Six other carpets or fragments of carpets are known with the same arrangement as that found here. Of those, the present carpet is undoubtedly the best preserved large example. There is an incomplete large carpet in the Philadelphia Museum of Art with two central stars on the mid-line divided by two part-octagons (Charles Grant Ellis, Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1988, no.25, pp.72-75). It is interesting to note there that the part octagons are brought some way in from the side borders, emphasisiing the possibility of an infinite repeat. There is a fragmentary large carpet in the Kirchheim Collection, with brilliant colours, but similar in arangement to the Philadelphia example with missing bits and totally lacking the border (E Heinrich Kirchheim, Orient Stars, London, 1993, no.192, pp.300-301). There are three small fragments of a further large carpet, one of which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Hali, vol.6, no.4, pl.16, p.368, illustrated with another part of the same carpet in the Wher Collection). In addition to these three other larger carpets there are three smaller rugs. One was sold in these Rooms 29 April 2004, lot 27, similar in colouring to the classic Ushak large carpets but slightly more provincial in drawing. The other two are both in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul, (Nazan Ölçer et al, Turkish Carpets from the 13th-18th centuries, Istanbul, 1996, pl.96, p.134; and Hulya Tezcan et al., Weaving Heritage of Anatolia 2, pl.77, p.99). Each of these last two look far more like versions of the same design made for local rather than court or export consumption.
When discussing the origins of Turkish 16th century carpet designs, Kurt Erdmann suggests that the main medallion format designs derived from sections taken from overall designs of diagonal medallions of alternating form (Kurt Erdmann, The Early Turkish Carpet, London, 1977, p.70). That a number of the earliest Ushak carpets have, like the Philadelphia carpet, a little over half of the side medallions visible, would support this. Another feature that helps us determine the place of this small group of Ushak carpets within the greater oeuvre is the floral background ornament. In his discussion of a very good but typical "star" Ushak carpet exhibited by Moshe Tabibnia, Jon Thompson looks at this in some detail (Jon Thompson, Milestones, Milan, 2006, pp.104-109). He looks in particular at a carpet originally from the Great Mosque in Divrigi, and another in the St. Louis Art Museum, formerly in the Ballard Collection (figs.95 and 98). As well as noting the comparison of the Ballard rug to the tilework in the Blue Mosque in Tabriz dating from 1465, in his discussion of the previous carpet in the exhibition he particularly concentrates on a small trefoil flower from which the vine grounds spring, showing it to derive from the Chinese depiction of the leaf of a lotus flower (pp.91-101). The present carpet has exactly this flower as the base for all the floral sprays, and a variant on it included in the cusped octafoil medallions. The placing in the octafoil medallions recalls also elements of illumination from the period of Sultan Mehmed II and his son Bayezid, in the second half of the 15th century (Mine Esiner Özen, Turkish Art of Ilumination, Istanbul, 2003, esp. pp.96-97). Jon Thomson shows the derivation of this element from Central Asian late 14th century design, and illustrates a tile panel from the Shah-i Zinde necropolis in Samarkand which has a closely related star formed of interlaced strapwork issuing alternating leaves of this lotus form alternating with palmettes, exactly the same as is found in the red centres of the cusped octafoil medallions in the present carpet. All can be seen as another demonstration of the "International Timurid style" that has been commented on by various authorities. It is certainly dangerous to infer too much from a comparison that is so distant both in time and place, but the comparison does add another small element of support to Dr Thomson's argument as well as doing nothing to discourage the suggestion of an early date on the present carpet.
The drawing of the floral designs in the field, notably with the designs springing from the "lotus-leaf" element also relates closely to that of two almost identical carpets in the Vakiflar Museum, Istanbul, possibly from Eastern Anatolia, which have been dated between the 15th and 16th centuries, most scholars preferring the earlier date (Thompson, op.cit, fig.95, p.105; Suzan Bayratoglu and Serpil Özçelik, Carpet Museum and Kilim and Flatweaving Rugs Museum Catalogue, Ankara, 2007, no.14, p.29).
The main border found on this carpet appears on four carpets which have the cusped octagon as both the major and minor medallions: one that was exhibited in Milan (Il Tapetto Orientale dal XV al XVIII secolo, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 1981, no.11, pl.p.76), one in the Detroit Museum (Charles Grant-Ellis, op.cit., fig.25b, p.74), a third is the Khalili/Meyer Müller "stars only" carpet (J.M.Rogers, The Arts of Islam, Treasures from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, Abu Dhabi, 2008, no.395, pp.332-333), and the fourth is the blue ground example from Berlin recently exhibited in Paris (Le ciel dans un Tapis, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2004, no.144, pp.30-31). The minor borders found here also appear on others of the variant group, notably the medallion lattice carpet in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Hali 153, pl.9, p.98), and on the Khalili/Meyer Müller carpet which uses our outer border as the inner border.
Carpets of this variant design are among the earliest of all Ushaks depicted in a European context. No less than three paintings of the English king Henry VIII (r.1509-1547) depict him standing on carpets of this design. All copy exactly the pose of the portrait mural at Whitehall, now unfortunately destroyed, but of which a copy remains in the Royal Collection (Hali, vol.3, no.3, pl.1, p.177). In that painting he is standing on a different carpet, but most of the various other paintings made copying the stance each depict him standing on a different Turkish carpet. Of those with our carpet the example by Hans Eworth was recently re-dated to circa 1545, the second is a contemporaneous version of that painting by another artist, while the third, apprarently of circular format, is at Parham Park, whose medallion is not so immediately recognisable (Hali vol.3, no.3, cover and pp.179 and 198). This makes it almost contemporaneous with the earliest datable depictiuon of an Ushak carpet, that by Paris Bordone in the Accademia in Venice dating from 1541. And, as Julian Raby noted so wittily at the end of his article, it is highly probable that the carpets exported to Europe were a little beind the time in terms of taste at the Ottoman Court, so the first date of manufacture of any design is likely to be quite a bit earlier than its first depiction (Julian Raby, 'Court and Export, Part 2, the Ushak Carpets', Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, Carpets of the Mediterranean Countries, London, 1986, pp.177-185).
Another indication of a very early date for this design is given by a painting originally attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo and now thought to be by Da Carpi that was published in the early 20th century in Frankfurt. This portrait shows a lady against a table on which a carpet lies. The field is an Ushak of this variant version; the extraordinary thing is the border which is a closed kufic border of a type normally found on "Small pattern Holbein" and "Lotto" carpets. This reinforces strongly the suggestion that the "variant" Ushak carpets are in reality the earliest Ushaks. The present carpet is the most impressive carpet of this version of the design to have survived to the present day.
We are grateful to Michael Franses for his helpful comments on this group of carpets and the paintings in which they appear.