The city of Tabriz has been one of the most renowned weaving centers in Persia from the Safavid period (1501-1722) through to the present day. As a major commercial and cultural center, Tabriz was the court seat and the first capital of the Safavid dynasty. During the 19th century Tabriz, and nearby Heriz, became the leading carpet producing cities in Northwest Persia and were responsible for manufacturing carpets for both the domestic and western markets. Among the rarest pieces woven in Tabriz and Heriz were large silk carpets that were most often made as special commissions due to the expense of this luxurious material. While large-sized silk carpets are rare and therefore not often on the market, a Heriz silk carpet of comparable size and condition to the present lot sold recently at Christie's London, 5 April 2011, lot 200.
From its long tradition of carpet manufacture, weavers in the city of Tabriz were among the most versatile craftsmen in Persia and able to adapt to the perpetually-changing markets of the late nineteenth century. Western interest in Persian carpets had dramatically increased during the second half of the 19th century and by the turn of the century, European influence was such that much of the city's carpet industry was controlled by German firms, see Murray L. Eiland Jr. and Murray Eiland III, Oriental Carpets, London, 1998, p. 89. To meet the increased European demand for carpets, they were woven in every size and shape, with different color palettes and designs and employing wool, cotton and silk. Carpets with both geometric and curvilinear designs were produced in Tabriz and it is impossible to associate weaving from the city with one particular look or color scheme. However, no matter how creative weavers became with shapes, motifs and color, they always produced precisely drawn and carefully executed pieces. Silk carpets from Tabriz have very sophisticated and intricate, often more traditional, designs than their woolen counterparts. With its centralized composition in the field displaying a complex variant of the Safavid era 'Vase' design, the lot offered here is a superlative example of a large silk carpet from Tabriz. The field design is framed by a border incorporating a selection of smaller panels recalling prayer rugs. Many of the niches include plants and flowering shrubs that link the present carpet to seventeenth and eighteenth-century garden carpets. This revived interest in Safavid art is a characteristic of the Qajar era at the end of the nineteenth century. With the waning of the Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925), using motifs recalled from the glorious Persian past, often instigated by the curiosity of Europeans traveling in the area, became favored among local artists and craftsmen. Here, the classical design is executed in a subtle color palette that is unusual for the time, when saturated hues and bold contrasts were prevalent. The very high quality of craftsmanship, intricate design and coloring, along with the lavish use of costly silk is here preserved in virtually original condition. The carpet offered here is the culmination of a prestigious cultural tradition and a superb example of the excellence of Qajar-era weaving .
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