The 'Simonetti' Carpet, Wool (warp, weft, and pile); asymmetrically knotted pile

The 'Simonetti' Carpet

Object Name:
ca. 1500
Attributed to Egypt, probably Cairo
Wool (warp, weft, and pile); asymmetrically knotted pile
Rug: L. 353 in. (896.6 cm)
W. 94 in. (238.8 cm)
Tube: L. 106 in. (269.2 cm)
Diam. 10 in. (25.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1970
Accession Number:
Not on view
Named the "Simonetti" carpet after a former owner, this majestic weaving is among the most famous of all Mamluk carpets. One of the larger floor coverings of its type, this example has five medallions instead of the more customary one or three, and it displays a slightly brighter and more varied palette. Likely produced in Egypt under the Mamluk dynasty, such carpets are surprisingly rich in appearance considering their relatively coarse weave and limited color range. The overall effect is that of a luminous mosaic.
#6649. The 'Simonetti' Carpet
#909. Kids: The 'Simonetti' Carpet
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The conventional practice of naming Islamic carpets either after the place they were found ("Niğde Carpet") or after a previous owner ("Anhalt Carpet") in this case memoralizes the former Italian owner of this magnificent example of fifteenth-century Cairene weaving under the Burji Mamluk dynasty (1382–1517). The Simonetti Carpet is commonly called a "five-color Mamluk carpet" because of its color palette. The materials (most notably S-spun, or clockwise-spun, wool), dyestuffs (a limited range of colors including a purple-red made from the lac insect), and distinctive repertoire of geometric designs are all characteristic of Mamluk carpets from the period. The width, about ninety-four inches (239 cm), is typical for contemporaneous carpets woven in Cairo. A roller-bar loom was used to make the carpet: the unwoven warps were unwound from a rotating cylindrical wood roller at the top of the loom, and the finished carpet was then wound up around a similar roller at the bottom. This method allowed the same loom to be employed to weave both very long and relatively short carpets in the same width. The Simonetti displays three of the geometric medallion designs usually seen in short Mamluk carpets (two of them repeated, combined in A-B-C-B-A sequence) in one very long, impressive work of art.
Mamluk carpets originated in a physical environment that lacked the combination of abundant marginal grazing land and a temperate climate with cool winters that was common to most carpet-weaving areas in the Islamic world. While related to a broader tradition of Turkish weaving centered in Anatolia, far to the north, the designs of these carpets include atypical elements, such as stylized papyrus plants, that are deeply rooted in Egyptian tradition. Their unusual composition and layout probably represent an attempt to develop a distinctive product that could in effect establish a "Mamluk brand" in the lucrative European export market. The uncharacteristic color scheme—devoid of undyed white pile and employing a limited range of three or five hues in much the same value—also suggests a conscious attempt to create a particular stylistic identity. Also virtually unique in the world of Islamic carpets is the S-spun wool. It has been argued that the tradition of clockwise wool spinning originated in Egypt because of the earlier Egyptian tradition of spinning flax into linen thread. Details of the plant’s botanical structure make it impossible to spin flax fiber in the more common counterclockwise direction utilized throughout the Middle East for wool and cotton.
Mamluk carpets with the color combinations seen in the Simonetti are now generally accepted as part of an earlier tradition that has many links to the weaving of Anatolia, Iran, and Syria. The "three-color" Mamluk carpets, well represented in the Metropolitan’s collection, represent a later development that continued well after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. Many such carpets may have been produced well into the seventeenth century, and possibly even later.
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Guidi da Faenza, Italy (until 1902); [ Attilio Simonetti (Italian), Rome, from at least 1910; cat., 1912, no. 167]; [ Giorgio Sangiorgi, Rome]; Luigi Pisa, Italy (in 1937; cat., 1937, no. 979); [ P. W. French and Company, New York , until 1970; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. #67.

Dimand, Maurice S., and Jean Mailey. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. no. 97, pp. 154-155, 229, ill. fig. 181, (b/w; color).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 49 (color).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Notable Acquisitions 1965–1975 (1975). p. 137, ill. (b/w).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 61-63, ill. fig. 45 (color).

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 319, ill. fig. 19 (color).

Berinstain, Valerie. Great Carpets of the World. New York: Vendome Press, 1996. p. 46, ill. pl. 46 (color).

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. 116, pp. 7, 140, 168-169, ill. pp. 168-169.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 136-137, ill. (color).

Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. pp. 76-77, ill. figs. 61-62.