Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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The Emperor's Carpet

Object Name:
Carpet
Date:
second half 16th century
Geography:
Attributed to Iran
Culture:
Islamic
Medium:
Silk (warp and weft), wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile
Dimensions:
Rug: L. 299 in. (759.5 cm) W. 133 1/2 in. (339.1 cm) Wt. on a 10" tube: 144 lbs. (65.3 kg)
Classification:
Textiles-Rugs
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1943
Accession Number:
43.121.1
Not on view
One of the finest products of the Safavid court ateliers, this carpet once adorned the summer residence of the Habsburg emperors. The main field balances a sophisticated net of floral scrolls, large composite palmettes, cloud bands, buds, and blossoms with a myriad of real and fictional animals—dragons and Chinese antelope, lion and buffalo, tigers and leopards, ducks and pheasants. A verse found in the inner guard band likens a garden in springtime to the Garden of Paradise.
This very famous classical Persian carpet is known as the Emperor’s Carpet. It is actually one of a pair, each having taken this name because they are said to have once belonged to Czar Peter the Great of Russia and then, after 1698, to the Habsburg emperor Leopold I. After the fall of the Habsburgs, the carpets came in 1921 to the predecessor of the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna. In 1925, to raise funds, that museum sold one of the pair, the carpet now in the Metropolitan Museum, to the London dealers Cardinal and Harford. The second carpet, as famous as the first, remains in Vienna. A surprising number of classical Persian rugs survive in pairs, suggesting that the practice of making carpets in this manner must have been fairly widespread.

The Emperor’s Carpets belong to a group distinguished by a field pattern of symmetrically disposed scrolling vines embellished with palmettes, blossoms, and cloud bands. Animals are incorporated in the floral patterns of several of the choicest examples. The ground of the field is typically red, that of the main border, dark green. Warp and weft are silk in the finest pieces and, in others, a blend of wool, silk, and cotton, sometimes, and unusually, plied together. The pile fiber is sheep wool in most examples, although three fragments of a once-magnificent shaped carpet have a pile of pashmina, fine goat hair. About a dozen surviving pieces of the group incorporate brocading of metal thread. Seemingly contemporaneous carpets similar in pattern and style survive in multiple grades of quality, a feature seen also in later production in northern India.

The period of production for this class was essentially the second half of the sixteenth century, extending into the very early years of the seventeenth. A related group with similar but simplified patterns without animals or birds, made in commercial sizes and quality on a cotton foundation, was produced through most of the seventeenth century and survives in several hundred examples. Many versions have been depicted in European paintings, indicating the popularity of the type in the West. These carpets have long presented problems in terms of attribution. Known a hundred years ago in the trade as "Isfahans," despite a lack of evidence for carpet production in that city until about 1600, both early and later groups were subsequently linked to the city of Herat, famous in the Iranian world as a center for the arts and carpet manufacture. Periodic suggestions of Indian origin, largely set aside by now, resulted in other identifying names, such as Indo-Isfahan and Indo-Persian. In summary, there are two related but distinct groups of carpets with essentially floral patterns, they are Persian in origin, and the weaving center(s) cannot be identified with any certainty.

Within their class, the Emperor’s Carpets are both the supreme and probably the earliest examples. They exceed the high standards of their peers in the overall balance of the pattern and particularly in the complexity of pattern detail, made possible by the fineness of materials and weave (about 300 per inch). Animals leap and attack in the dense garden foliage, much as they do in the small silk Kashan (MMA 14.40.721) of the same vintage, mid-sixteenth century or a little later. Highly detailed cloud bands with interior stripes of color and attached cloud wisps populate the field and especially the border. Concealed animals abound: many blossoms in the field and the border bear lion masks, perhaps influenced by Renaissance prints brought to Iran, and animal heads peek around cloud bands. The inner, minor border contains an inscription of verses describing a flower-filled meadow and referring in the last couplet to the king, for whom the carpet must have been made.

