Carpets such as this splendid rug from the Ballard Collection document an unusual Ottoman artistic collaboration between the imperial design atelier in Istanbul and an Egyptian carpet-weaving tradition with roots in Mamluk times in pre-Ottoman Cairo. Known to art historians as Ottoman court carpets, these works occupy an artistic world of their own, far different from the indigenous carpet-weaving tradition of Anatolian Turkey itself. They reflect the Ottoman Empire’s role as an artistic crossroads between three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The Ballard carpet is crafted from expensive and luxurious materials: the warp and weft are made of silk; the red wool pile is dyed with expensive insect-derived lac dye; and the pile is finely knotted using an asymmetrical knot open to the left, a form of knotting virtually unknown in the Anatolian tradition, taken directly from the weaving tradition of Egypt. The palette of colors—including purple-red, dark and light blue, yellow, and green—is likewise one derived from Egyptian rather than Turkish tradition. In addition, white accents in the design utilize a pile yarn of bright white cotton, another departure from Turkish custom. The design of the carpet is the product of a template or knot plan created in the Ottoman court design atelier in Istanbul. One small round medallion in the center of the carpet is echoed by four quarter medallions in the same design in the corners of the field. The red-ground field and the red-ground areas of the border are covered with a complex vine network bearing stylized lotus flowers and other imaginary blossoms together with sinuous, featherlike, sawtooth-edged leaves. These motifs reflect the saz style popular in the Istanbul design atelier, named after a mythical enchanted forest from Turkish folklore. But in the blue-ground medallions and quarter medallions of the field there appear the double stripes of the chintamani amulet, together with fanlike carnations and Ottoman tulips, while in the blue-ground shieldlike cartouches of the border we also see the stylized tulips, hyacinths, and rosebuds that derive from the new floral style that emerged in Istanbul in the middle of the sixteenth century.
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. A thoughtful recent summary of the "Cairene" carpet question is given by Jon Thompson in Milestones in the History of Carpets. Exhibition, Gallery Moshe Tabibnia, Milan. Catalogue by Jon Thompson. Milan, 2006, pp. 160–75.
2. See The Classical Tradition in Anatolian Carpets. Exhibition, The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C. Catalogue by Walter B. Denny and Sumru Belger Krody. Washington, D.C., 2002, pp. 44–46.
James F. Ballard, St. Louis, MO (until 1922; gifted to MMA)
Breck, Joseph, and Frances Morris. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art." In The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1923. no. 19, p. 13, ill. (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 307, ill. fig. 203 (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. 102, pp. 198, 232, ill. fig. 183 (b/w).
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. 236, pp. 8, 287, 331, ill. p. 331 (color), figs. 10, 11 (b/w).