Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

The Mongolian Tent in the Ilkhanid Period

The nomadic way of life required dwellings with a light structure that were easy to transport, assemble, and dismantle. The typical Central Asian tent, known today as a yurt or ger, is a circular construction with a conical roof made of a wooden trellis covered with felt. Practical and functional, this structure has not undergone substantial change since ancient times. The interior of the tent becomes a home when wool rugs are spread on the floor, colorful textiles are hung on the walls, and a stove is placed in the center, its vertical pipe piercing the circular aperture in the roof.

A Mongol royal tent was the epitome of luxury and allowed the ruler to reconcile semi-nomadic and sedentary lifestyles. This tent was exceptionally large and was transported, fully assembled, by placing it on a wheeled contraption pulled by oxen. Its interior was lined with sumptuous textiles made by the best weavers of Iran, Central Asia, and China. Its floor was covered with the warmest and most comfortable Persian rugs. Gold and silver cups, ewers, and bowls were placed on low red-lacquered wooden tables and trays. A large number of smaller and slightly less luxurious tents belonging to the traveling members of the retinue made the entire caravan a grand sight. In this way, the Ilkhanid rulers would travel from their summer capital at Tabriz in northwestern Iran to the winter capital at Baghdad in Iraq.

The Mongols, however, never lost their taste for lavish objects related to their ancestral nomadic roots. Their love of the horse and of personal adornment associated with the nomadic life continued even after they adopted the urban concept of the court. Horses were bedecked with gold saddles and trappings, probably only for parading. Sumptuous silk coats, flamboyant hats decorated with eagle and owl feathers for men and with gold plaques and pearls for women, richly embroidered leather boots, and ostentatious belts were part of daily fashion.