Danial Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]

The Emperor’s Carpet is one of the most spectacular pile-woven carpets of its type. The carpet’s intricate design has been finely woven with wool pile on a silk foundation. It shows a high concentration of knots: approximately 5,230 per square decimeter.

The outstanding quality of the materials, dyes, and woven structure of the carpet has contributed to its overall good state of preservation. It displays a vivid palette dominated by red, green, and yellow. During its history the carpet was exposed to considerable physical and chemical stress, which affected its condition. The ends of the carpet are especially damaged, probably from exposure to areas of high traffic. The carpet also shows evidence of pile damage, particularly at its center, in both warp and weft directions. This indicates that the carpet was folded for storage before it entered the Metropolitan Museum. The brown-dyed wool pile, notably on the inner border area containing an inscription, is very fragile and either partially or completely effaced. Nevertheless, these various damages have not diminished the spectacular appearance and generally good condition of this magnificent example of Persian carpet art.

Prior to its acquisition by the Museum in 1943, the carpet had been crudely repaired and restored. The fabric and the distribution of patches indicate at least three consecutive campaigns of previous restoration. More than seven hundred patches were added to stabilize many of the fragile areas. Rough embroidery stitches applied over the patches attempted to reconstruct missing areas. Layers of cloth tape were used to encase and protect the carpet’s edges. Although this previous restoration may have reinforced the structure of the carpet, it caused overall distortion, especially serious at the corners and in the center, where damages and losses were concentrated.

The carpet entered the Museum’s collection with two overlapping linings made of silk; they were most likely added for its protection at Vienna’s imperial workshop. It appears that after the older lining had deteriorated, the carpet was relined with another red silk woven fabric without removing the first. Both linings were found to be in poor condition. To achieve the most effective preservation and preparation for display, the carpet needed major conservation work to eliminate problems created by inappropriate restoration and to stabilize fragile areas. The carpet was then prepared for horizontal installation on a platform, not for hanging vertically on a wall. By restricting it to horizontal display, we were able to minimize treatment interventions as well as avoid stress caused by hanging. The conservation work was performed by a team in the Museum’s Department of Textile Conservation over a three-year period. Before the work was begun, as preparation for treatment and for future reference, thorough documentation was performed; this consisted of condition evaluation, analytical study of structure, fibers, and dyes, and a section-by-section obverse and reverse photographic documentation. Color measurements were also made.

Initially, the two old linings were removed and documented. Because the tape around the edges, the patches, and the previous restoration embroidery all had a negative effect on the carpet’s physical structure and aesthetic preservation, they were all removed and documented individually. Following this treatment, the carpet regained its original shape. The carpet’s front and back were cleaned by the macro-vacuuming method.

A wool fabric was used to support and protect the carpet’s back, covering it almost entirely to compensate for the small missing areas and to stabilize the fragile ones. This fabric was specifically dyed to match the carpet’s background colors of red, green, and yellow. The assemblage of the fabric and its attachment to the back of the carpet were especially challenging given the carpet’s large dimensions and the need for a perfect match with the carpet’s original colors. Stabilization of fragile areas with couching stitches completed the conservation process.

With treatment completed, this exceptional carpet has regained some of its integral splendor and strength. The specific treatments chosen for the Emperors’ Carpet assure its future preservation, and once again allow it to be displayed and shared with the Museum’s visitors.

Florica Zaharia in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Inscriptions in Persian in nasta‘liq script on inner, minor border
(verses by Zahir al-Din Faryabi [d. 1202])

بیا که عهد چمن تازه کرد باد بهار که باز گشت چمن را طراوت رخ یار 
Come, for the breeze of spring has renewed the promise of the meadow,
for the freshness of the beloved’s cheek has returned to the meadow.

چمن هنوز لب از شیر ابر ناشسته چو شاهد آن خط سبزش دمید گرد عذار
No sooner had the meadow washed the milk of the cloud from its lips
than those green whiskers sprouted around its countenance
as on the lip of an adolescent.

