Northeast Persia, Khorassan
Northeast Persia, Khorassan

Details & Cataloguing

Howard Hodgkin, Portrait of the Artist


Northeast Persia, Khorassan
woven with brightly coloured concentric lozenge form medallions with serrated edges, with delicate trails of blossom and palmettes and incorporating four small birds, and a section of an ogival motif with ivory ground in the corner (originally part of central composition of larger carpet), with a vertical section of the indigo narrow inner guard:
illustrated in the printed catalogue only with the pile running upwards as displayed in Hodgkin's house
wool, pile
mounted: 212 by 122cm; 6ft 11in by 4ft; textile visible approximately 208 by 118cm; 6ft 10in by 3ft 10in.
first half 17th century
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Catalogue Note

This fabulously vibrant and dynamic composition of layer upon layer of colour, is an evocative fragment from a very distinctive and original group of carpets called the ‘Portuguese’ carpets, although they are not European in manufacture. The association with Portugal is due to the presence of a pictorial scene at the top of each end which depicts small sailing ships with European figures in feathered hats and European clothing. There is an unusual distinctive motif of a man in the water, and surrounding fish, whales or dragon heads. On the existing recorded carpets the top corners include either one or two ships respectively, the figure in the water, and combinations of the marine. The group has a distinctive main field which depicts overlaying concentric lozenge form medallions, with variations in the style of the serrated edges, all with bright colours and with palmettes and rosettes and trails of buds, with some compositions incorporating birds. The centre has four small palmettes radiating to the respective outeredges. Despite changes within the main field carpets in this group all have the same exuberant border type of interlaced arabesques and inner guards, with most on a red ground.

For some time there were differences in opinion as to the location of production of this distinctive and original group of original carpets, and whether it was India or Persia, in the 17th century. The Portuguese were also in Goa, in India, which was a factor considered when investigating the source of production further. It is now generally agreed that the attribution can be to Khorassan in Northeast present day Iran, which is primarily based on structural features such as the use of four-ply warps typical of Persian production and the widespread reliance upon jufti knotting, a feature only exceptionally seen in Indian carpets and a distinctive hallmark of Khorassan weaving.

Charles Grant Ellis, proposed a typology with those known at the time into three groups, to which some others can be added: the first group being complex designs, quite fantastical in composition, with the lozenge medallions having movement to the jagged outlines and small leaf shapes on edges turning over, with two ships in the marine scene and small birds within the medallions (as in the present fragment): the second group were smaller in size, with more regular drawing, rectilinear medallions, with no birds; and the third group was transitional in design between the two. For comprehensive discussion see Ellis, Charles Grant, “The Portuguese carpets of Gujarat,” in Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ed. by Richard Ettinghausen, New York, 1972. pp. 267-289.

Comparable recorded complete carpets in collections:- 

Group I: The ‘Portuguese’ carpet, early 17th century, (680 by 313cm), cotton and wool, (Inv.No. T 8339/1922 KB), originally owned by the Imperial Habsburg family, entered the collection of the Museum für Kunst und Industrie in 1919 (later named the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Arts), Vienna; ‘Portuguese’ carpet, 17th century, (660 by 290cm), asymmetrical knotting, (Acc. MT 25095: Acquired in 1885), in the Musée des Tissus de Lyon, which no longer includes the maritime pictorial scenes but has later altered ogival motifs instead;  ‘Portuguese’ carpet, 16th/17th century, (544 by 239cm), Private Collection, Ex Horace Harding, Ex Collection of Akram Ojjeh, Sotheby’s, Monaco, 25 June 1979, lot 98, now in private Swiss collection; and ‘Portuguese’ carpet, 17th century, (500 by 252cm), Ex Schloss Museum, Berlin, (Inv.No. KGM 87.974: Acquired 1887 in Paris); lost during the Second World War, recorded with two ships in each corner, reduced lozenge field and large ogival central medallion with four palmettes and large palmettes (Ellis, op.cit. p.273, fig.7);
Group II: The ‘Portuguese’ carpet, 17th century, (484 by 183cm), Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon (Acc.No. GML, T.99); ‘Portuguese’ carpet with maritime scenes, 17th century, (408 by 179cm); cotton (warp, weft and pile); wool (pile), asymmetrically knotted pile,) in The Metropolitan Museum, New York (Acc. No. 44.l63.6: Provenance: Mrs. Chauncey J. Blair, Chicago; [ P. W. French and Company, New York , by 1938–44; sold to MMA); ‘Portuguese’ carpet, 17th century, (450 by 195cm), (Formerly Lamm carpet), Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Delaware (Inv. 59.914);
Group III: Transitional carpets recorded by Ellis being the ‘Portuguese’ carpet, 17th century, (690 by 305cm), Lord Sackville, Knole Park, Kent (National Trust, Victoria & Albert Museum); and the ‘Portuguese’ carpet, 17th century, (510 by 200cm), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Inv.17272: Obtained from the F. Mannheimer Collection: Amsterdam).

