The excellent condition and unusual colors of this carpet make it a unique example of carpet production during the Safavid period in Iran. The yellow field, rarely seen in carpets of this type, renders it an unusual variation of a classic design. The central medallion, scrolling vines (arabesque), and peacocks in the field are all common features of Safavid carpets. The arabesque designs have parallels in sixteenth-century Persian tile revetments, while the central medallion design is similar to contemporary book covers, suggesting that the same court workshop created designs for manuscripts, carpets, and architectural ornamentation.
Dubbed the "Anhalt Carpet" after a former German princely owner, this magnificent yellow-ground carpet has survived in remarkable condition, apart from its areas of black wool pile, which have been almost completely eroded away by a corrosive dye. (The pile in these areas was replaced by a purple-brown wool in early twentieth-century restorations.) The carpet’s enduring colors, superb condition, unusual golden-yellow ground, and relative simplicity of design compared to many Safavid medallion carpets at one time caused some scholars to question its authenticity. However, recent research on Safavid weaving methods as well as careful analysis of the construction, materials, and dyestuffs of the carpet suggests that the Anhalt Carpet is one of the great treasures both of early Safavid carpet weaving and of the Metropolitan Museum’s Islamic collections.
The Anhalt Carpet represents an early stage in Safavid court-sponsored weaving of the first half of the sixteenth century: the central medallion is only slightly elongated vertically, and the cartouches and pendants above and below the medallion are very large; there are no spandrels or corner-pieces in the design, as commonly found in later Safavid medallion carpets. The design has close parallels in early Safavid architectural decoration, especially the twelve large peacocks (the peacock had well-established paradisial associations in Persian art) that ornament the field amid a design structure of vine whorls and large split-leaf forms known in Persian as islimi. Depicted with brilliant multicolored feathers, the peacocks stand at the head of a long tradition depicting peafowl in Safavid carpets; later examples are seen in such carpets as the celebrated Schwartzenberg medallion carpet formerly in Vienna and now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar. A close comparison of symmetrical elements in the Anhalt Carpet has determined that, like many other classical Persian carpets, it was almost certainly created by skilled weavers who followed a paper cartoon, rather than a detailed knot plan that determined the color of each of the millions of knots in the carpet. Some design details in the adaptation from the curvilinear paper cartoon to a knotted-pile carpet’s rectangular grid indicate that its weavers were embarking on a new and perhaps somewhat unfamiliar method of creating the carpet on the loom; similar design anomalies are seen on many other early Safavid medallion carpets. The carpet’s design itself has close parallels in early Safavid ceramic tile decoration; especially striking are the parallels to be seen in the Harun-i Vilayat in Isfahan, a structure completed about 1513. The carpet’s large scale, great simplicity, repeating design elements, and striking color combinations are hallmarks of a burst of creativity and innovation in Safavid carpet weaving between 1500 and 1550.
Before its sale by Joseph Duveen to Samuel Kress, the carpet is reputed to have belonged to the Anhalt princes of Dessau, whose ancestors may have acquired it through military campaigns against the Ottoman Turks in the late seventeenth century. The carpet would have entered Ottoman hands as booty or as a gift. In the eighteenth century the Anhalt family ruled from Cothen, whose Prince Leopold was an important patron of Johann Sebastian Bach: could the great composer have seen, or even performed upon, this magnificent carpet?
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Recently, an analysis of some of the dyes utilized in the carpet was undertaken through a collaborative initiative involving the Department of Islamic Art, the Textile Conservation Department, and the Department of Scientific Research. The results suggest that all are naturally occurring dyestuffs, available to weavers as early as the sixteenth century.
Dukes of Anhalt, Dessau, Germany(after 1683); Sir Joseph Duveen, London (by 1931–d. 1939); [ Duveen Brothers, London, by 1940]; Samuel H. KressFoundation, New York (until 1946; gifted to MMA)
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