Fragments of a Carpet with Lattice and Blossom Pattern
Made in India or present-day Pakistan, Kashmir or Lahore
Silk (warp and weft), pashmina wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile
Textile: L. 155 3/4 in. (395.6 cm)
W. 55 1/4 in. (140.3 cm)
Mount: L. 66 in. (167.6 cm)
W. 168 in. (426.7 cm)
D. 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm)
Weight: 263 lbs (119.3 kg)
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Not on view
This carpet represents the highest level of production—imperial grade—made with an extremely fine weave and costly materials. It looks and feels like velvet, but the pile is actually pashmina wool, made from the fleece of Himalayan mountain goats. Its decorative style, with its floral forms, is typical of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s taste, seen also in the architectural ornament and manuscript illumination produced during his reign. These fragments constitute about one quarter of the original carpet, which was over twenty-three feet long, an enormous size for a carpet of this quality.
Among all traditional carpet-weaving societies, northern India during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was unique in using the fine underhair of a breed of domesticated goat (Capra hircus laniger) over silk as the preferred pile material for the highest grade of carpets. Pashmina had a number of advantages over silk as a pile fiber: it was strong, it allowed for an unparalleled fineness of weave, and it absorbed and reflected color at least as well as sheep’s wool. The idea for using pashmina for carpets, and not only for shawls, seems to have originated in Iran during the second half of the sixteenth century. The earliest surviving Indian example dates from about 1620 to 1625, around the time of Jahangir’s initial infatuation with the flowers of Kashmir (see MMA no. 1970.321). The majority of seventeenth-century examples thus reflect variations of the flower style favored at court after 1630. Late in the century and throughout the next, the fussier millefleur style came into fashion, and floral elements became much finer in scale, sometimes clustered in repeating units.
The field pattern of these fragments represents a popular variation of the classic flower style, in which rows of flowers are presented in profile. Here the field is divided into compartments, with a lattice formed by reciprocating serrated vines. Large fantastical blossoms are placed at the points where the vines meet, and smaller blossoms appear in the compartments as part of a secondary vine pattern. The extremely fine weave (just over 1,000 knots per square inch) allows for sublime refinement in drawing and detail. The masterful weavers came to use the pile fiber just as painters use pigments, blending or juxtaposing different colors to create mottled or even shaded effects, as in the leaves of some of the large blossoms or the little hillocks and scudding cloud wisps in the border. Elements in the pattern allow us to estimate the original length at more than twenty-three feet (seven meters), a great size for a carpet of this quality.
Benjamin Altman, the department store magnate who left the Metropolitan Museum his superb collections of old master paintings and Chinese porcelain, should also be remembered for the refinement of his taste in carpets. Not only did he own three of the Museum’s small silk "Kashan" rugs (of sixteen known worldwide; see MMA nos. 14.40.721 and 14.40.715 for two of them), but he collected seven superb examples of Indian pashmina carpets, the largest group in any collection.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Walker 1997, pp. 22–23.
2. Ibid., pp. 90–92.
3. Ibid., pp. 119–29.
Benjamin Altman, New York (until d. 1913; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era," November 20, 1997–March 1, 1998, no. 29.
Dimand, Maurice S., and Jean Mailey. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. no. 60, pp. 122-123, 130, ill. fig. 136 (b/w).
Walker, Daniel S. Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 29, pp. 107, 110-111, 171, ill. figs. 109, 110, (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. 265, pp. 4, 376, ill. p. 376 (color).