Up until the 15th century the region of Kansu in Western China was an important political and cultural corridor that linked the region of Ningxia in the east with the oases towns on the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang to the west. To the north was the wilderness of the Gobi desert, bordered beneath by the fertile and mountainous lands of Qinghai. Importantly the silk route ran through the middle before dividing in two when reaching Xinjiang. Due to its geographical location, Kansu naturally became a transit stop for nomads, travellers and traders but simultaneously became a place of production, with contemporary literature documenting the presence of established looms within the houses of the settled Han Chinese population. As a result the carpets from Xinjiang, Ningxia and Kansu became, at times, inextricably entwined. For some time the identification and clarification of this group of carpets remained obscure but work has progressed and Hans König's studies add new enlightenment to the subject (Hans König, “Gansu”, Hali, Issue 138, January-February 2005, pp.52-64).
The structural differences of Kansu carpets are identified by König from the carpets of its neighbouring provinces, determining that they have a cotton weft with no depressed warps, often include visible lazy lines on the reverse and employ a lustrous wool that remains a little wiry. He also considers Kansu carpets to be livelier and brighter in colour than the neighbouring carpets of Ningxia to the east, whilst having a more limited use of yellow compared to its Xinjiang neighbours to the west (H. König, op.cit., pp.52-64). In terms of design, there are several classifications which include those of all over design and those with a central medallion with decorative spandrels. The present lot employs both the tightly repetitive design of small tonal red and pale yellow roundels that one finds on those carpets of all over design, unusually both in the field and the border, together with the decorative central medallion with small quarter spandrels. The design of small roundels is one that was coined by Hans Bidder as "P'u-lo", a term which is now widely accepted and refers to the Tibetan dyeing technique although this theory is questioned by some (Hans Bidder, Carpets from Eastern Turkestan, Tübingen, 1979, fig.46, p.95). Alternative theories have been suggested that the small roundels are possibly mimicking the spots of a leopard's skin or are inspired by earlier Chinese Ningxia carpets of the 18th century whose fields comprise a honeycomb effect of small octagonal roundels centred by petalled flowerheads (see Moshe Tabibnia, Intrecci Cinesi: Antica Arte Tessile XV-XIX, Milan, 2011, pl.16, pp.134-135).
Interestingly, while the designs of some Kansu carpets overlap with those of neighbouring Khotan, the medallion and quarter spandrel design does not and is, therefore, unique to Kansu. A striking example, formerly in the English trade, appeared on the front cover of Hali, Issue 138 in which König's article appeared. A rug of similar design but of much smaller proportions, is published by John Taylor and Peter Hoffmeister: 'Xinjiang Rugs', Hali 85, March/April 1996, fig.14, p.97, two further examples are illustrated by Eberhart Herrmann, Seltene Oreintteppiche VII, Munich 1985, no.88 and Seltene Orientteppiche IX, Munich 1987, pl.94; one with John J. Eskenazi, Il Tappeto Orientale dal XV al XVIII secolo, London, 1981, pl.336, p.483 and another that sold in these Rooms, Davide Halevim: Magnificent Carpets and Tapestries, 14 February 2001, lot 91.