Making the Invisible Visible: Conservation and Islamic Art

April 2–August 4, 2013

Featured Textile: Carpet

Janina Poskrobko
Conservator, Department of Textile Conservation

Dye analysis provided by Nobuko Shibayama
Associate Research Scientist, Department of Scientific Research

Metal thread analysis provided by Mark Wypyski
Research Scientist, Department of Scientific Research

Carpet, late 16th–early 17th century. Iran, probably Kashan, Safavid period (1501–1722). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.84)

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, carpets of silk and metal thread—produced in Persia by royal manufacturers and known in Europe as "Polonaise" carpets—adorned the households of the elite and often were presented as diplomatic gifts. This luxurious carpet, woven probably in Kashan, is among the few dozen surviving tapestry-woven examples from the Safavid period. They are known from the written account of a Polish-Armenian merchant, Sefer Muratowicz, sent by the Polish King Sigismund III in 1601 to Persia with instructions to order and supervise the weaving of carpets executed in silk and gold-and-silver thread. The fine silk employed for the warp and weft makes for a colorful design that emulates the style and subject matter of contemporary pile carpets, with motifs including cranes in the central medallion (fig. 1) and animals in combat in the flattened cartouches. Neighboring color fields are interwoven in a dovetailing manner—in which the wefts from both areas are wrapped and turned around the same warp alternating at regular intervals—resulting in diffuse outlines (fig. 2). Combined with the patterning of tiger's stripes and dots, these soft edges impart a sense of depth to the two-dimensional design.

Left: Fig. 1. Detail of cranes in the central medallion; Right: Fig. 2. Detail of dovetailing technique showing connecting areas of color. Photographs by Julia Carlson

Natural dyes, including red, pink, and orange hues made from safflower petals (Carthamus tinctorius), madder root (Rubia tinctorum), and cochineal beetles (Dactylopius coccus) were used to dye the silk yarn with gradations of color, even within individual sections (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. The gradation of color, called abrash, within the pink-colored ground of the cartouche is caused by differences in dye batch or a variance in the fading of the natural dyes employed (safflower petals, Carthamus tinctorius). Photograph by Julia Carlson

This carpet's beauty is enhanced by silver and gilt-silver metal thread, the product of a time-consuming, costly process in which metal wire is hammered into flat strips and wound around a silk core (fig.4).

Fig. 4. Detail of tarnished gilt-silver metal thread. Photograph by Julia Carlson

Additional Reading

Cardon, Dominique. Natural Dyes: Sources, Tradition, Technology and Science. Archetype Publications, 2007.

Dimand, Maurice S. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973.

A Survey of Persian Art from the Prehistoric Times to Present, Ed. Arthur, U. Pope and Phyllis Ackerman, Vol. VI. Carpets, Metalwork and Minor Arts. Meiji-Shobo/Oxford University Press, 1964–5.

Relacya Sefera Muratowicza obywatela warszawskiego od Zygmunta III krola polskiego do sprawowania rzeczy wyslanego do Persji w roku 1602. (Account of Sefer Muratowicz, Warsaw citizen, sent by Polish king Sigismund III to Persia in 1602). Warsaw, 1777.