"Portuguese" Carpet with Maritime Scenes, Cotton (warp, weft, and pile); wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile

"Portuguese" Carpet with Maritime Scenes

Object Name:
17th century
Made in Northeastern Iran, Khurasan
Cotton (warp, weft, and pile); wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile
Carpet: L. 161 3/4 in. (410.8 cm)
W. 70 5/8 in. (179.4 cm)
Wt. 44 lbs. (29.5) with 8" tube
Left side of the Carpet: L. 161 in. (408.9 cm)
Right side of the carpet: L. 158 3/4 in. (403.2 cm)
Top of the Carpet: W. 68 in. (172.7 cm)
Bottom of the carpet: W. 70 1/2 in. (179.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1944
Accession Number:
Not on view
This is one of a group of unusual carpets, long referred to as "Portuguese" carpets because of the European figures in Portuguese dress that appear in them. In the center of the field are five concentric lozenge‑shaped medallions decorated with flowering vines. The maritime scene in each corner contains ships manned by Europeans. In addition, fish, a wide‑mouthed sea monster, and a small half‑submerged nude human figure, which is probably a merman, swim in the water. The exact source and meaning of the scene are unknown.
This carpet is one of twelve whole or fragmentary pieces in the enigmatic class known as Portuguese carpets. Here the typical field pattern of a central medallion is treated in a distinctive and unusual manner: roughly diamond-shaped with an irregular contour, it sits amid a series of serrated concentric bands in bright and highly contrasting colors. Almost filling the field, the concentric medallions leave only small corner areas that contain maritime scenes featuring European sailing vessels, sailors thought from their costume to be Portuguese (hence the name for the class), and humans and creatures in the water. The group was carefully reviewed by carpet scholar Charles Grant Ellis, who distinguished two subgroups.[1] He placed the Metropolitan Museum’s carpet in the second subgroup, which he considered to have less elaborate and more regularly drawn diamond medallions, no birds incorporated into the field pattern, less complex corner scenes that contain one sailing vessel instead of two, and a coarser weave. Ellis was also the first to notice that small floral motifs in the field and border stand out from the sheep-wool pile of this rug because they are woven in white cotton, a feature not yet observed in other so-called Portuguese carpets.
The origin of this class has been the source of controversy for years, with various places in Iran and India proposed. While Ellis argued for India, authorities now generally attribute the group to Khurasan in northeastern Iran, based mainly on structural features such as the use of four-ply warps typical of Persian production and the widespread reliance upon jufti knotting, as discussed under no. 1991.154, a feature only exceptionally seen in Indian carpets but a hallmark of Khurasan weaving.[2] Attempts to link the maritime scene to Indian painting have not found general acceptance; the source is more likely to be Western prints of a generic sort that suited a Persian taste for the exotic.[3] Although its heritage is obscure to us today, the main field pattern of Portuguese carpets was influential in its time, spawning a host of imitations in later generations of rugs among other Persian classes—Kurdish, Caucasian, Polonaise, and Indo-Persian.[4]
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Ellis 1972.
2. Franses, Michael in Orient Stars, A Carpet Collection. Exhibition, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Linden-Museum, Stuttgart. Catalogue by Heinrich Kirchheim and others. London and Stuttgart, 1993, pp. 96, 101–2; Cohen, Steven. "Safavid and Mughal Carpets in the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon." Hali, no. 114 ( January–February 2001), pp. 75–88, 99; Walker, Daniel. Carpets of Khorasan." Hali, no. 149 (November–December 2006), p. 74.
3. Cohen 2001 (see footnote 2), p. 77.
4. Ellis 1972, figs. 13–16, 19–22.
Mrs. Chauncey J. Blair, Chicago; [ P. W. French and Company, New York , by 1938–44; sold to MMA]
London. Burlington House. "International Exhibition of Persian Art," January 7, 1931–February 28, 1931, no. 249.

The Iranian Institute. "Exhibition of Persian Art," 1940, Gal. VII, no. 4.

Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 249.

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. vol. III, p. 2375, ill. vol VI, pl. 1217.

Ackerman, Phyllis. "The Iranian Institute, New York." In Guide to the Exhibition of Persian Art. 2nd. ed. New York: The Iranian Institute, 1940. no. Gallery VII, no. 4, pp. 141-142.

Ellis, Charles. "The Portuguese carpets of Gujarat." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 267, ill. fig. 1 (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. 10, pp. 51, 100, ill. fig. 73 (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. 187, p. 268, ill. p. 268 (color).