Some remain as fragments, including an example which survived the second World War, merely as a border fragment, and there is a fragment in Istanbul (Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi, old no.617). Ellis mentions ‘two other, rather small fragments’, without any further details, ibid. p.267.

For a very similar small fragment, with a diagonal orientation of the serrated lozenge edges, from top left to bottom right of the fragment, and with the same interspersed leaves on the edges in a different colour, as if placed behind and overlapped (approx. 109 by 104cm), see McMullan, Joseph, Islamic Carpets, New York, 1965,  No. 23, pp.100-101. Ellis also discusses the manufacture of pieces in the Caucasus inspired by the composition

It is the unusual figural scenes that gave rise to diverse speculations about origin and manufacture. The iconography of the pictorial scene has not been clearly resolved, as it has been interpreted as illustrating the legend of the prophet Jonah, or alternatively Bahadur Shah, the last Sultan of Gujarat, who sailed in 1537 with a Portuguese ship and drowned. See a miniature of this scene from the Akbar-Nameh, (British Museum, London: Department of Oriental Books: Or.12988) painted by Lal Alternatively the composition could possibly be an interpretation from European prints or European maps and navigational charts of the 16th/17th centuries. The Portuguese were in Hormuz on the Persian Gulf from 1515, which was a principal exporting port between Persia and Europe. The European figures, and sailors, reflect a typical Safavid motif, which developed as a result of the extensive maritime trade between Europe and Asia.

European figures were found in Persian art at the time, including miniature paintings, ceramic vessels, wall paintings, textiles and ceramic tiles. It is interesting to note the similarity of a set of tiles from Isfahan which are in the spandrel format and include very similar ships with European crews, which are considered to be in the manner of examples photographed in situ around a niche of a pavilion in the gardens of the Chahar Bagh, which was a garden district initiated by the ruler Shah’ Abbas I (1587-1629) when he transformed Isfahan into his new capital,  see Sarre, Friedrich, A ‘Portuguese’ Carpet from Knole, Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 58, No.338 (May 1931), pp. 214-224, pls.I & II, and figs. A & B.  There are examples of Chahar Bagh tiles, which include figures of Europeans and a specific group relaxing in a floral landscape, circa 1640-1650 (from the top left of a niche in the pavilion, published Sarre, op.cit. fig.B), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York  (Garden gathering tile, Acc. No. 03.9c). 

For examples of woven textile fragments, Safavid, Iran, the late 16th/early 17th century with distinctive maritime motifs including European (Portuguese) figures in galleons, fish and birds, Iran or India, woven in red and white silk and metal-wrapped silk, see  a‘Textile Fragment depicting European and Indian Merchants in the Indian Ocean’, Iran, circa 1580-1620, (22.9 by 14.6 cm), Detroit Institute of Art (Acc.No.47.2), and others similar in the Boston Museum of Fine Art (Acc.No.39.296) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Rogers Fund. Acc.No.42.185).

