This silk carpet combines an unusually dense weave for a Persian carpet, with a composition inspired by Flemish tapestry. While the pictorial scene can be traced to seventeenth‑century Europe, the technique and execution point to the Safavid court as the source of patronage and production. It is possible that such carpets were woven in Iran for export or intended as diplomatic gifts. The smaller scale of the buildings suggests the influence of European perspective. The border compartments, whose arrangement is also repeated symmetrically, show figures in European dress, flower vases, and reclining deer.
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Geography:Made in Iran
Medium:Silk (warp, weft, and pile), metal wrapped thread; asymmetrically knotted pile, brocaded
Dimensions:Rug: L. 91 1/2 in. (232.4 cm) W. 68 in. (172.7 cm) Tube: Diam. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm) W. 82 in. (208.3 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of C. Ruxton Love Jr., 1967
The extraordinary quality and true age of this magnificent carpet were correctly assessed by the antiquarian F. R. Martin as early as 1908 and corroborated by others during the first half of the twentieth century, yet the carpet was then virtually forgotten. Donated to the Metropolitan in 1967, it was not included in Dimand and Mailey’s 1973 catalogue of the Museum’s carpets, perhaps because of uncertainties about its date and place of origin. Over the last forty years or so there has been some confusion about whether finely woven silk carpets made in a Persian style but not conforming to the standard Polonaise characteristics (see no. 45.106) were actually sixteenth- or seventeenth-century Persians or late nineteenth-century productions from Hereke, part of modern-day Istanbul, where fine silk rugs have also been woven. With its all-silk foundation and incredibly fine weave (at about 1,025 knots per square inch, perhaps the finest weave known in a classical Persian carpet), as well as its pictorial scene of a landscape with small buildings and border compartments featuring standing figures in European dress, reclining deer, and vases of flowers, this carpet has little in common with conventional Polonaise pieces with nonfigural patterns. Martin insightfully proposed a date of about 1640 based on the style of the European costumes, and speculated that an English tapestry had been the model. The specific source for these border designs has yet to be identified.
A handful of other rugs, some previously identified as Polonaise and others as Indian but all woven in Iran during the seventeenth century, have similar qualities. A famous cope in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, has an all-silk foundation, very fine weave, and Western subjects (scenes from the Annunciation and the Crucifixion). A carpet in Lyon with similar materials and quality of weave has a field pattern consisting of rows of flowering plants and birds depicted pictorially in a schematically drawn style. Most important, though least known, is a finely woven silk carpet with a pictorial design in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Its field pattern marries the shrub types seen in the Lyon and Metropolitan pieces with the landscape elements and little buildings of the latter alone. Whether the carpets of this small but special group come to be seen as an elite subclass of Polonaise or as a class of its own is ultimately a semantic issue; unquestionably they represent an apogee of carpet weaving in seventeenth-century Iran, at least on technical grounds.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Martin, Frederk R., A History of Oriental Carpets before 1800. Vienna, 1908, p. 68.
2. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (nos. T.477-1894, T.30-1926, and T.211-1930), published in Bennett, Ian. "The Marcy Indjoudjian Cope." Hali, no. 35 ( July–September 1987), pp. 22–23, 124.
3. Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyon (no. 24.620), published in Bennett, Ian. "Splendours in the City of Silk, Part 3: The Safavid Masterpieces." Hali, no. 34 (April–June 1987), p. 49, pl. 18.
4. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (no. VT 823), published in "II. Historical Carpets. 3. Important Carpets in U.S.S.R." Marg 18, no. 4 (Carpets of India), September 1965, p. 20.
This extremely fine silk carpet, with approximately 1,025 knots per square inch, is exceptional in subject matter, palette, and execution. Its unusual features have confounded scholars, who have proposed dates ranging from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, places of origin from Iran to India and Istanbul, and sources of inspiration from English and Flemisch tapestry. Recently, however, the attribution of the carpet has been restored to seventeenth-century Iran, the identification with which it had entered the Metropolitan Museum in the 1960s.
The context for this carpet's production thus emerges as the cosmopolitan world of Safavid Iran, which in the 1600s was expanding its diplomatic and commercial contacts with Europe. As a result, prints, paintings, and books presented as gifts by European emissaries circulated at the court, and Iranian artists started to expiriment with elements of European art such as modeling, perspective, and Christian object matter.
It appears that the designer of this carpet was similarly inspired by a European source, though perhaps a book rather than the tapestries usually suggested. John Gerarde's 1597 The Herball or General Historie of Plantes, expanded, reprinted, and widely available in the seventeenth century, has a title page with a layout comparable to the carpet's, with a central field bordered by several rectangular panels and figures in arched niches (fig. 149 in this volume). Several other features are common to both title page and carpet, including the figures of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruitful abundance (shown on the carpet holding apples, one variation of her iconography), and her husband Vertumnus, god of seasons and change (sometimes depicted with a dog), as well as vases filled with towering arrangements of flowers. Similar vases also appear in English embroideries of the period.
While Gerard's Herball was not the exact source for the carpet, several seventeenth-century books on botany that include Roman goddesses such as Pomona and Ceres and vases holding flowers were almost certainly available in Iran. We know that Nicholas Wilford, an envoy of Charles I of England (r. 1625–49), took with him to Iran "A Booke of flowers stampd" and had been instructed by the king to deliver portraits of the English royal family in order to win the favor of the Safavid shah. The carpet's designer must have copied one half of a title page, reversed it to create the other half of the pattern, and then filled the center of his composition with a European-inspired landscape.
Marika Sardar and Melinda Watt in [Peck 2013]
1. For the original attribution see 1. Martin, Frederk R., A History of Oriental Carpets before 1800. Vienna, 1908, p. 68. For the recent confirmation of this attribution, see Daniel Walker in Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar, eds. Masterpieces of the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011, p. 269, no. 188.
2. For an identification of some of the European works known to have been in Iran, see Sims, The European Print Sources of Paintings by the Seventeenth-Century Persian Painter, Muhammad Zaman ibn Haji Yusuf of Qum," pp. 73–83, figs. 75–85; and Ferrier, "Charles I and the Antiquities of Persia," Iran 8 (1970), pp. 51–56.
3. See, for example, Metropolitan Museum, acc. no. 64.101.1298.
4. Ferrier 1970 (see note 2).
Baron Franchetti, Venice ; Comte Cahen d'Anvers, Paris(in 1907); [ Dikran G. Kelekian (American, born Turkey), New York]; Sarah Green Walters (American), New York and Baltimore (until 1941; saleParke-Bernet, New York, April 23–26, 1941, no. 756); Berenice C. Ballard, St. Louis, MO (until d. 1950; estate saleParke-Bernet Galleries, New York, Oct. 27, 1950, no. 173); C. Ruxton Love, Jr., New York (until 1967; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800," September 9, 2013–January 5, 2014, no. 87A.
Martin, F. R. A History of Oriental Carpets before 1800. Vienna: Printing Office of the Imperial-Royal Austrian Court and State, 1908. p. 68, ill. fig. 156 (b/w).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 188, p. 269, ill. (color).
Denny, Walter B. "Textiles and Carpets in the Metropolitan Museum's New ALTICALSA Galleries." Arts of Asia 2012 (2012). p. 103, ill. figs. 3, 4.
Peck, Amelia, ed. Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. no. 87A, pp. 249–51, ill. (color).
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