Early animal rugs of Anatolia have long held a special fascination for Western scholars, perhaps because the type has such strong historical ties to Europe as objects of high status. The two best-known examples are the Berlin dragon-and-phoenix rug, acquired by Wilhelm von Bode in 1886 in Rome but said to come from a church in central Italy, and the Marby rug, discovered in a small church in Marby, Sweden, in 1925, featuring pairs of birds confronting a central tree. Numerous versions of animal rugs were depicted in European paintings (most notably Italian) dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and usually shown in exalted circumstances. There are also scattered fragmentary animal rugs lacking a specific European context but which add to the range of known pattern types.
The picture changed considerably in 1990, when a series of animal rugs started to appear in the market, reportedly from Tibet. This rug, acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, was the first. It features bold coloring and a highly stylized pattern consisting of two pairs of confronted quadrupeds of indeterminate type—forelegs are raised, jaws agape, and they seem to be performing a kind of dance. Each animal contains a smaller version of itself, in a play on the stock image of an animal within a compartment found in many ancient and medieval textiles. The existence of the Metropolitan’s rug proved that two paintings, one from the great Ilkhanid Shahnama (Book of Kings) of about 1330, the other an Italian rendition of The Marriage of the Virgin dating from about 1410, showing representations of carpets featuring animals with raised forelegs, were based on actual rugs. Furthermore, the distinctive kufic borders of at least two of the rugs in the group match up in specific details with the outer border of the rug represented in the Persian painting.
Palette, materials, structural features, and certain design elements link this animal rug to material that is ascribed to Anatolian production in a generic rather than specific way, including the other "early" animal rugs. These pieces do not make up a homogeneous group and thus do not represent the production of a single weaving center. An attribution to Anatolia says little about the cultural context of production. In this regard, it has recently been proposed that the Museum’s animal rug and its close relatives might well represent Ilkhanid production, given the very similar attributes seen in the Ilkhanid Shahnama painting of about 1330. It has also been posited that the trade network of the Ilkhanids can explain the simultaneous movement of the animal rugs between Anatolia and Italy, on the one hand, as testified by representations in paintings, and between Anatolia and Tibet, on the other, as indicated by the rugs themselves.
Although an earlier date of production cannot be ruled out altogether, assignment of all the animal rugs in the Tibetan group to the fourteenth century is consistent with the Shahnama date and also aligns with the very early fifteenth-century dating of the Italian painting. That dating also falls within the range of carbon-14 results for the "Tibetan" group of animal rugs. Both the Marby rug and the Berlin dragon-and-phoenix rug represent somewhat later production, with the manufacture of the Berlin piece coming no earlier than 1486.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (no. 1–4); Statens Historiska Museet, Stockholm (no. 17786). Both were published in Sarre, Friedrich, and Hermann Trenkwald. Old Oriental Carpets. Vienna and Leipzig, 1926–29, vol. 2, pls. 1 and 2.
2. Mills, John. "Early Animal Carpets in Western Paintings: A Review." Hali 1, no. 3 [no. 3] (Autumn 1978), pp. 234–43, with references to earlier studies.
3. See Ettinghausen, Richard. "New Light on Early Animal Carpets." In Aus der Welt der islamischen Kunst: Festschrift für Ernst Kühnel zum 75. Geburtstag am 26.10.1957, edited by Richard Ettinghausen, pp. 93–116. Berlin, 1959; see also Lamm, Carl Johan. Carpet Fragments: The Marby Rug and some Fragments of Carpets Found in Egypt. Stockholm: Nationalmuseum, 1985.
4. These are enumerated by Michael Franses in Orient Stars, A Carpet Collection. Exhibition, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Linden-Museum, Stuttgart. Catalogue by Heinrich Kirchheim and others. London and Stuttgart, 1993, pp. 266–69; and in Thompson, Jon. "Carpets in the Fifteenth Century." In Thompson, Shaffer, and Mildh, eds. 2010, p. 52 and n. 54.
5. Ettinghausen 1959 (see footnote 3), figs. 4 and 6; and "An Early Animal Rug at The Metropolitan Museum." Hali, no. 53 (October 1990), pp. 154–55.
6. The carpet in the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, was published in Orient Stars, A Carpet Collection. Exhibition, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Linden-Museum, Stuttgart. Catalogue by Heinrich Kirchheim and others. London and Stuttgart, 1993, p. 15. The rug in the Bruschettini Collection is unpublished.
7. Thompson 2010 (see footnote 4), pp. 52–54.
8. Franses 1993 (see footnote 4), p. 373 n. 318.
9. Rageth, Jurg. "Dating the Dragon and Phoenix Fragments: A Newcomer Unmasked and a Genuine New Discovery." Hali, no. 134 (May–June 2004), pp. 106–8.
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Berinstain, Valerie. Great Carpets of the World. New York: Vendome Press, 1996. p. 63, ill. pl. 37 (color).
Roxburgh, David J., ed. Turks: Journey of a Thousand Years, 600–1600. London, New York: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005. no. 98, pp. 142-43, ill. fig. 98 (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. 234, pp. 8, 328-330, ill. p. 329 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 131, ill. (color).
Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 57, ill. fig. 43 (color).