Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Five: Courtly Splendor in the Islamic World/ Chapter Two: Art and Empire—The Ottoman Court/ Featured Works of Art: Images 23–26/ Image 24

Image 24

Prayer carpet with triple-arch design
About 1575–90
Turkey, probably Istanbul, possibly Egypt, Cairo
Silk (warp and weft), wool (pile), cotton (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile; 68 x 50 in. (172.7 x 127 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, James F. Ballard Collection, Gift of James F. Ballard, 1922 (22.100.51)

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Ottoman empire, prayer, mihrab, floral and vegetal ornament, cultural exchange, textile, silk, cotton, wool

This rug exemplifies how Ottoman designs and motifs, originating in the court design workshop, were incorporated into religious as well as secular art. These designs and motifs represent collaboration in the royal workshop. Artists trained in the arts of ink and paper—calligraphy, painting, and manuscript illumination—worked with those who specialized in carpets, textiles, ceramics, ivory carving, stone carving, and metalwork.

A prayer rug is a small carpet on which one person can perform daily prayers. It usually includes an image of a niche, or mihrab, symbolic of the gateway to Paradise. Some examples, including this one, depict a mosque lamp hanging in the center.

This prayer rug is somewhat unusual in its depiction of a triple (as opposed to single) arch, which is supported by pairs of slender columns with faceted bases and ornate capitals. Four small domes, characteristic of Ottoman architecture, appear above the gateway, emphasizing the architectural design. A lamp, symbolizing the presence of God, hangs from the central arch. Tulips and carnations, typical of the Ottoman floral style, adorn the bottom of the gateway and the borders. The flowers may be a reference to Paradise, which in Islamic art is often represented by gardens and lush vegetation. Despite its modest size, the rug's sophistication, skillful execution, and fine materials suggest that a member of the royal court commissioned it.

This carpet exemplifies the multiculturalism of Ottoman society. The slender coupled columns are characteristic of the Andalusian architecture of southern Spain (see fig. 22). This motif's sudden appearance in Ottoman art has been linked to the immigration of Spanish Jews, who, after being expelled from Spain in 1492, found refuge in the Ottoman empire. The coupled-column motif likely migrated from Spain in the manuscripts and textiles of Spanish Jews, and was then adapted into the Ottoman visual repertoire.

The physical make-up of the carpet also reflects cultural interconnections. Although the design is distinctly Ottoman, the technique and materials are typical of Egypt. This fusion of disparate traditions is due to the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman empire in 1517. This carpet reveals the collaboration between the royal Ottoman workshop in Istanbul and Egyptian weavers.

The design was enormously influential in later centuries; thousands of carpets with the same basic design were eventually woven in Turkish urban workshops, villages, and by nomadic tribes.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History