Classical Persian carpets decorated with scenes of animals and gardens are often referred to as 'Paradise Garden' or 'Hunting' carpets. The theme of the Paradise Garden is an ancient one. The word 'paradise' derives from pairi-daeza (meaning a walled-in park), in Avestan, the archaic language of the Zoroastrians and is possibly the origin of the concept of the Garden of Eden. The cypress tree motif is also an ancient symbol of Paradise. In pre-Islamic Iran, it was believed that the moon was the source of eternal life and its elixir was contained in the sap of the 'moon-tree', generally represented as a cypress. The Koran suggests that the devout Muslim male will be transported to a heavenly garden after death, where he will be waited upon by winged houris (celestial beings). In Timurid and Safavid Iran, Paradise parks were vast game reserves in which the King and his court indulged in their beloved sport of hunting. The Paradise Garden is thus a symbol for both earthly and heavenly delights and provided the thematic inspiration for many of the greatest Persian carpets woven during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The majority of these carpets have a large central lobed medallion with pendants, on a ground depicting a verdant landscape with animals, sometimes also including mounted huntsmen, mythical birds and houris. Pope, A.U. A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1939, illustrates several, please see pls. 1203-1210 for examples. One of the more renowned of these being the Sanguszko carpet, now in the Miho Museum, Japan, illustrated as plate 1206, attributed to Kerman, and which displays all the elements noted above. The present example is unusual for the absence of a medallion: the design is symmetrically arranged both vertically and horizontally around a small lobed flower head, with cypress and flowering trees pointing inwards from each end and with pairs of animals and birds disposed between them. Miniature paintings of the period often show us the suzerain seated in the middle of a carpet, with his courtiers around the perimeter. Consequently the composition of these courtly carpets is frequently designed to be viewed from the center. In addition, this compounds the sensation that one is actually within a Paradise garden, seated amongst the trees and flowers and with animals all around. In this carpet the wildlife includes stags, with bold yellow antlers, deer, tigers, lions in combat with bulls, gazelles and antelopes, parrots, ring-collar doves and peacocks.
The border of the present example is composed of lobed cartouches alternating with poly-lobed roundels, linked by small orbs. A similar border device is found in the Ardabil carpet in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is inscribed and dated 1539-40, see Wearden, J, Oriental Carpets and their Structure, Highlights from the V & A Collection, London, 2003, pl. 29, p. 46; related borders can be seen in the 'Compartment and Tree' carpet, Clam Gallas Collection, illustrated in Pope, op.cit., pl. 1143 and dated to the middle or late 16th century and in a Medallion Carpet dated to the second quarter of the 16th century, Collection Heinrich Wulff, illustrated Pope, ibid., pl. 1119. The narrow guard borders which flank the main border are composed of quadrilobed flower heads interspersed with small palmettes springing from delicate vines; these are most closely paralleled in the guard stripes seen in a late 16th century circular floral carpet, tentatively attributed to Kirman by Pope, from the Collection Marquet de Vasselot, see Pope, ibid., pl. 1212; related guards exist on the 'Medallion and Animal' carpet in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Inv. no. 23-1883, see Wearden, op.cit. pl. 28, p. 45 and the late 16th century de Behague -- Thyssen Bornemisza 'Medallion and Animal' carpet, illustrated Pope, op.cit., pl. 1210.
The theme of the Paradise Garden is to be found in several of the great 16th and 17th century Persian carpets from the important weaving centers of Tabriz, Kirman, Kashan and Yezd. The present example has the rich, jewel-like range of colors and structure associated with East Persian carpet production.
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