The Emperor's Carpet (detail), mid–16th century
Iran (probably Herat)
Silk (warp and weft), wool (pile), asymmetrically knotted pile; 24 ft. 8 in. x 10 ft. 10 in. (7.51 x 3.3 m)
Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.121.1)
The Emperor's Carpet belongs to a group of carpets thought to have been produced in the eastern Iranian city of Herat, in the province of Khorasan. This group is identified by a purple-red ground, a blue or green border with touches of yellow, an elaborate floral pattern, scrolls, arabesques, and in early pieces, animals. The Emperor's Carpet is decorated with all of these identifying features. The natural and fabulous animals include pheasantlike birds, spotted stags, chi-lins, lions, dragons, and other beasts, some alone and some in combat. The exterior border contains a scrolled vine pattern with various animal heads appearing within arabesques, cloud bands, and flowers.
These features are a testament to the exchange between Persian and Chinese models, which is most evident in illuminated manuscripts of the Tabriz courtly style. The inner border contains poetic verses in Persian, comparing the royal Safavid realms to a meadow, the sky, flowers, and gems, ending with praise for the shah. Symbolically, the design on the carpet recalls a garden in springtime, with its allusions to the divine Garden of Paradise.
The complex design of intertwining and intricately layered vine scrolls has connections to similar designs produced in other media during the Safavid period. Textual evidence of this period suggests that a centralized artists' workshop produced a distinctive style of imagery which then was applied to works such as carpets, textiles, paintings, manuscripts, and bookbindings. The carpet consists of four mirrored and repeating quadrants, suggesting that the weavers made use of a large and elaborate cartoon, which may have been produced in such a workshop setting.
The Emperor's Carpet takes its name from its former owners, the Habsburg emperors. According to tradition, a pair of Safavid-period carpets was presented to Emperor Leopold I of Austria by Czar Peter the Great of Russia in 1698. Both carpets later entered the collection of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. Eventually, one was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum and today is known as the Emperor's Carpet.