Lot 62
  • 62

'Emperor' silk carpet, Toussounian, probably Corfu workshop

Estimate
200,000 - 300,000 GBP
Sold
bidding is closed

Description

  • silk pile, wool
  • approximately 630 by 314cm; 20ft. 8in., 10ft. 3in.
Knot density: V: 9/cm; H: 9/cm

the inner border with cartouches with inscriptions of Persian couplets in praise of the carpet and its patterns, with no date, the poets pen name may be ‘Homa' (not a recorded Safavid poet)

Provenance

By repute purchased from Toussounian by George Farrow and subsequently purchased from George Farrow by the present owner circa 1969

Catalogue Note

The design elements of this present carpet are taken from one of the most complex and sophisticated groups of classical carpets of the early Safavid period in the 16th century. They have many features in common, being of elongated format and often more than twice as long as they are wide, with designs which incorporate motifs of palmettes, cloud-bands, realistic and mythical animals (dragons and Chinese antelope, ch'ilins, lion and buffalo, tigers and leopards, snakes, ducks and pheasants) and delicate layers of spiralling vines. They use many colours (often between fifteen and eighteen), and have structural similarities, including high knot counts (circa 200-325 knots per square inch) and asymmetrical knotting, the finest have silk warps and wefts. The 16th century pieces were attributed to eastern Iran, with Herat having been recorded as an important centre of court art and carpet production, during the Timurid period in the 15th century onwards, and although not all pieces originate from Herat (as some were from Isphahan and Kashan), the high quality of the 16th century pieces, does attribute them to being inspired by the designs of the Timurid period, extending into the early years of the 17th century. Seemingly contemporaneous carpets similar in pattern and style survive in multiple quality grades. It is not rare to find pairs of Persian carpets, and therefore has been suggested that it must have been widespread practice. However not all are of the same quality or warranted being diplomatic and royal gifts, and therefore copies of those that were would still hold some of the same prestige, by virtue of the quality of the piece alone, and a consideration for the present carpet. This design type was comprehensively discussed by Christine Klose, in her ICOC paper presented in Istanbul, 2007 and posthumously published as ‘Imperial Puzzle, Sixteenth-century Persian spiral vine carpets with animals’, Hali, Issue 170, Winter 2011 , pp.76-85. In the group known as ‘spiral vine carpets’, nine of the group (I-IX) are known, based on five cartoon variations (A-E). Only three of the nine early pieces now survive and the most famous pair (Carpets I-II) are known as the ‘Emperors’ Carpets’, Iran (probably Herat), second half 16th century, asymmetrically knotted, silk warps and wefts, wool pile. (The third carpet, with cartoon B, is in poor condition: MAK: Vienna T 8376). It is the Emperors’ carpet design (with Cartoon A), and which are within their class considered supreme and possibly the earliest examples, that has inspired the composition of the presently offered carpet.

The ‘Emperors’ Carpets’, were purported to have been a diplomatic gift in 1698 from Tsar Peter the Great of Russia to the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I (1658-1705) to adorn his summer residence, and this companion pair were separated and are now located in different international museum respectively. One of the pair (744 by 350cm), originally in the Imperial Habsburg Collection is now in Vienna (Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst: MAK), see Völker, Angela, Die orientalischen Knüpfteppiche im MAK, Böhlau, Wien- Köln- Wiemar, 2001, Cat.No.86, pp.244-247 (Inv. T8334 /1922). In 1925, on the fall of the Habsburgs, to raise funds the Viennese museum sold the other to the London dealers, Cardinal and Harford, and now the companion ‘Emperors’ carpet’, (751 by 330cm), is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (Rogers Fund, 1943 – 43.121.1)

The Emperors’ Carpet group, the pair being the largest of the ‘spiral vine carpets’ with the finest drawing, have the distinctive design elements in a pattern that is symmetrical in all essential details, on both the vertical and horizontal axes, with each quadrant mirroring the others. This repeat suggests the weavers used a large and elaborate cartoon. The design is a refined overlaid series of arabesques, with palmettes and rosettes, together with cloud bands and pairs of birds, and various fighting animals, on a saturated red ground. They are juxtaposed over two delicate spiral vine systems in different colours and on different levels. In striking contrast the wide border against a green/indigo ground incorporates arabesques, exuberant cloudbands and spiral vines. The narrow outer border with red ground and cloudbands over a vine with flowers, and the inner border with yellow ground cartouches with inscriptions, alternating with palmette motifs. The present carpet shows some variation in composition, and is not an identical copy. It is however still of extraordinary quality and with silk pile, unlike the ‘Emperors’ Carpets’ which are wool.

Although the layers of symbolic meaning of these carpets, which were accessible to the Persian courtiers of the 16th century, linking the prestige of the cultural association with the metaphysical and mystic Sufi interpretations of the soul searching for God through poetry, may not be completely understood now, they do sometimes have inscriptions which assist with the understanding of the intentions of the carpets. These cited pair of comparable 16th century, silk ‘Emperor’ animal hunting carpets have calligraphic inscriptions within the cartouches in the narrow inner border, of a poem by the 13th century poet Zahir-al-Din Faryabi, in Nastaliq script, which praises nature, love and the King of the world, for whom the pair of carpets were made, and describes the carpets as a celestial meadow and invokes God’s blessing on the ruler. 

