Lot 68
  • 68

A 'Polonaise' silk and metal-thread rug, Isphahan or Kashan, Central Persia

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • silk, metal thread
  • approximately 6ft. 10in. by 4ft. 5in. (2.08 by 1.35m.)


The Estate of King Umberto II of Italy, sold Sotheby's London, 17 October 1984, lot 319


Valérie Bérinstain, et al., Great Carpets of the World, Paris 1996, pl. 152, pp. 176-177


Silk pile generally good, closely sheared 1/10 inch with dark brown, madders and ivory oxidized to knotheads in areas; scattered dark spot stains to surface, not visible on reverse; a 3/4 inch x 1/4 surface spot in field; outer guard borders worn low to knotheads; small isolated areas of foldwear low to knotheads and metal brocade areas abraded with losses to metal, and some minor old re-brocading. Sides with remnants of original selvages, left lower side fraying approximately 10 inches from the lower end up with losses into outer guard stripe, a 1 x 1-1/2 inch loss to lower left corner, smaller (1/2 x 1/2 inch) nicks to other three corners. ends with approximately 1/8-1/4 inch loss into outer guard stripe with later applied silk and metal brocade ribbon that has frayed and with losses in areas. Unusually pliable handle for a "Polonaise" rug, however recommend rolling rather than folding. Small, old metal hanging loops sewn to the reverse of both sides. Good overall condition. 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 with such enquiries
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 hallmark shimmering silver and gold tones over a saturated ground color of ‘Polonaise’ carpets was achieved by wrapping extremely fine silver-gilt and silver thread diagonally around silk threads. These metal threads were wound around the silk core in a way that the silk remained partially visible; for a gold effect the metal thread was wrapped around yellow silk and for silver, white silk. As a result of this technique the colors blended harmoniously into solid shades of gold and silver in the eyes of the onlooker. This effect has deteriorated with time due to the corrosion of metal threads, which renders them dark, however it is still partially visible in some surviving rugs, such as the one offered here. Most surviving 'Polonaise' rugs have not retained their original coloring due to the fugitive dyes used at the time.  It is precisely the well-conserved emerald green field color that makes this lot particularly rare and attractive.  A medallion "Polonaise" rug in the Hallwylska Museum, Stockholm also features a green field, see Annette Grunland, et al., ICOC XII, Stockholm 2011, p. 31, and another rug formerly in the Benguiat collection and then that of Endre Ungar was sold (privately after the auction) at Sotheby's London, 28 April 1993, lot 61.  When viewing this rug, one can easily imagine the vibrancy of the original colors of the many now faded ‘Polonaise’ rugs that were originally juxtaposed with the shimmering metal brocading. Related small format "Polonaise" rugs with an overall vinery and arabesque design include two illustrated by A.U. Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford 1936, pls. 1242 and 1243; the latter, the Czartoryski rug, in color, Christie's London, 11 October 1990, lot 34. The design of the present rug is most similar to the crimson ground palmette and vinery wool rugs also produced in Safavid workshops, now generally attributed to Isphahan.  In this rug, the split-leaf arabesques of the field pattern are unusually bold and attenuated as in a rug from the Fletcher collection now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, see M. Dimand and J. Mailey, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1973, cat. no. 23, fig. 90 and in the Yerkes-Schiff-Getty "Polonaise" rug sold Sotheby's New York, 8 December 1990, lot 3.  The Yerkes-Schiff-Getty rug also employed emerald green as its major border color.   In the rug here offered the border arabesques are more similar to those in the field of the Rothschild-Kevorkian-Getty "Polonaise," sold Sotheby's New York, 8 December 1990, lot 2 and now in a European collection.  Here, the interlocking and dense design becomes almost secondary to the color in order to create an overall harmonious surface.  One can only hypothesize whether the weaver of this rug aimed for this effect, nevertheless, the end product is a particularly lavish and dazzling representation of Safavid court art.

Incorporating brilliant metal-thread and silk brocading and having a distinctive color palette comprising soft gold tones accented by vivid blues, subtle greens and gentle shades of reds, 'Polonaise' rugs stand out as a distinct group among classical Persian pile weavings. The term 'Polonaise' is a misnomer for these Central Persian rugs. In 1878, a number of silk and metal-thread carpets from the collection of Prince Ladislas Czartoryski were exhibited at the Paris International Exhibition. As some of the carpets displayed the Czartoryski coat-of-arms, it was assumed that these rugs were made in Poland. The Polish attribution persisted and these carpets still bear the name 'Polonaise' in spite the fact that it was later recognized that this group was the product of Persian looms, most likely located in Kashan or Isphahan.  Their manufacture was closely associated with the Persian Royal court and there are several recorded instances of their being presented as gifts to foreign courts by the embassies of Shah Abbas I (1587-1628), Shah Safi (1629-1642) and Shah Abbas II (1642-1674).  Woven during the golden age of Safavid art, it is only befitting that 'Polonaise' rugs with their silk, gold and silver-thread epitomize this era to many scholars and collectors today, who view these rugs with appreciation equal to that of the European travelers visiting the Persian court during the first half of the seventeenth century.