Indian court carpet production is thought to date from the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r.1556 -1605). When Akbar’s son Jahangir succeeded the throne and became Emperor (r.1605 -1627), he continued his father’s legacy as an avid patron of the arts which he passed to his grandson, Shah Jahan (r.1628-1658). Until around 1630 designs were based upon earlier Persian models but after this point artists were encouraged to develop a greater ‘Indian’ style. The floral design of this carpet is woven with a new and refreshingly accurate botanical realism, which was similarly employed in contemporaneous Indian paintings and architecture (see Robert Skelton, A decorative motif in Moghul Art, Aspects of Indian Art, Los Angeles, 1972, p.147).
Perhaps the most famous group, known as the “Lahore carpets” which illustrate this new naturalism, were woven for the court of Rajah Jai Singh I (1622-1688) who commissioned a great number to decorate his vast palace at Amber, built in 1630. A good proportion of these remain today, in varying condition, in the City Palace Museum, Jaipur (Franz Sindermann & Manvi Seth, Some Facts about the Jaipur Carpets Treasury, manuscript article). The carpets were listed by Campbell in 1929, and while the inventory was never published, the photographs which were taken to accompany it survive in a handful of sets (A.J.D. Campbell, To the President and Members of the Jaipur Council, unpublished catalogue of the the carpets “in the possession of the State of Jaipur”, 3rd January 1929). The photographs give a very good indication of the parameters within which most of these carpets were woven.
There appear to be two distinct groups into which they fall; those referred to as ‘shaped’ carpets about which there is great discussion as to their intended purpose and installation, and those woven vertically but designed to be viewed horizontally, (see Maurice S. Dimand, The Kevorkian Foundation: Collection of Rare and Magnificent Oriental Carpets, pl.XII, and one in the Keir Collection, E.Gans-Ruedin, Indian Carpets, London, 1984, pp.108-9). There is a very small subgroup, of which the present carpet is one, whose patterns are displayed in an adorsed manner allowing the spectator to read the design from either side. The design of the present lot includes two rows of flowering plants including roses, iris, carnations and peonies, interspersed with flowering trees. These same plants, but with the inclusion of bell flowers, appear in a single row within the border on all four sides. The representation of flowering cypress trees in the field is an unusual feature which appears in one example amongst Campbell’s photographed Jaipur carpets, from which we sadly are unable to tell if the design is arranged horizontally or in an adorsed fashion as it remains in a very fragmentary state (Campbell, op.cit, no 38, for an illustration of this visit www.christies.com). An identical carpet to ours but again sadly fragmentary was offered for sale by Imre Schwaiger to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in the 1920’s (Steven Cohen and Nobuko Kajitani, Gardens of Eternal Spring: Two Newly Conserved Seventeenth-Century Mughal Carpets in The Frick Collection, New York, 2006, fig.5, p.22). The style of the black and white photograph of the Schwaiger carpet looks remarkably like those in the Jaipur collection, with which Cohen corroborates. We know that these large format carpets were most often woven in pairs, and due to the similarity in proportions and the rare inclusion of the flowering trees, it is highly probable that our carpet is the pair to the Shwaiger example from the Maharaja’s collection. A much smaller carpet from this sub group, formerly in the collection of the Maharaja and transferred from Amber to Jaipur in 1924 and now in a European private collection, displays a similar adorsed arrangement of only five individual flowers in a single row (see Daniel Walker, Flowers Underfoot, Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, New York, 1997, cat.no.23, fig.95, p.98). A carpet with an ascending arrangement of various flowers, previously in Jaipur, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (see M.S. Dimand and Jean Mailey, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, fig.134, p.150).
Although the present carpet has some obvious condition problems, it remarkably retains it’s original near nine meter length and it is not hard to imagine the overwhelming splendour that would have greeted visitors upon entering the great palace at Amber, particularly if the intended pair were placed side by side, creating an avenue-like formation of strewn flowers.