The Seley Carpet
- Object Name:
- late 16th century
- Made in Iran
- Silk (warp), cotton (weft), wool (weft and pile); asymmetrically knotted pile
- Rug: L. 280 in. (711.2 cm)
W. 121 in. (307.3 cm)
Tube: L. 157 in. (398.8 cm)
Diam. 21 in. (53.3cm)
Wt. 86 lbs. (39 kg) (carpet was weighed with 120 lb. tube at 204 lbs.)
- Credit Line:
- Presented in memory of Richard Ettinghausen, Gift of Louis E., Theresa S., Hervey, and Elliot Jay Seley, and Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick and Fletcher Funds, 1978
- Accession Number:
This is one of the finest Persian carpets known, produced at a time when the art of carpet weaving had achieved its greatest heights under the patronage of the Safavid shahs in the sixteenth century. Striking in the harmony of its pattern and color, this carpet combines the medallion scheme adapted from bookbindings with a field composed of a well-planned system of floral forms on scrolling vines and floating cloud bands of Chinese derivation.
The Seley Carpet exhibits a superbly balanced and beautiful example of a classical Persian medallion design. It belongs to the same group as the Emperor’s Carpet (no. 43.121.1) but is slightly later in date. The Seley employs somewhat humbler materials (both carpets have silk warps, but it has wefts of cotton and wool instead of silk, as in the Emperor’s) and is less finely woven (slightly less than 200 knots per square inch versus the Emperor’s 300). The field pattern in both consists of scrolling-vine systems highlighted with palmettes and blossoms, but the field in the Seley is dominated by a massive central medallion and four corner medallions, each framed by a broad collar. Reflecting a shift in taste away from figural representation by the end of the sixteenth century and also perhaps a decline in quality when compared to the Emperor’s, the animal life found in the Seley seems relatively subdued. Single full-length animals and little heads quietly inhabit the border, while the field is devoid of wildlife apart from two pairs of peacocks filling the pendants attached to the central medallion. The animal combats so popular earlier in the century (see nos. 10.61.3, 43.121.1, 14.40.721) have vanished.
One of only a handful of large-format "Herat" carpets to feature central medallions, the Seley Carpet is closest in terms of pattern and style to a large, fragmentary, and probably contemporaneous carpet in Cincinnati. A bit larger than the Seley when new but now reduced to slightly less than half its original size, the Cincinnati fragment preserves one edge of its central medallion as well as two corner medallions that show broad surrounding collars similar to those in the Seley. A pair of peacocks occupies the pendant attached to the central medallion. Although without animals, the field is enriched with birds and a few blossoms bearing animal masks. The Seley Carpet’s border pattern, composed of lobed compartments, is found in numerous examples of the group; the Cincinnati fragment has a similar but unusually elaborate version of the same pattern.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Walker 1997, p. 32, fig. 20.
2. Variations of this pattern are illustrated in Ellis, Charles Grant. "Some Compartment Designs for Carpets, and Herat." Textile Museum Journal 1, no. 4 (December 1965), pp. 42–56; and in Klose, Christine in Thompson, Jon, Daniel Shaffer, and Pirjetta Mildh, eds. Carpets and Textiles in the Iranian World 1400–1700: Proceedings of the Conference held at the Ashmolean Museum on 30–31 August 2003. Oxford and Genoa, 2010, esp. illustrations pp. 82–84.
Vitall and Leopold Benguiat, New York and Paris (until 1932, their sale,American Art Association, New York, April 23, 1932, no. 22); Louis E. Seley, New York (by 1961–78; gifted to MMA); Elliot Seley, New York (by 1961–87; gift and sale to MMA)
Ellis, Charles. Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988. pp. 113, 170.
Walker, Daniel S. Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. p. 32, ill. fig. 20, (related).
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. 185, pp. 8, 16, 265-266, ill. p. 266 (color), fig. 25 (b/w).
Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. pp. 72-73, ill. fig. 57 (color).