Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Silk Animal Carpet

Object Name:
second half 16th century
Made in Iran, probably Kashan
Silk (warp, weft, and pile); asymmetrically knotted pile
Rug: L. 94 7/8 in. (241 cm)
W. 70 1/16 in. (178 cm)
Mount: L. 103 1/4 in. (262.3 cm)
W. 78 in. (198.1 cm)
D. 3 in. (7.6 cm)
Wt. 206 lbs. (93.4 kg)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Accession Number:
Not on view
This silk rug demonstrates the part played by the miniaturist in designing rug cartoons. Neither the symmetry usually associated with carpet designs nor the repeat patterns of textiles is evident here. Animals, including fantastic beasts of Chinese origin, arranged singly or in groups, are pictorially laid out in a landscape of flowering plants. As in most Persian carpets, the animals are engaged in combat—possibly evoking the underlying symbolism of a cosmological order dating back to pre-Islamic times as well as referring to the hunt, a symbol of royal power.
#6640. Overview: Kashan Silk Carpets
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This celebrated rug was donated to the Metropolitan Museum in 1913 by Benjamin Altman, along with two others of the same class but with different patterns (see no. 14.40.715 for one of the others). A fourth carpet was added to the Museum’s holdings in 1958. Together these pieces form the largest cluster of so-called Kashan silk rugs in any collection.[1] Overall, the class of silk rugs associated with sixteenth-century Kashan consists of twenty examples. Four of them are large, the two most famous being the great hunting carpets in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which combine centralized medallion designs with figural representations of humans and animals engaged in a hunt. The other sixteen are much smaller. Two main pattern types appear in the small rugs: one is figural, with rows of animals, while the other features central medallions of various shapes—quatrefoil, quatrefoil framed by a band, octafoil, and ogival, occasionally with figural elements used in a secondary way.[2] Remarkably, the Metropolitan’s cluster includes one animal rug and three different medallion types.
The Altman animal carpet has a field pattern consisting of rows of natural and mythical or supernatural animals and animal combats set amid an array of plants and landscape elements. The arrangement is pictorial, meaning that it is intended to be viewed from one side or end. The main border features two palmettes alternating with birds, probably golden pheasants, arranged to provide the same reciprocal rhythm as the more common vinescroll patterns. Three other small animal carpets survive, all of which use part of this same pattern for the field, sometimes repeating entire rows of figures.[3] In fact, there is an interchangeability of pattern elements and specific designs in all of the small Kashan rugs: similar border or medallion forms appear several times, suggesting the use of a pattern book of designs.
The hunting carpets possess the sumptuous materials (silk brocaded with metal thread), fine weave, and superb drawing and balance that one would expect in court furnishings. Furthermore, the theme of the hunt itself is associated with kings, and specific pattern elements have been linked to particular artists working in the royal book atelier.[4] These hunting carpets can be dated to 1530 or 1540, when artistic production at and for the court of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76) was at its peak. The small rugs have enough features in common with the hunting carpets—materials, structure, medallion forms, secondary border patterns, and individual motifs—that they probably come from the same looms although somewhat later, over the course of the second half of the sixteenth century. Although the small rugs have long been said to lack the brocading of metal thread abundant in the hunting carpets, at least one of them includes metal thread (see no. 14.40.715). The animal rugs probably date from closer to mid-century, while the rugs with a central medallion framed by a band are more likely to come near the century’s end, as the same pattern appears in a Polonaise rug dating from the end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth century.[5]
At the same time, there are significant differences between the two subgroups—in size, in the complexity of the patterns, even in the colors. The hunting carpets have a softer palette based on salmon pink and green, with similar value and little contrast (an effect heightened by fading), while the small rugs have a brighter palette and greater contrast. But the coloring of the small rugs is consistent with the palette used in sixteenth-century Persian carpets in general, while the more pastel hues of the hunting carpets seem exceptional (it should be noted that the salmon pink and green of the hunting carpets are in fact present in the small later rugs, but never in such a predominant way).
The hunting carpets were surely made on order for the Safavid court, perhaps to satisfy some special need. There is no evidence that there was any export market for Persian carpets until about the middle of the century. Yet at the same moment that Shah Tahmasp’s patronage of the arts waned and many of his court artists sought employment at other courts, imported Persian carpets appear in European inventories for the first time, probably as high-end producers adjusted to market realities. Medici inventories in Italy as well as Braganza inventories in Portugal indicate that Persian animal rugs made of silk and gold and silver thread, in sizes consistent with the small Kashan rugs, were imported during the 1560s and 1570s.[6] Two rugs of this class have been in Italy and Portugal since at least the nineteenth century and perhaps much longer.[7] The small silk Kashans thus likely represent the evolution of court furnishings into a more commercial product that satisfied both local and foreign demands.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The four Metropolitan Museum rugs are published in Walker, Daniel. "Metropolitan Quartet." Hali, no. 76 (August–September 1994), pp. 104–7, 120.
2. Discussions of the small rugs are found in Riefstahl 1916, pp. 147ff.; Erdmann 1970, pp. 61–65; Herrmann, Eberhart. "A Great Discovery." Hali, no. 36 (October–December 1987), pp. 48–51, 105–6; and Walker, D. 1994 (see footnote 1).
3. The other small animal rugs belong to the Detroit Institute of Arts (no. 25.23), the Musee du Louvre, Paris (no. 6741), and the Carpet Museum of Iran, Tehran.
4. For the Vienna hunting carpet, see Völker, Angela. Die orientalischen Knüpfteppiche im MAK. Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst. Vienna, Cologne, and Weimar, 2001, pp. 198–203. For the Boston hunting carpet, see articles by Ettinghausen, Dimand, Salmon, and Welch (all 1971) in the Boston Museum Bulletin, vol. 69. Regarding the identification of artists’ hands, see Welch, S. C. 1971, in the same bulletin.
5. Pope 1938, vol. 6, pl. 1245.
6. For the Medici inventories, see Spallanzani, Marco. "Carpets at the Medici Court in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century." Oriental Art 6 (2009), pp. 206–9, pp. 206–9. For the Braganza records, see Hallett, Jessica, pp. 97–103, in Thompson, Jon, Daniel Shaffer, and Pirjetta Mildh, eds. Carpets and Textiles in the Iranian World 1400–1700: Proceedings of the Conference held at the Ashmolean Museum on 30–31 August 2003. Oxford and Genoa, 2010.
7. The medallion rug with animals now in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, was acquired by Bode in Milan in 1890, and the banded medallion rug in the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, Coimbra, may well have come to Portugal long ago.
Prince Princezza, Evora, Portugal; Edouard Chappey, Paris (until 1907; sale Galerie Georges Petit,Paris, June 5–7, 1907, lot 1912, sold to Altman); Benjamin Altman, New York (1907–d. 1913; bequeathed to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Four Silk Kashan Rugs," August 2, 1994–February 5, 1994, no catalogue.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. pp. 247–48, ill. fig. 151 (b/w).

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. ill. vol. 6, pl. 1245, (related).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 293, ill. fig. 194 (b/w).

Erdmann, Kurt. Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets, edited by Hanna Erdmann. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1970. pp. 61–65.

Dimand, Maurice S., and Jean Mailey. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. no. 13, pp. 101, 142-143, ill. fig. 79.

Ellis, Charles. Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988. p. 171.

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. 182, pp. 4, 261-263, ill. p. 262 (color).

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