Lot 1
  • 1

An Ottoman circular carpet, Cairo, Egypt

80,000 - 120,000 USD
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  • wool, cotton
  • approximately 7ft. 4in. by 8ft. (2.23 by 2.44m.)


Duke Sforza, Milan


New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Loan Exhibition of Early Oriental Rugs, November 1, 1910 - January 15, 1911
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Carpets for the Great Shah, October 3 - November 16, 1948
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


Valentiner, Wilhelm, Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Early Oriental Rugs, New York, 1910, no. 21
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Illustrated Handbook of The W. A. Clark Collection, The Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C.: W. F. Roberts Company, 1928, p. 77 
"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. 26
Coyle, Laura and Dare Myers Hartwell, Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art,Washington, D.C., 2001, p. 75
"The Senator's Carpets," Hali, issue 127, p. 41, fig. 3
Franses, Michael, "Classical Context," Hali, issue 129, pp. 68-69, fig. 3 (detail)                 
 Tabibnia, Moshe, Milestones in the History of Carpets, Milan, 2006, p. 172, fig. 157(detail)


Pile ranges from closely shorn 1/10 inch in medallion to low to knotheads and spot foundation in oxidized reds. Scattered old repiling throughout, now faded to light rose. Repiling appears to be only on the face of the carpet, with none showing on the back. Overcast on all sides with cloth tape and velcro sewn on reverse along edges. Carpet in overall very good condition for age. Flexible handle.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The present lot is unquestionably a highly interesting and rare carpet; while its shape renders it uncommon, its design makes it a very intriguing transitional piece between earlier Mamluk carpets and later Ottoman weavings produced in Cairo. Carpet weaving in Cairo dates back to the age of the Mamluk Sultans, who set up workshops primarily to satisfy Western demands. A few decades after the Ottomans conquered the Mamluk Sultanate in 1517, these workshops began producing rugs and carpets for the Court in Istanbul. The talent and craft of Cairene weavers was in such high regard with the Ottomans that in 1585 Sultan Murad III requested eleven master weavers and wool to be sent to Istanbul from Egypt.  Interestingly, even after the Ottoman takeover, Cairene workshops continued to produce pieces for the European market, which shows not only how hungry the West was for oriental carpets but also how financially lucrative the workshops were since the Sultan in Istanbul allowed the trade to continue.  Italy was the main market for these carpets, with Venice and Genoa being centers of import and distribution. Because of the continuously successful export of these carpets, Cairene weavers created new shapes that were foreign to the domestic market: in addition to the conventional rectangular format, square, cruciform, octagonal and round pieces were made for the European market. Such pieces were often described in Italian inventories as “tapedi da desco” and “tapedi da tavola,” or table carpets.  A Cairene carpet that was made in a cruciform shape such that the sides would hang over the edges of a table is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, see "The South Kensington Ideal," Hali, issue 96, fig. 5, inv. no. 151-1883. The use of oriental rugs as table covers was customary in Europe during the sixteenth century, as many contemporary paintings illustrate. Interestingly, probably due to their large size and complex design, Mamluk and Cairene carpets seldom appear in Old Master paintings. French and German inventories are also known to include round carpets, some of them specifically mentioning Genoa as their place of origin. Italy being a place of distribution of these carpets is reflected in the Sforza provenance of the present carpet. Octagonal and circular carpets are among the rarest of Cairene carpets, with the present example being one of only four known in existence: one formerly in the Piero Barbieri Collection and sold Sotheby’s London, October 12-13, 1982, lot 38; an unpublished one in the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art; and one reputedly in the archiepiscopal palace in Kroměříž, Czech Republic, see Michael Franses, “Classical Context,” Hali, Issue 129, pp. 68-69. As mentioned above, the drawing of this carpet consists of both earlier Mamluk combined with Ottoman design elements, here arranged in a particularly spacious manner; the field and the medallion are decorated with rosettes, tulips, palmettes and saz leaves, which are also found in the Cairene rug that is lot 2 in this catalogue. The border, however, is populated by eight-pointed stars and papyrus umbrellas, motifs typical to Mamluk carpets of the fifteenth century. The eight-pointed stars of the border derive from polygonal and interlaced patterns which had been used in other branches of the decorative arts and in architecture throughout the Islamic world. In addition to the design elements of the border, the overall color palette is more Mamluk than Ottoman with the typical five hues: red, blue, green, yellow and ivory. Because the pile is unusually well preserved for this carpet’s age, the colors are particularly lush and rich which, coupled with the uncommon format, makes this lot particularly rare.