson, Jon. "Treasures from the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar." In Silk: Thirteenth to Eighteenth Centuries. Doha (Qatar) and London: National Council for Culture, Arts & Heritage, Doha, 2004. pp. 36–37, (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. 173, pp. 249-250, ill. p. 249 (color).

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