This jewel-like carpet is part of a small and very rare group of carpets whose simplicity of design remains overwhelmingly powerful. Apart from a few exclusions or alterations in their format, all of the group bear a shaped red field with the inclusion of either one central cruciform medallion or a further two roundel medallions above and below. The field is enclosed within linked sky-blue spandrels with a stylised golden scrolling motif to each corner. All employ the same butter-yellow border with a bold red repetitive trefoil or 'rams' horn' motif that defiantly runs along all four sides before an elegant trim of repetitive hooked motifs is applied. The red field signifies the sun and realm of the senses, Samsara, with the blue medallions being the spiritual as well as the night with their roundness representing the moon. Where there are three medallions positioned in the field this mirrors where Buddha would have been placed centrally, flanked on either side by Bodhisattvas on the altars of the temple. Despite their close similarity in design, it is however ultimately dependent on their structure as to whether they are described in the literature as Yarkand or Khotan. Those of Yarkand origin would, according to John Taylor and Peter Hoffmeister in their article on the subject, be distinguished by having natural white cotton warps and three shoots of very pale blue cotton wefts (John Taylor & Peter Hoffmeister, 'Xinjiang Rugs', Hali, Issue 85, March/April 1996, pp.88-98). Those of Khotan origin, such as that which is published by Moshe Tabibnia, and which is noted as having a cotton warp and a woollen weft, is the same as the present lot (Moshe Tabibnia, Intrecci Cinese, Antica Arte Tessile XV-XIX Secolo, Milan, 2011, pl 44, pp200-201). Indeed, it is the Tabibnia example within this small corpus that is closest in design to our carpet, with the addition of the upper and lower medallions that recall contemporaneous Khotan carpets that more commonly use the three rounded medallion format.
In his research on central Asian carpets, Ulrich Shürmann discusses one of the group which he notes as being part of the Eskenazi Collection, Milan and includes a technical analysis confirming that the wefts are indeed cotton and not wool, leading to the conclusion that it is of Yarkand origin (Ulrich Schürmann, Central Asian Rugs, London 1969, pl.80, p.156). Another example described as Yarkand and which no longer displays the upper and lower medallions, is published by Johnny Eskenazi, Il Tappeto Orientale, Milan, 1983, no 294, p.431 and is further illustrated by Taylor & Hoffmeister (ibid, Hali, 85, fig.6). A carpet with a single medallion field of East Turkestan origin (part of a photograph collection of Hans Bidder) was noted as having been offered by Sammy Y. Lee, Kowloon and a further example, with a three medallion field formation, was apparently offered for sale in Sotheby's in 1978.
Perhaps the most distinctive element of this group however is the highly stylised ornamental split-palmette and leafy vine that accentuates each corner spandrel within the carpet. In our carpet in particular, this motif has become even more pronounced and elongated, appearing somewhat lance-like in its interpretation. Whether from Khotan or Yarkand, one is without doubt immediately struck by the richness and depth of colour that accentuates each part of the design, ensuring that one element does not overbear the other, creating a harmony and balance which is so in keeping with Buddhist rationale.