The original carpet fragment, formerly in the fabled collection of Robert von Hirsch which sold at Sotheby’s Parke Bernet & Co, June 1978, fig. 1, of which this fantastic fragment formed a part, has been the source of discussion for nearly forty years. Initially the fragment seemed to be comprised of two larger fragments joined vertically through the middle. Following this sale, however, it was split into quarters and thereafter dispersed between collectors, ‘Auction price Guide’ Hali, issue 179, spring 2014, p. 135. These four wonderfully intricate, rare and unusual works have each been highly sought after since this time. Owing to these surviving pieces we now have a strong indication of what the original carpet would have looked like in its entirety.
It would seem that together these fragments comprised what would have been almost the complete length of the right hand edge of the field of a larger Garden carpet. In order to make the von Hirsch rectangular format this strip was cut in two and folded, making the bottom half into the left hand side. The small remains of the inside guard and the direction of the pile, comparing the offered fragment with that sold in Sotheby’s New York 2014, are indications of this. A further, and altogether more convincing, feature is the design. When viewing the two sections in a linear format, a reconstruction of the vertical strip can be seen in these pages and also on Sothebys.com (fig. 2), one can see that the ten, near complete, star lozenges and the two half lozenges, follow a harmonious design and colour pattern which is somewhat lost in the 1978 rendition. Assuming there were twelve vertical lozenges originally the patterns, use of trees, shrubs, flowers and colours would be coupled, almost identically, every sixth lozenge. If the carpet had four vertical rows of twelve lozenges, with a large border to accommodate such a field design, we can estimate it would have been approximately 1200 by 800cm or 39ft. 7in., 26ft. 3in in scale.
The Alexander/Hodgkin Fragment:
Following the quartering of the von Hirsch fragment the present lot was reoffered for sale and ultimately joined the renowned collection of Christopher Alexander, likely circa 1980. In his book A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art, New York, 1993, pp. 280-282, Alexander writes of its powerful structure and geometry, harkening back to design elements of the Seljuk and Timurid period.
In particular he mentions the designs found in early tiles; one can see why when looking at examples within this collection. When considering the Kashan star shaped lustre tile, lot 249, dated to the 13th century, we can see the relationship in form to the fragment's interlocking star lozenges, when first assembled these Kashan tiles would also have shared a similar format. The motifs within the tile and fragment also bear a semblance, albeit with a gap in their dating; the use of design elements seems to have only varied slightly. This relationship clearly was not lost on Hodgkin who had them displayed opposite one another in London. Further examples can be seen in the cuerda seca Safavid tile, lot 59, which shares similar, exuberant colouring to the offered lot and the scrolling lattice is reminiscent of the drawing of both primary and secondary lozenges. Also the scrolling foliage within the Turkish Iznik tiles, particularly lots 6 & 18, in the use of sprays of leaves and flowers, and the curvilinear ivory border to lot 6. These Ottoman comparisons are a fascinating demonstration of the influence these great Empires had on one another through their trade and commerce. Alexander continues by drawing on the Hali quote which states that it was ‘among the most beautiful objects advertised during 1979’, Hali, 1988, issue 42, p. 89.
Alexander’s analytical approach might have been shared by Hodgkin; however the expressive nature of the piece, surely, was what caught the attention of the artist whose own work is now world renowned for vividness of colour; the tenacity and wildness of the fragment would no doubt have been appealing. When hung in Hodgkin's dining room, in London, the fragment was displayed like any great painting would be, as were the other textiles in the sale (lots 11, 12, 15, 156, 163, 164, 174, 191, 222, 380, 387 and 449) and indeed the tiles which bear such semblances with the offered lot. It was the centrepiece; the first thing to be seen when entering the room and it is fascinating and poignant to see how these differing personalities were individually inspired by this remarkable work.
