An Isphahan carpet, Central Persia
- approximately 44ft. 3in. by 14ft. 2in. (13.49 by 4.32m.)
Vitall Benguiat, New York
Washington D.C., Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, The World at our Feet. A Selection of Carpets from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, April 4 - July 6, 2003
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Masterpieces: European Arts from the Collection, August 25, 2007 - April 15, 2008
"Carpets for the Great Shah: The Near-Eastern Carpets from the W. A. Clark Collection," The Corcoran Gallery of Art Bulletin, Washington, D.C., Vol. 2, No. 1, October 1948, p. 15
"The Senator's Carpets," Hali, issue 127, pl. 41, fig. 2 (detail)
Franses, Michael, "Classical Context," Hali, issue 129, pp. 68-69, fig. 5
Hallett, Jessica, "From the Looms of Yazd and Isfahan: Persian Carpets and Textiles in Portugal," Carpets and Textiles in the Iranian World 1400-1700, Oxford, 2010, fig. 14, pp. 114-115
The unusually large size and long, narrow dimensions of this carpet denote that it was commissioned for a specific and very grand space. While the design elements are typical to Safavid Isphahan carpets, the configurations of curving lancet leaves into a Western armorial shape at either end of the field point to this carpet being commissioned by a European noble or royal patron. In this instance, the carpet descended through the Dukes of Lafões, a title that was created in 1718 by King Joao V of Portugal (r. 1707-50) for the illegitimate descendants of his father, King Pedro II (r. 1683-1706). The first Duke of Lafões was Joao V's nephew, Pedro Henrique de Braganca (1718-61), and it is more likely that he acquired the carpet than commissioned it, as it is most similar to Isphahan carpets dated to the 17th century featuring curling lancet leaves in the field and border designs. Related carpets include another still in Portugal, see Jessica Hallett, "From the Looms of Yazd and Isfahan, Persian Carpets and Textiles in Portugal," Carpets and Textiles in the Iranian World 1400-1700, Oxford 2010, p. 108, fig. 9 from the Convent de Lourical now in the Museo Naçional de Machado Castro, Coimbra, and one from the Benjamin Altman collection now in the Metropolitan Musem of Art, see M.S. Dimand and Jean Mailey, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1973, cat. no. 30, fig. 99, pp. 70 and 107.
Hallett, op.cit. p.106-110 proposes a chronology for Isphahan spiral-vine and palmette carpets based on structure and design types. Group 1 are the earliest and are those having a part silk foundation; groups 2, 3 and 4 have all cotton foundations and designs progressing from vines, palmettes and cloudbands (group 2), to which are added curling lancet leaves (group 3), and culminating in group 4 with 'quatrefoil' arabesque field patterns and cypress trees in the border. The first group are from the late 16th/early 17th century with groups 2, 3 and 4 following through the 17th century and into the early 18th century. As she places The Lafões Carpet in the third group she dates it to the late 17th/early 18th century. The intricate border to this carpet is unusual and found on a few carpets dated by scholars to the 17th century, including the two mentioned above, another carpet from the Clark collection, sold Christie's New York, November 24, 2009, lot 129; a fragment in the Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, see Friedrich Spuhler, Carpets from Islamic Lands, Kuwait, 2012, cat. 22, pp. 102-3; a fragmentary carpet sold V. & L. Benguiat Collection, American Art Association, New York, December 4-5, 1925, lot 35; and a carpet once in the collection of J. Paul Getty, sold Sotheby’s New York, September 24, 1991, lot 239.
Prior to entering into the collection of the Duke of Lafões, this carpet may have been in the collection of the royal family or another Portuguese aristocrat. It is enticing to speculate that it may have been one of the "140 carpets of such extraordinary magnificence..." that covered the pavement at the 1669 baptism of Isabel Louisa, daughter of future King Pedro II, for the quote see Viterbo, F.M., Artes e Artistas em Portugal, Lisbon, 1920 sited in Hallett, op.cit., p. 115. The scale of the design elements and their elegant rendering in this carpet are perfectly balanced as they are mirrored end to end. The cloudbands are both intricately drawn and robust in character; the palmettes and leaves are lushly feathered and all are woven in complex color juxtapositions to create a carpet suitable for the sumptuous space, if not palace, for which it was commissioned. Senator Clark decorated a large painting gallery in his New York mansion with this carpet, however, its remarkable condition suggests that this was a gallery reserved for only the most exclusive guests.
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