The overall pattern on this tapestry‑woven cloth, possibly a floor covering, with staggered rows of rosettes, resembles textiles depicted on the rock reliefs of the late sixth- to early seventh-century Sasanian monument at Taq‑i Bustan. On the basis of inscriptions on two closely related textiles, this fragment has been dated to the reign of the Umayyad caliph Marwan II (r. 744–49).
Opulent silks with bold patterns were appreciated by the Sasanian ruling elite in the centuries preceding the advent of Islam in Iran. Rock carvings at royal tombs and other important Sasanian dynastic sites display carefully executed depictions of figures wearing garments cut from such cloth. These carvings, along with rare surviving textiles, offer a glimpse into the sartorial taste of the period, which tended toward costume featuring staggered rows of large pearl-bordered roundels, multipetaled rosettes, and sprouting floral medallions. At the time, fabrics bearing these motifs were widely traded from China to the Mediterranean, as attested by excavated examples. The international exchange of such cloths along the Silk Road and beyond gave rise to locally woven variations; weavers active in the early centuries of Islamic expansion were no doubt familiar with these luxury trade goods—and, perhaps, looked to them for inspiration.
Sasanian silks often were created using drawloom technology, in which the design was "programmed" into the loom in advance, permitting a more rapid replication of the pattern during the weaving process. The present textile, however, was produced in the more time-consuming tapestry-weave technique. And, unlike the lightweight silks that probably served as its models, this textile has a heavier texture that suggests it was intended to serve as a floor covering or as furnishing fabric.
While the design of the present piece may emulate patterns favored by Sasanian weavers, the Museum’s textile has been dated to the early period of Islamic expansion. Comparing it to a group of related silk textiles with inscriptions dating to the reign of the Umayyad ruler Marwan II (744–50), scholars have attributed the Metropolitan’s fragment to the mid-eighth century. Other wool tapestry-woven fragments, exhibiting nearly identical floral forms, color palette, and weave technique, also have been dated to the eighth century. Many of these early pieces are attributed to Iran or Iraq, yet the presence of S-spun wool in some examples has led scholars to posit a third possible production site—Egypt, where the utilization of counterclockwise spun wool was a characteristic of textile production for centuries. Regardless of their place of production, these skillfully woven fragments are a testament to the continuity and adaptability of the tapestry weavers’ art during the early centuries of Islamic expansion in these regions.
Denise-Marie Teece (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
[ J. Acheroff, until 1950; sold to MMA]
Canepa, Matthew P. "Distant Displays of Power." Ars Orientalis vol. 38 (2008). pp. 137-138, ill. fig. 7 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. 25, pp. 47-48, ill. p. 47 (color).