Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Carpet with a Compartment Design

Object Name:
first half 16th century
Made in Iran
Silk (warp and weft), wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile
Rug: H. 196 in. (497.8 cm)
W. 134 in. (340.4 cm)
Tube: H. 146 in. (370.8 cm)

Weight: 79 lbs. (198 lbs. rolled on tube. tube is 119 lbs. empty)
Diam. 20 in. (50.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1910
Accession Number:
Not on view
This magnificent jewel-colored carpet, with its elegant, curvilinear "compartments" based on a geometric star pattern, is filled with creatures borrowed from Chinese art, such as the dragon and phoenix in combat. The benevolent phoenix has its counterpart in Persian lore, where it is known as the simurgh, also a wise and protective bird. Other compartments contain decorative arrangements of Chinese ch'i-lin and flying geese, as well as the purely Islamic arabesque. The border with its medallions and cartouches reflects those of Safavid bookbindings, which also make great use of ribbonlike Chinese cloud bands, by now thoroughly assimilated into Persian art. With its fine weave (550 knots per square inch), silk foundation, and the close relationship between its elaborate pattern elements and the art of the book, it seems likely that this carpet was designed in the book atelier working in the service of the shah.
This carpet has been reduced in length. A complete carpet woven from the same cartoon belongs to the Musée Historique des Tissus in Lyon, France.
Specific evidence is lacking, but this is a carpet that can surely be considered of court quality, so luxurious are the materials (silk and fine sheep wool), so tight the weave (about 550 knots per square inch), and so refined and assured the drawing. The field pattern consists of a lattice formed by staggered rows of two eight-lobed medallions in dark blue and brown and smaller radiating compartments, or cartouches, in green and red. An elaborate interlace pattern is created by the continuous narrow band that outlines each compartment. Color alternation in the fields of the compartments allows for different readings of the pattern.
That this type of pattern is widely associated with designs for painting, illumination, and bookbinding associated with the eastern Iranian city of Herat in the late fifteenth century[1] offers additional evidence of a connection to a court workshop, at least for the design. Apart from the use of arabesques and split leaves, many of the individual motifs in the pattern are taken from Chinese sources: dragons and phoenixes, supernatural lion figures, geese, cloud bands, even lotus palmettes, and other blossoms.[2] Such borrowings had been popular in Iran since the time of the Mongols in the second half of the thirteenth century, and Chinese influences were seen there even earlier as a result of trade in ceramics, glass, and textiles.
Although its state of preservation is otherwise remarkably good, the Metropolitan Museum carpet has been reduced in dimensions, and the field pattern is a somewhat truncated version of the original. The full effect can be seen in a carpet with the same pattern at the Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyon, that measures 26 feet 3 inches by 13 feet 1 1/2 inches (8 by 4 meters) and has not been reduced.[3] The two carpets may have been a pair in the sense that they were made at the same time and place, had very similar patterns and colors, and perhaps had similar dimensions, although this can no longer be ascertained.
It is not known where this work and other sixteenth-century luxury carpets were produced. A number of cities and provinces have been cited by contemporaneous travelers and historians, including Kirman, Jaushaqan (near Kashan), Hamadan, Dargazin (in Khurasan), Khurasan, Khuzistan, Sabzavar (in Khurasan), and Yazd,[4] but apart from their judgments about quality or comments that certain places were known for carpets with gold thread or brocading, there is little to go by in making attributions. Carpets may also have been produced in the first two Safavid capital cities of the sixteenth century—Tabriz and Qazvin.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The compartment, or cartouche, design is associated in particular with the painter Bihzad. See especially the Bustan of Sa‘di, dated 1488, in Lentz and Lowry 1989, pp. 190, 260, 294, no. 146.
2. For the use of Chinese symbols in Islamic art, see Cammann, Schuyler V. R. "Symbolic Meanings in Oriental Rug Patterns." Textile Museum Journal 3, no. 3 (December 1972), pp. 5–54, esp. pp. 51ff., and Rawson, Jessica. Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon. London, 1984.
3. The two main publications for this carpet, including further citations, are Bennett, Ian. "Splendours in the City of Silk, Part 3: The Safavid Masterpieces." Hali, no. 34 (April–June 1987), pp. 42–50, 103–4, esp. p. 43, pl. 11; and The Eastern Carpet in the Western World from the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Century. Exhibition, Hayward Gallery, London. Catalogue by Donald King and David Sylvester. London, 1983, no. 61.
4. Walker, Daniel. "Carpets. ix. Safavid Period." In Encyclopaedia Iranica 1985–, vol. 4 (1990), pp. 866–75.
[ Vincent Robinson & Co., until at least 1882; to Thiem]; Baron Adolph Thiem, Berlin(after 1882–ca. 1895; sold to Yerkes); Charles Tyson Yerkes, New York (ca. 1895–d. 1905; his estate,1905–10; sold to MMA)
Vincent J. Robinson. Eastern Carpets. London, 1882. ill. pl. 3.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Guide to an Exhibition of Oriental Rugs and Textiles. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1935. p. 13, ill. fig. 3 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 285, ill. fig. 189 (b/w).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 166, p. 185, ill. (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. 6, pp. 98, 134-135, ill. fig. 67.

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 35 (b/w).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 105, ill. fig. 77 (color).

Ellis, Charles. Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988. p. 113.

Lentz, Thomas W., and Glenn D. Lowry. "Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century." In Timur and the Princely Vision. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1989. no. 146, pp. 190, 260, 294, (related).

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 323, ill. fig. 30 (color).

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. 179, p. 256-257, ill. p. 256 (color).

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