Lot 93
  • 93

A Safavid prayer rug, Kashan or Isphahan, Central Persia

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • wool
  • approximately 5ft. 8in. by 3ft. 11in. (1.73 by 1.19m.)
Outer border: Qur'an, II, 255-6, ending with "God told the truth."
Side cartouches in main border: "The Mighty God said," followed by Qur'an, XXXIII, 45
Top cartouche in main border: "The is no god, but The God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God, 'Ali is the friend of God."
Inner border: Call to God to bless the Fourteen Innocents
Top rosettes in main border , in seal Kufic, both positive: "Glory to God, and praise be to God, and there is no god, but the God, and God is Most Great."
Middle rosettes in main border, in seal Kufic, both positive: The names Muhammad, and 'Ali repeated four times each.


Sotheby's New York, June 4, 1988, lot 11


Michael Franses, "Some Wool Pile Persian-Design Niche Rugs," Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies, volume V, part 2, Danville, California, 1999, pp. 47 and 99, no. 51, colour plate 8


Pile ranges from closely sheared approximately 1/10 inch with dark browns oxidized to knotheads and scattered areas of foldwear and wear showing foundation. Very minor repiling to dark browns, upper end border. 1/4 inch hole near center, smaller hole upper left corner, small nicks out of lower end edge and upper left corner. Sides with remnants of magenta silk selvages lower right side, now both sides mostly later overcast in ivory silk. Ends with remnants of original ivory flatwoven end finishes. Lower end with small, approximately 1in. by 1in. triangular loss as visible in catalogue illustration. Upper end with hanging rings sewn on reverse. Very supple handle, sound fabric, thin but mostly untouched and good condition for age. Please note that a license may be required to export textiles, rugs and carpets of Iranian origin from the United States. Clients should enquire with the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regarding export requirements. Please check with the Carpet department if you are uncertain as to whether a lot is subject to this restriction or if you need assistance.
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

This lot is one of the corpus of Safavid Persian niche rugs previously regarded as part of the 'Salting' or 'Topkapi' group of rugs. Named for a carpet bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum by George Salting upon his death in 1909, the attribution and dating of this group of rugs fell into question in the mid-twentieth century with some scholars suggesting they were copies of Safavid work manufactured in late nineteenth-century Turkey. Revered by early scholars such as A. U. Pope, F.R. Martin, F. Sarre, E. Kühnel, W. von Bode and G. Migeon, they were considered superb examples of Safavid weaving. When these rugs appeared on the market they were purchased by renowned collectors such as Charles Yerkes, Dikran Kelekian, Albert Goupil, Stefano Bardini and E. Paravicini; with several of them now in institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Carpet Museum in Tehran, and the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.  In 1999 Michael Franses studied and documented the 89 then known niche rugs of Persian design that were considered part of the 'Salting' or 'Topkapi' group, see Murray L. Eiland, Jr. and Robert Pinner, eds., Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies, vol. V, part 2: The Salting Carpets,ICOC, 1999, pp. 42-67.   

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.