Art/ Collection/ Art Object

'Star Ushak' Carpet

Object Name:
late 15th century
Attributed to Turkey
Wool (warp, weft, and pile); symmetrically knotted pile
Rug: L. 169 1/2 in. (430.5 cm)
W. 91 1/2 (232.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Joseph V. McMullan, 1958
Accession Number:
Not on view
This fresh‑colored carpet is one of the earliest, largest, and best-preserved examples of its type. Woven in the Ushak region of western Turkey, "Star Ushak" carpets were made for regional consumption and for export throughout Europe. A similar carpet is depicted under the throne of the Venetian doge in a painting by Paris Bordone dating to 1534, and another is seen under the feet of Henry VIII in a sixteenth-century portrait of that ruler. Their association in European painting with royalty and sanctity underscores the status these carpets enjoyed as luxury trade goods.

Of the many surviving fifeenth- and sixteenth-century carpets with the so-called star pattern woven in the western Anatolian district of Ushak (in Turkish, Uşak), this example from the McMullan collection is widely acknowledged to be the preeminent masterpiece because of its large size, good condition, and excellent draftsmanship and execution. Carpets of this type were at one time attributed exclusively to the sixteenth century; the earliest example illustrated in a European painting appears in Venice in a work by Paris Bordone from the year 1534.[1] Recent scholarship has made a strong case that the best and earliest Ushak carpets from two design groups—those with star medallions, such as the McMullan example, and those with ogival medallions—must in fact have been made in the fifteenth century.[2]

The McMullan Star Ushak carpet is probably one of the earliest Anatolian carpets to demonstrate the effect of what the German scholar Kurt Erdmann called the "carpet design revolution" of the fifteenth century.[3] Briefly stated, the design revolution marked a historical transition from carpets with relatively low knot density and highly geometric designs deeply rooted in traditional weaving traditions to carpets with higher knot density and curvilinear designs based on the arts of the book practiced in Islamic courts. The design of the Metropolitan’s carpet is infinite: the Star Ushak pattern of eight-lobed stars and smaller diamonds, which closely resembles the tile wall decoration of contemporary buildings in northwestern Iran and Anatolia from which it is probably derived, is arbitrarily cut by the four borders of the carpet but could be repeated indefinitely. A carpet of this size, after all, is usually employed as an architectural decoration on a horizontal surface—a floor. Like all Ushak carpets, this one is woven with a wool warp, weft, and pile; the limited range of brilliant colors, the symmetrical knot, and the medium knot density are all characteristic of early western Anatolian carpet weaving.

Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]


1. Walter B. Denny in Carboni 2007, p. 177.

2. See McMullan 1965, pp. 230–32, no. 67; the fifteenth-century dating is proposed by Walter B. Denny in 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. 38–43. Comparative material is found in Olcer, Nazan, and Walter [B.] Denny. Anatolian Carpets: Masterpieces from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul. 2 vols. Bern, 1999, pp. 36–45 and pls. 71–74.

3. Erdmann, Kurt. Oriental Carpets: An Account of Their History. 1960. Fishguard, Wales, 1976, pp. 31–33.

This Star-Ushak is of unusually beautiful and brilliant intense, clear and vibrant colour.

In the field, large, eight-pointed, indented stars in repeat alternate with four-sided indented diamonds, all enclosing several types of arabesques drawn with great feeling for space. The rest of the field seems to be filled with a loose floral spray. Closer examination reveals, however, an exceedingly fine trellis that connects all floral elements into a continuous, secondary pattern covering the entire field. The constantly shifting play of colour in the floral motifs throughout the rug follows no set system, adding a unique charm; it does not occur in any other piece of this type known to me.

[Arts Council 1972]
Vitall and Leopold Benguiat, New York and Paris (until 1925; their sale, American ArtAssociation, New York, December 4-5, 1925, no. 40, to McMullen); Joseph V. McMullan, New York (1925–58; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Islamic Carpets: The Joseph V. McMullan Collection," June 11, 1970–August 2, 1970, no. 36.

Paris. Institut du Monde Arabe. "Le Ciel dans un tapis (Heaven in a Carpet)," December 7, 2004–March 27, 2005, no. 31.

Lisbon. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. "Le Ciel dans un tapis (Heaven in a Carpet)," April 28, 2005–July 31, 2005, no. 31.

"Catalogue of an exhibition held at the] Hayward Gallery, London, 19 October–10 December 1972." In Islamic Carpets from the Joseph V. McMullan Collection. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1972. no. 67, p. 47, ill. pl. XXIII (color).

McMullan, Joseph V., and Ernst J. Grube. Islamic Carpets. New York: Near Eastern Art Research Center, 1965. no. 67, pp. 230-231, ill. pl. 67 (color).

Schurmann, Ulrich. "The Joseph V. McMullan Collection. New York." In Islamische Teppiche. Frankfurt: Museum für Kunsthandwerk Frankfurt, 1968. no. 32, pp. 72-73, ill. p. 73 (b/w).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Carpets. The Joseph V. McMullan Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 28, no. 10 (1970). pp. 420, 421, ill. p. 420 (color).

"The Joseph V. McMullan Collection." In Islamic Carpets. New York, 1970. no. 36.

Dimand, Maurice S., and Jean Mailey. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. no. 72, p. 221, ill. fig. 163, (b/w; color).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 38 (b/w).

Atil, Esin, ed. Turkish Art. Washington, D.C and New York: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980. pp. 316, 326, ill. fig. 52 (color).

"Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York." In The Arts of Islam. Berlin, 1981. no. 116, pp. 272-273, ill. p. 273 (color).

Ellis, Charles. Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988. pp. 74-75.

Le Ciel dans un Tapis. Paris and Lisbon: Editions Snoeck, 2004. no. 31, pp. 146-147, ill. p. 147 (color).

Carboni, Stefano, ed. Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797. New York and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. p. 177, ill., (related: earliest carpet of this type illustrated in an European painting).

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. 235, pp. 6, 286, 330-331, ill. p. 330 (color).

Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 60, ill. figs. 46-47.

Related Objects

'Lotto' Carpet

Artist: Date: 16th century
Accession Number: 08.167.1
Date: 16th century Medium: Wool (warp, weft and pile); symmetrically knotted pile Accession: 08.167.1 On view in:Not on view

'Lotto' Carpet

Artist: Date: late 16th century
Accession Number: 1978.24
Date: late 16th century Medium: Wool (warp, weft and pile); symmetrically knotted pile Accession: 1978.24 On view in:Not on view

The Anhalt Medallion Carpet

Artist: Date: probably first half 16th century
Accession Number: 46.128
Date: probably first half 16th century Medium: Cotton (warp), silk (weft), wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile Accession: 46.128 On view in:Gallery 462

"Bellini" carpet

Artist: Date: 16th–17th century
Accession Number: 22.100.114
Date: 16th–17th century Medium: Wool (warp, weft, and pile); symmetrically knotted pile Accession: 22.100.114 On view in:Not on view

Confronted Animal Rug

Artist: Date: 14th century
Accession Number: 1990.61
Date: 14th century Medium: Wool (warp, weft, and pile); symmetrically knotted pile Accession: 1990.61 On view in:Not on view