The ‘Portuguese’ carpet design, without the ships in the corners, was taken up in the 19th century and woven in the Caucasus, and in some compositions the pictorial scenes were replaced by small animals. For an interesting interpretation or a Shirvan, Caucasian weaving, late 18th century, with the central section including the four palmettes, four concentric lozenges, and corner spandrels with sea and a single fish, within a narrow banded border, (now reduced, 245 by 179cm; originally around 290cm), see Spuhler, Friedrich, Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, 1988, No.105, pp.97 & 245

Related Literature:

Ackerman, Phyllis. ‘The Iranian Institute, New York’. In Guide to the Exhibition of Persian Art. 2nd. ed. New York: The Iranian Institute, 1940. no. Gallery VII, no. 4, pp.141-142; 

Bennet, Ian, ‘Splendours in the City of Silk:Part 3: The Safavid Masterpieces, Hali, no. 34 (April-May-June 1987), p.42-50; 

Boralevi, Alberto, ‘View from the Summit (Wher Collection), Hali, Summer 2014, pp.70-81; 

Cohen, Steven. ‘Safavid and Mughal Carpets in the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon’, Hali, no. 114 (January–February 2001), pp. 75–88, 99;

Curvelo, Alexandra, Encomendas Namban: Os Portugueses no Japão da Idade Moderna (Namban Commissions: The Portuguese in Modern Age Japan), Fundação Oriente Museu, Lisboa, 2010, Cat. Nos. 49-50, pp.187-191, for examples of trade items and Japanese lacquer boxes and prints that specifically show the dress worn by the Portuguese at the time; 

Dimand, Maurice S., and Jean Mailey. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. No.10, pp.51, 100, ill. fig.73 (b/w);

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. No.187, p.268, ill. p. 268 (colour); 

Ellis, Charles Grant, “ The Portuguese carpets of Gujarat,” in Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ed. by Richard Ettinghausen, New York, 1972. pp. 267-289, ill. fig. 1 (b/w); 

Erdmann, Kurt, Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets, 1970, pp.71-75, fig.84; 

Franses, Michael, Orient Stars, A Carpet Collection, Exhibition, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, catalogue by Heinrich Kirchheim and others, London and Stuttgart, 1993, p. 96, 101–102; 

Gschwend, Annemarie Jordan and Lowe, K.J.P., The Global City: On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon, London, 2015, p.78, figs. 64&65, for comprehensive discussion on the cross cultural and artistic influences between Lisbon and Portuguese Africa and Asia from the 16th century; 

Harari, Ralph, and Richard Ettinghausen, A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, edited by Arthur Upham Pope. Vol. I-VI. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938. vol. III, p. 2375, ill. vol VI, pl. 1217; 

‘International Exhibition of Persian Art’, January 7, 1931–February 28, Burlington House, London, 1931, no. 249; 

McMullan, Joseph, Islamic Carpets, New York, 1965, No, 23, pp.100-101; 

Pagnano, Gigi, L’Arte del Tappeto, Orientale ed Europeo, 1983, fig.89 & 90; 

Pope, Alexander, Survey of Persian Art, pl. 1216; 

Sarre, Friedrich, A ‘Portuguese’ Carpet from Knole, Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 58, No.338 (May 1931), pp. 214-224, pls.I & II, and figs. A & B; 

Spuhler, Friedrich, Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, 1988, No.105, pp.97 & 245; 

Tokatlian, Armen, Soies de Paradis, Tapis et Textile d’Orient du Musée des Tissus de Lyon, 2008, No.15, pp.54-55, Tapis d’audience

Tuchsherer, J.M., Etoffes Merveileuses du Musée des Tissus de Lyon, ed.Gakken, Japon, 1976, ill. 46. Voir d'autres fragments au Detroit Institut of Art (47.2); Musée de Cluny (21863); MFA Boston (39.296); Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire de Bruxelles (Inv. IS. Tx. 760) et au Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (42.185);

Völker, Angela, Die orientalischen Knüpfteppiche im MAK, Böhlau, Wien- Köln- Wiemar, 2001, Cat.No.86, pp.244-247; 

Walker, Daniel. Carpets of Khorasan’. Hali, no. 149 (November–December 2006), p.74;

Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 249.

Howard Hodgkin, Portrait of the Artist