This stunning textile is one of a group of thirteen bearing related scenes of Safavid courtiers and their captives—Georgian nobles, women, and children seized during four military campaigns between 1540 and 1553. Metal-wrapped thread was employed as an additional color in the palette. Now lost, it once embellished the captor’s shirt and horse in the top row and the costume of the captive in the middle and bottom rows.
Accompanied by a child riding pillion, a Safavid prince on horseback leads a prisoner with bound hands through a landscape in this elaborately patterned silk. A simurgh, the fabulous bird of Iranian lore visually modeled on the Chinese phoenix, observes the passing scene from his perch in the tree. The textile is a compound weave known as lampas, which combines a satin ground and a twill pattern to produce an effect with two contrasting surface textures. Particular details, including the captor’s shirt and horse in the top row and the captive’s costume in the middle and bottom rows, were once enhanced with the glint of metallic threads. Both sides are selvages, slightly cut, so the textile is almost full loom width. The pattern unit is repeated horizontally and, in the opposite direction, in adjacent rows. Other fragments of the same textile belong to the State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, and the Musée Historique des Tissus in Lyon.
Figural patterns were popular for sixteenth-century Persian textiles, just as they were in carpets. Images were often drawn from famous literary works such as the story of Layla and Majnun or Khusrau and Shirin, which were well known also from illustrations in manuscripts. The imagery here is unusual in that it is not found in contemporary manuscript painting. Thirteen extant textiles from the period involve variations on the theme of a Safavid captor leading men and especially women and children taken prisoner. Various identities have been proposed for the captives—Turkmen, Uzbeks, or even Mongols—but they have more recently been convincingly identified as Georgians held hostage during the four campaigns waged by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp between 1540 and 1553. This conclusion is based on physical attributes (mustache and cap types) depicted in paintings and described in contemporary observations, which mention the unusually large number of women and children taken captive at this time. Whether they functioned as furnishing fabrics or, more likely, as garments, these textiles surely played a propaganda role in society as celebrations of Safavid military might.
Daniel Walker in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The Moscow piece is illustrated in Pope 1938, vol. 6, pl. 1014A. The Lyon fragment is published in d’Hennezel, Henri. Decorations and Designs of Silken Masterpieces Ancient and Modern: Original Specimens in Colours Belonging to the Textile Historical Museum of Lyon. Musée Historique des Tissus de Lyon. New York, 1930, pl. 11, top center.
2. McWilliams, Mary Anderson. "Prisoner Imagery in Safavid Textiles." Textile Museum Journal 26 (1987), pp. 4–23..
3. Ibid., p. 19; Thompson, Jon in Thompson and Canby 2003, p. 284.
Dikran G. Kelekian, New York (by 1907–d. 1951; his estate, New York, 1951–52;sold to MMA)
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. "Special Persian Exhibition," 1926, no. 678.
New York. Asia Society. "Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Safavid Iran," October 16, 2003–January 18, 2004, no. 12.3.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Persian Silks of the Safavid Period," December 9, 2003–March 14, 2004, no catalogue.
Pope, Arthur Upham. "Special Persian Exhibition." Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum Vol. XXII, no. 107 (November 1926). pp. 245-251.
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. ill. vol 6, pl. 1014A.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 3rd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1958. p. 374, fig. 224.
McWilliams, Mary Anderson. "Prisoner Imagery in Safavid Textiles." The Textile Museum Journal vol. 26 (1987). p. 5, ill. fig. 5 (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 105, ill. fig. 78 (color).
Ferrier, Ronald W., ed. The Arts of Persia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. p. 163, ill. pl. 19 (b/w).
Alexander, David. Furusiyya: Catalogue. vol. 2. Riyadh,Saudi Arabia: King Abdulaziz Public Library, 1996. no. 72, p. 83, ill. p. 83 (color).
Institut du Monde Arabe. Chevaux et Cavaliers Arabes dans les Arts d'Orient et d'Occident : Exposition Presentee a L'Institut du Monde Arabe. Paris: Gallimard, 2002. no. 131, p. 169, ill. (color).
Thompson, Jon, and Sheila R. Canby, ed. "Court Arts of Safavid Iran 1501–1576." In Hunt for Paradise. Milan; New York: Skira , 2003. no. 12.3, p. 274-275, ill. fig. 12.3 (color.
Hali: Carpet, Textile and Islamic Art vol. 133 (March-April 2004). p. 109, ill. (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. 171, pp. 172, 247, ill. p. 247 (color).