Silk, cotton, metal wrapped thread; cut and voided velvet, brocaded, embroidered, with engraved metal fittings
Textile: L. 44 1/2 in. (113 cm)
W. 103 in. (261.6 cm)
D. 1/4 in. (0.6 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1914
Not on view
Armenian merchants played an important role in facilitating trade in and outside Iran, so when the Safavid ruler Shah 'Abba' (r. 1587–1629) planned to revitalize Iran's economy, he resettled a community of Armenians from the city of Julfa to his new capital, Isfahan. From there, the Armenians helped Iran's famous silk reach markets around the world. This cope probably comes from an Armenian church in Isfahan, as suggested by the presence of Armenian bishop-saints and Armenian inscriptions on the orphrey attached to its long straight edge. The cope was pieced together from robes (the seams are still visible) of a type of costly, popular seventeenth-century Persian velvet.
A splendid convergence of cultures can be seen in this cope, a semicircular cape and hood worn in processions during Christian liturgical services. The form itself is thus Christian, as is the Eastern Orthodox subject matter of the embroidered orphrey, or ornamental border, that embellishes each of the straight sides, which would have met at the front of the wearer. The orphrey has ten decorated panels, five per side. Six show figures, among them the Virgin Mary and three early saints—Nicholas of Myra and two Armenian patriarchs, Nerses I and Sahak I —identified by inscriptions in Armenian. The other four panels contain crosses. Worn inscriptions in Armenian appear beneath the embroidered saints.
The main body of the cope consists of joined pieces of Persian velvet patterned with rows of swaying flowers, the rows alternating in direction. The stylized flowers are distinguished by the grace and clarity of their drawing and by the broad palette of their colors. A single velvet blossom shows in the "window" of the hood. The voided satin ground between the areas of pile was originally completely covered with supplementary wefts of yellow silk wrapped in a silver-gilt strip, or lamella, with some space left in the wrapping so that the core still showed. This may have been done to soften the glittering effect of the metal or to reduce the amount of silver required, and hence the cost.
The presence in the velvet area of small fragments with diagonal or curved sides indicates that the various joined pieces were previously parts of garments that had been deconstructed to be reassembled here in a form of "adaptive reuse." Since the embroidery of the orphrey represents a somewhat later date than the velvet itself, the main body of the vestment may have been assembled from the older velvet, and the orphrey and hood added at the same time, probably in the early eighteenth century. Two closely related pieces are worthy of note: an almost identical cope exhibited in Munich in 1910 ( present whereabouts unknown) and a stray piece of the same velvet material acquired in 1986 by the David Collection, Copenhagen. The two copes, which appeared in the West at about the same time early in the last century, probably derive from one of the Armenian churches built in the Isfahan suburb of New Julfa during the seventeenth century. Also, in the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., there is a cope without orphrey fashioned from three full-width lengths of Safavid brocade.
Daniel S. Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. I am indebted to Amy Landau of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, for providing the identifications.
2. The piece exhibited in Munich, then in the collection of Dr. Roden of Frankfurt, is illustrated in Sarre and Martin 1912, vol. 3, pl. 202. The Copenhagen velvet is published in Woven Treasures: Textiles from the World of Islam. Exhibition, The David Collection, Copenhagen. Catalogue by Kjeld von Folsach and Anne-Marie Keblow Bersted. Copenhagen, 1993, p. 113.
3. Textile Museum, Washington, D.C. (no. 3.150). For a piece of the same textile, see Bier 1987, pp. 172–73.
[ Tabbagh Frères, Paris and New York, until 1914; sold to MMA]
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Interwoven Globe: Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800," September 9, 2013–January 5, 2014, no. 64.
Sarre, Friedrich Dr, and F. R. Martin. "Die Keramik, die Metallarbeiten Glass und Kristall." In Die Ausstellung von Meisterwerken Muhammedanischer Kunst in Munchen 1910. Vol. 2. Munich: F. Bruckmann A.-G., 1912. vol. 3, ill. pl. 202, (related).
Bier, Carol, ed. "Textile Arts of Safavid and Qajar Iran 16th–19th Centuries." In Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart. Washington, D.C.: Textile Museum, 1987. pp. 172–73, (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. 175, pp. 251-253, ill. p. 251 (color).
Peck, Amelia, ed. "The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800." In Interwoven Globe. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. no. 64, pp. 218-219, ill. pl. 64 (color).