The present carpet, with all the similarities, in the overall design, and with calligraphic inscriptions in the inner border, against a saffron coloured ground, does not copy the same poem. Instead is an interpretation of the calligraphic inscription of Persian couplets in praise of the carpet and its patterns, found on another 16th century carpet, known as ‘The Darius of the World ‘Tiger’ carpet, with paradise park design, (504 by 225cm), in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan (Inv.no. 424.1855), circa 1560. It is considered to have been made for the Shah Tahmasps’ royal court, and then acquired in a private auction in 1855 by Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, and is one of the from another category of carpets known as the ‘Salting Group’, and incorporates a central medallion and metal thread highlights (originally gilt). This is one of only two complete 16th century Persian carpets that exist in Italian museums (the other also being in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum). Through the inscription it is considered ‘to have been conceived as a reflection of heaven, and to walk within in it is to enter Paradise on earth’ (see Franses, Michael, Curator of exhibition and catalogue, Il Giardino del Paradiso nel tappeto “del tigri” del Museo Poldi Pezzoli e nei tappet persiani del XVI secolo (The Garden of Paradise in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum ‘ Tiger’ Carpet and in 16th century Persian Carpets, Exhibition, 23rd May – 1st September 2014, Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan, pp.1-80, Darius of the World ‘Tiger Carpet’, Tavola 4, p.11, p.42-49, 75-77.

For a later example inspired by the ‘Emperors Carpet’ design, and signed, see a Teheran carpet, North Persia, circa 1900, Sotheby’s, London, 24 April 2013, lot 303, with similar field design, an alternative border type, and with calligraphic inscriptions limited to entablatures in the top corners of the borders, 'Work of Ustad (Master) Amir' and 'Order of Haji Yahuda’. 

This example is ascribed to the Corfu workshop.  The red kilim end finishes banded in golden yellow are a feature seen on Toussounian rugs, and this example would have been made under his oversight.  It is a remarkable tour-de-force to have woven a silk carpet which so accurately renders the original models  in such detail and fineness and on such a scale.  The Kum kapi workshops are known for their small silk rugs, and very occasionally produced small carpets.  A piece on this scale is an extraordinary rarity.

Bibliography: 

Alcouffe, Daniel, ed., Great Carpets of the World, Chp.IV, The Carpets of Safavid Persia: Gardens of Earthly Delight, Paris, 1996, No.101, pg.130. 

Bennet, Ian, ‘The Emperors’ old carpets’, Hali, July-August-September, 1986, pp.11-19

Denny, Walter B. ‘Textiles and Carpets in the Metropolitan Museum's New ALTICALSA Galleries’. Arts of Asia 2012 (2012). p. 105, ill. figs. 7, 8. Provenance of Emperor Carpet Czar Peter the Great, Russia (by tradition, until 1698); Austrian Imperial House, Vienna (1698–1921); Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie (1921–25; to Cardinal and Harford); [Cardinal and Harford, London, 1925–28; sale, Christie, Manson & Wood, London, July 5, 1928, no. 146]; [ International Art Gallery, London, 1928, sold to Arthur U. Pope for Rockefeller McCormick]; Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Chicago (1928–d. 1932; her estate until 1943; sold to Arthur U. Pope for the Metropolitan Museum of Art). 

Denny, Walter B, How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014.p.118, illus. pp. 120-121, figs. 104-105. 

Denny, Walter B, Emperor’s carpet’, Hali, Issue 170, Winter 2011 , pp.74-75. 

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. 181, pp. 6,12,17, 172, 259-261, ill. p. 260 (color), fig. 18 (b/w).

Ellis, Charles, Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia,1988. p. 171. 

Ellis, Charles Grant, ‘Some Compartment Designs for Carpets, and Herat’, Textile Museum Journal 1, no. 4 (December 1965), pp. 42–56, pp. 42, 43, figs. 1, 2, and p. 52, fig. 15. Franses, Michael, Curator of exhibition and catalogue, Il Giardino del Paradiso nel tappeto “del tigri” del Museo Poldi Pezzoli e nei tappet persiani del XVI secolo (The Garden of Paradise in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum ‘ Tiger’ Carpet and in 16th century Persian Carpets, Exhibition, 23rd May – 1st September 2014, Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan, pp.1-80, Darius of the World ‘Tiger Carpet’, Tavola 4, p.11, p.42-49, 75-77. 

Franses, Michael, ‘Out of the shadow’, Hali, Issue 179, Spring 2014, pp.80-85, for discussion on the Darius of the Universe carpet in the Poldi Pozzoli Museum, Milan. 

Klose, Klose, ICOC paper presented in Istanbul, 2007 and posthumously published ‘Imperial Puzzle, Sixteenth-century Persian spiral vine carpets with animals’, Hali, Issue 170, Winter 2011 , pp.76-85. 

Pope, Arthur Upham, A Survey of Persian Art: from Prehistoric times to the present, Vol. VIII, plates 981-1275, Textiles, Carpets, Oxford University Press, London & New York, 1939, vii, East Persia, floral and animal carpet, pl. 1174 (b/w - section of floral and animal carpet, East Persia, 2nd quarter 16th century, Estate of Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick. (L.whole carpet) 24ft 8 in (750cm). W. 10ft 6 in (320cm).

Sarre, Friedrich, and Trenkwald, Hermann, Alt Orientalische Teppiche, Leipzig, 1926-1929, Vol. I, Vol. II. Pl.29. 

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. Vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 98-100, ill. fig. 74 (colour).

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