The rare Millefleurs carpets represent one of the closing chapters of the long standing tradition of Indian carpets during the Mughal empire. Distinguished by their elegant compositions of finely drawn floral stems and luminous, jewel-like colours, Millefleurs carpets derive from the Indian fascination with European, Persian and Kashmir textiles and represent a complete departure from the formal iconography of earlier Mughal designs. Those pieces that have been examined are recorded as having been woven with pashmina wool from the mountain goats of Ladakh and Tibet, and are on various structures that can be a mix of silk and cotton or all cotton foundations. Ours is an all cotton foundation with broad bands of light blue, natural and dark blue cotton wefting on natural cotton warps (Daniel Walker, Flowers Underfoot; Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, New York, 1997, pp.124-132.)
In the past some pieces have erroneously been attributed to Persia on account of their Persianate designs, particularly those of prayer format which bear a resemblance to later weavings of the South Persian Qashqai tribes. The use of ton-sur-ton colouring within the small flower heads which features in nearly all of these examples is, however, a typical characteristic of Indian weavings. A very damaged example of the group sold at Sotheby's London, 20 October 1993, lot 79, which had flowers displaying a typical Indian use of pink outlines on red flower heads.
The most frequently encountered group are those with an overall millefleurs pattern often centred with a small medallion. One such example was sold in these Rooms 20 October 1992, lot 352 while others are in the Textile Museum, Washington (Joseph V McMullan, Islamic Carpets, New York, 1965, no.34) and the Metropolitan Museum, New York (M.S. Dimand, and Jean Mailey, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, nos.65 &66, figs.141 & 142). The second group features designs in the form of a prayer rug with the field often flanked by two half-cypress trees. In his publication Seltene Orientteppiche IX, Munich, 1987, p.8, Eberhart Herrmann lists, in addition to the Douglas prayer rug that sold more recently in these Rooms, 7 October 2014, lot 50, nine further prayer rugs in the group, the Habsburg prayer rug in the Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna; The Textile Museum prayer rug; the three rugs formerly in the Joseph V. McMullan collection now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, respectively; the two rugs from the George W. Vanderbilt collection at Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina; the Dubernard rug in the Musee Historique des Tissus, Lyon; The Marquand/Benguiat/Kevorkian rug. To this list should be added the prayer rug offered at Sotheby's New York, 19 September 2003, lot 84 and the Rippon Boswell rug sold 1 December 2007, lot 133 (Hali 155, Spring 2008, p.147).
The design of the present carpet is representative of the third and final group of Millefleurs carpets most commonly drawn with indigo fields and lattice or geometric overall arrangements. One example, formerly in the McMullan Collection, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (McMullan, ibid, no.33), has a rectilinear lattice which appears to use individual flowerheads almost like compass points, while another example, part of the Bernheimer Collection of Carpets which sold in these Rooms, 14 February 1996, lot 181, and more recently illustrated with Moshe Tabibnia, (Hali, Issue 125 November-December 2002, pp.68-9) has a softer ogival lattice. Closely related examples which use the same treatment of alternating bands of colour but on the diagonal, are found on a carpet in the Wher Collection (Jon Thompson, Carpet Magic, exhibition catalogue, London, 1983, p.146), another published by Eberhart Herrmann, Asiatische Teppich-Und Textilkunst, Band r, Munich, 1990, no.75, pp.158-9) and a third example with a near identical design but darker indigo border sold in these Rooms, 30 June 2004, lot 170. The pattern of the present carpet is unique however in its design of alternating chevron bands of millefleurs set upon wine-red, indigo, pale yellow and golden yellow backgrounds, which create an ascending rhythm that carries the eye along the unusually long proportions.