مخدّرات چمن جلوه م کینند امروز عروسیست نبات بنات را پندار
The cloistered ladies of the meadow display themselves today.
You would think it was a wedding for their daughter-sprouts.

و گرنه بهر چه گردون شکوفه گل را سفیده بر زده گلگونه کرده بر رخسار
If not, why did the celestial sphere bring out dawn of the rose blossom with
rouge on its cheek?

همه جواهر لعلست غنچه را در تنگ همه بضاعت مشک است لاله را در بار
The rosebud holds ruby gems tightly in its embrace;
the tulip has merchandise of musk in store.

ولی ز تنگ دلی گل بخود فرو شده بود نمی گشود دهان و نمی نمود عذار
But the rose had closed itself over in distress and
would not open its mouth or show its face.

فراز تخت زمرد نشست از شبنم بتاج لعل درآویخت لؤلؤ شهوار
It sat atop an emerald throne of dew
and hung regal pearls on its ruby crown.

بیاض دیده نرگس نگرتعالی الله که   هست خیره ]ازو ؟[ دیده اولو الأبصار
Look at the whiteness of the narcissus’ eye. Goodness!
The eyes of those of insight are dazzled by it.

[ . . . ]
چمن ز غنچه نماید هزار خرگه سبز سفیده دم که زند ابر خیمه بر گلزار
The meadow displays a thousand green tents of rosebuds
at dawn, when the cloud pitches a tent over the rose garden.

شکوفه هر درمی را که داشت داد بباد سحاب هر گهری ]را[ که یافت کرد نثار
The blossom gave every dirham it had to the wind;
the cloud scattered every pearl it found.

مذاکران چمن چون مقدسان فلک فراز سدره اشجار بین که در اسحار
See the reciters of the meadow, like the holy ones of the celestial sphere
atop the Lote-Tree at dawn —

دعای شاه جهان م کینند و میگویند که   باد تا ابد از عز و جاه برخوردار
They pray for the king of the world and say,
“May he enjoy glory and high position forever!”
Czar Peter the Great, Russia (by tradition, until 1698); Austrian Imperial House, Vienna (1698–1921); Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie(1921–25; to Cardinal and Harford); [ Cardinal and Harford, London, 1925–28; sale, Christie, Manson & Wood, London, July 5, 1928, no. 146]; [ International Art Gallery, London, 1928, sold to Arthur U. Pope forRockefeller McCormick]; Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Chicago (1928–d. 1932; her estate until 1943;sold to Arthur U. Pope for MMA)
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. "Special Persian Exhibition," 1926.

London. Burlington House. "International Exhibition of Persian Art," January 7, 1931–February 28, 1931, no. 846.

The Iranian Institute. "Exhibition of Persian Art," 1940, Gal. I, no. 9.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Making the Invisible Visible," April 2, 2013–August 4, 2013, no catalogue.

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. 846.

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, pp. 2361-3, ill. vol. VI, pl 1174.

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 I, no. 9, pp. 10-11.

Dimand, Maurice S. "The seventeenth century Isfahan school of rug weaving." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 255, ill. fig. 1 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S., and Jean Mailey. Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. no. 12, pp. 101, 140-141, ill. fig. 76, (b/w, color).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. pp. 128-129 (col.

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 98-100, ill. fig. 74 (color).

Ellis, Charles. Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988. p. 171.

Ferrier, Ronald W., ed. The Arts of Persia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. p. 128, ill. # 20.

Yarshater, Ehsan, ed. Encyclopaedia Iranica vol. 5 (1992). p. 870, ill. (b/w).

Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 86, ill. (color).

Berinstain, Valerie. Great Carpets of the World. New York: Vendome Press, 1996. p. 144, ill. pl. 115 (color).

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. 181, pp. 6,12,17, 172, 259-261, ill. p. 260 (color), fig. 18 (b/w).

Denny, Walter B. "Textiles and Carpets in the Metropolitan Museum's New ALTICALSA Galleries." Arts of Asia 2012 (2012). p. 105, ill. figs. 7, 8.

Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. pp. 120-121, ill. figs. 104-105.



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