The von Hirsch Fragments:
The Hodgkin fragment, which was likely the second section from the top of the field of the original carpet, formed the lower right hand strip of the fashioned von Hirsch fragment. The remaining three, now all belonging to renowned private and public collections, can easily be identified against the von Hirsch image, fig. 1. The lower left quarter is now in the Keir Collection, London, Spuhler. F., Islamic art in the Keir Collection, Rugby, 1988, pp. 78 – 80, ill. T28. The upper left, formerly in the collection of the carpet expert Louise Woodhead Feuerstein, sold at Sotheby’s New York, 31 January 2014, lot 92, for $221,000. This now resides within a leading Middle Eastern Museum, Glass. J., ‘Marketplace: Positive and Lively’ Hali, Spring 2014, issue 179, p. 127. The upper right, and final, corner, originally joined with the Hodgkin fragment, the Wher Collection, Switzerland, Tapis Present de L’Orient a L’Occident, Paris, 1989, pp. 154 & 155. See Sothebys.com for a montage image of the four split sections.
The von Hirsh fragment was discussed in depth by John Eskenazi and Michael Franses, Il tappeto orientale dal XV al XVIII secolo, London, 1982, pp.43-4. Eskenazi and Franses amongst others, such as Christopher Alexander, liken it to the Jaipur Garden Carpet in the Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur, accession. no. add/P/681/2225. This carpet predates 1632 and is catalogued as Kirman due to the ‘vase’ weaving technique associated with the ancient city. The von Hirsch and the Jaipur both share similar exuberant colouring and unusual design. They focus, interestingly, on the organic and curvilinear qualities of the trees and flora within the garden; as opposed to the architectural design of a formal Persian garden, chahar bagh, more commonly associated with the group. The Jaipur carpet now measures approximately 866 by 366cm; 28ft. 4in.,12ft. 4in. and also retains part of the inner guard but lacks its border and so the Jaipur and von Hirsch would have been of a very similar scale. Noblemen often commissioned weavers to create carpets to fill their Diwan or assembly halls and the von Hirsch was very likely one of these drawn from one of the cartoons, similar to that of the Jaipur, which were produced and disseminated throughout the Safavid Empire. Garden carpets from this time vary in structure, they were likely being produced over the expanse of the Persian Empire, and so some differences, unsurprisingly, do occur when design elements are shared. For example the so-called Schwarzenberg medallion and animal carpet, early 16th century, illustrated in Eiland. M., ‘Rethinking Kerman A New Look at Some Safavid Carpets’, Hali, September 1998, issue 100, p.99, pl. 2, is also likened to the von Hirsh by Franses and Eskanazi for its use of similar trees and foliage within the design, however again it differs structurally. For a technical analysis of this and other examples please see Sothebys.com.
It is interesting to note that both Hodgkin and Alexander owned the present work and also lot 11 an Oushak Saph fragment from the Selimiye Mosque, Edirne. Lot 11 and lot 12, would have formed part of a much larger work, to which a reassembled example was previously in the Campana collection, Milan, in part illustrated in Campana. P., Il Tappeto Orientale, Milan, 1962, tavalla. XV. Interestingly the two Hodgkin safs would quite possibly have been joined together into one large Saf made for the Mosque, in likelihood together with either the Alexander or the Campana examples, or both. Campana's link to the von Hirsch is shown as he references another medallion and animal carpet, late 16th century, which again is most likely from Kirman, Musee du Louvre, inventory number 661, op cit, tavala 30, and colour illustrated in Eiland. M., ‘Rethinking Kerman A New Look at Some Safavid Carpets’, Hali, September 1998, issue 100, p. 102, pl. 7 and this carpet also shares a number of qualities with the Alexander/Hodgkin fragment, in particular the medallion is in the same lozenge form to this in the fragment and the flora and fauna show clear similarities.
The Von Hirsch fragments have an element of the mysterious and perhaps we will never know their full stories. They are enticing, exuberant and beautiful - it is unsurprising that they all have been pursued by distinguished collectors such as Alexander and Hodgkin. Antony Peattie points out, in his introduction to this sale, Hodgkin found 'fragments more potent than entire panels, because they freed the imagination'. Whilst Peattie is referencing this to tile fragments it would appear from the mounted textiles, included within this collection, that they too had this effect on the artist.
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