These rugs all feature a Persian design and, as in the example here, the majority (70) include calligraphic inscriptions, with 41 examples having metal thread brocading, ibid, p. 53. Thirty-five of these prayer rugs remain in the collection of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, with at least 20 now in Western museums and collections believed to have once also been in the Topkapi collection, ibid, p. 42. These rugs were most probably sold by the Topkapi palace during the throws of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, see John Mills, The Salting Group: a History and Clarification, ibid, pg. 10. The authors further present evidence that the 'Salting' or 'Topkapi' rugs are the product of Safavid Persia with the confirming support of Carbon-14 dating results. Scholarship now accepts that these rugs were indeed produced during the Safavid period; more recent discussions of the carpet group being Jon Thompson, Milestones in the History of Carpets, Milan, 2006, pp. 220-223; "Auction Price Guide," Hali, Issue 144, p. 115 and Sheila R. Canby, Shah 'Abbas; the Remaking of Iran, London, 2009, pp. 80-81.
It is possible to form sub-groups based on direct correlation between the numbers of shared structural features and the closeness of relationship between examples. ‘Salting’ prayer rugs related to the present lot with their mihrab panel fields decorated with organically executed trees supporting flowering vases include those in the Topkapi Saray Museum in Istanbul, the ‘Karlsruhe’ Niche Rug, The Bardini Niche Rug in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and The Shrine of Imam Riza Niche Rug, see Eiland and Pinner, op. cit., pp. 97-98, figs. 46 and 50; p. 99, fig. 47; and p. 100 figs. 52 and 53, respectively. However, the present rug shares its overall design directly with a Topkapi Saray Niche Rug, ibid., p. 98, no. 50 and illustrated Hülye Tezcan and J. M. Rogers, ed., The Topkapi Saray Museum, Boston, 1987, pl. 20. The flowering vase of the present lot and the ascending trees at the base of the mihrab found in the offered example, the Bardini rug and the Topkapi rug can also be found in other sixteenth and seventeenth century Persian weavings. Most notably, the trees resemble those of a carpet in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, see Charles Grant Ellis, Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1988, pl. 47 and the vase in a sixteenth-century Tabriz carpet, see Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Vol. VI, pl. 1130 and 1131. Having examined first hand both the Bardini rug and the present lot, they share in handle and structure a cotton and silk foundation with a bristly asymmetrical knotted wool pile. From appearance the Topkapi example and the present lot could have been woven as a pair; they share the same calligraphic verses and their designs are nearly identical with only the color scheme reversed. Tezcan and Rogers however provide a structural analysis of the Topkapi rug indicating an all wool foundation. Interestingly, Michael Franses and Ian Bennett point out that many of the structural analyses in Topkapi carpets may not be correct, see Michael Franses and Ian Bennett, “The Topkapi Prayer Rugs,” Hali, Issue 39, pp. 21-22, allowing the possibility that the structure of the Topkapi rug and the present lot are in fact similar supporting the suggestion that they may be a pair.
Safavid prayer rugs such as the example offered here rarely appear on the market, with the most recent examples being the aforementioned ‘Karlsruhe’ Safavid Niche Rug and a silk and metal thread Safavid Prayer rug, sold Sotheby’s London, October 6, 2010, lot 394 and Sotheby’s London, October 7, 2009, lot 276 respectively.
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