This carpet, with its pictorial depiction of trees, birds, and animals, is conceived like a textile with a repeat design in which each unit reverses the direction of the preceding one. The ibexes, Chinese mythological beasts called qilins, and animals in combat, are derived from Safavid Persian art, as is the border design of cartouches and star-shaped medallions with cloud bands. The palm tree, however, is a very Indian feature, as is the generally naturalistic drawing of the flora and fauna and the bright red color of the field. The relationship to Persian carpet design dates this example to the early Mughal period, soon after the first carpet workshops were established by the emperor Akbar in Lahore, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri.
Although the advent of carpet weaving in India predates his reign, it was the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) who established imperial workshops for carpets, as well as a pattern of royal patronage. Carpet workshops were set up first at Fatehpur Sikri, the imperial capital only from 1571 to 1585, then at Lahore and Agra, and then, before 1640, at Kashmir. Not all Indian carpets surviving from these early times necessarily suggest imperial manufacture, so commercial workshops must also have been in full production. Masters and workmen, many undoubtedly Iranian, are known to have come to India to help establish the workshops, and Persian carpets also clearly continued to be imported despite the high quality of local production.
It should not be surprising, then, that this large carpet, representing production dating from late in the reign of Akbar, displays strong Persian influence. The most popular Persian convention was the symmetrical arrangement of scrolling vines with blossoms and leaves, but another approach was the use of pictorial patterns similar to those produced for paintings in royal manuscripts (the two conventions are combined in some examples). The field pattern here combines animals, birds, and vegetation in a pictorial way, that is, they are meant to be seen from one direction and without the matrix of a vine-scroll pattern to connect everything. Pictorial designs can be found in Persian carpets in a few examples of the small "Kashan" rugs and even more in a couple of pieces of the "Sanguszko" group; direct contact of some sort is also implied by the use of certain colors. Counterparts of several animals represented here may be seen in one of the Museum’s Persian rugs (no. 14.40.721), notably the leaping ibex, the combat between lion and ibex, and the leaping lion. Flames at the shoulders, indicating supernatural qualities, betray the ultimate Chinese origin of some of these figures, as transmitted to Iran in preceding centuries.
In many respects, however, this carpet is unmistakably Indian. In terms of structure, the cotton warps are eight-ply instead of the four-ply typically found in Persian carpets. As for color, the palette has a brightness, especially in the red, lacking in most Persian pieces, and there is a heavy use of ton-sur-ton coloring, juxtaposing similar colors such as red and pink, light and dark blue, and ocher and beige or off-white. The interlocking compartment design of the main border is related to borders found in Persian carpets (see MMA no. 1978.550), but here it takes a particularly Indian form in its geometricized compartments and the particular silhouette effect of the un-outlined red palmettes and vines set against the white ground. And the palm trees strike an Indian chord. As large as this carpet is, far larger ones are known to have come from Indian looms, including a pair of mid-seventeenth-century audience carpets, each about sixty-three feet long (approximately 19 meters).
Careful observation reveals a feature most unusual in a carpet—the field design consists of a pattern unit of approximately square dimension that is shown four times, each unit reversed in direction. The palm tree marks the top corner of each pattern unit. That the pattern unit at the top of the carpet was unfinished when the border was woven suggests the carpet was woven to a prescribed length. It is important to note that the use of a repeating pattern unit is a feature of draw-loom weaving (see MMA no. 52.20.12 ) because the elaborate preparation of the loom figure harness can be used again and again. But it is of no value as a labor-saving procedure in pile weaving, since all the knots still have to be tied by hand, meaning that the choice of this type of pattern was based on aesthetic preference and not on labor, time, or cost considerations.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Walker 1997, pp. 7, 12.
2. Abu’l Fazl ‘Allami. The A’in-i Akbari by Abu’l Fazl ‘Allami. Translated by H[enry F.] Blochmann and H[enry] S. Jarrett; edited by D[ouglas] C[raven] Phillott. 3rd ed. 3 vols. 1927–49. Calcutta, 1977, vol. 1, p. 57.
3. Walker 1997, p. 120, fig. 118.
Lady Sackville, Knole Park, Kent, England; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (until d. 1913; his estate 1913–17; gifted to MMA)
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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. 262, pp. 4, 372-374, ill. p. 373 (color).
Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. pp. 91-93, ill. fig. 78 (color).