The attribution of the 'compartment' rugs to Syria is one that dates back a considerable time. In 1909 Konsul Bernheimer bought his example (sold in these Rooms 14 February 1996, lot 27) as an "alter syrische Teppich". Yet this attribution is far from certain. While the group has a clear homogeneity within itself, its combination of technical structure and design motifs makes it difficult to place. Egypt, Rhodes, the Adana plain and East Anatolia have all been proposed. The subject is discussed at length in various places, the fullest of which are Robert Pinner, and Michael Franses, 'The Eastern Mediterranean Carpet Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum', Hali vol.4, no.1, pp.37-52; and Friederich Spuhler, ''Chessboard' Rugs', in Robert Pinner and Walter Denny, Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, London, 1986, pp.261-269.
Few of these carpets have survived, indicating a small production; it is therefore not surprising that few are found depicted in European paintings. The earliest sight of one in Europe is shown not in a painting but a tapestry of the mid 16th century reproduced in Eskenazi and Franses (op.cit., fig.8, p.25). In the field of paintings the first is shown in a painting by Marco dall'Angelo dateable to before 1581, the design continuing to be found into the middle of the following century (John Mills, 'East Mediterranean Carpets in Western Paintings', Hali vol.4, no.1, pp.53-55).
Spuhler notes that "only 29 pieces with a consistent chessboard design" are known, almost half of which have an identical border. All the smaller examples share this border of cartouches alternating with cusped lozenge panels, as do a few of those with more than six medallions. Only the larger carpets display a variety of border designs with that seen on the present carpet also visible on the example in the Berlin Museum (Friederich Spuhler, Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, London, 1988, no.71, ill.p.214) and on one formerly in the Pharaon Collection and sold in these Rooms 11 October 1990, lot 17, the latter having a sage-green ground to the border. It is also interestingly the same border as is found on a carpet which is crucial to the placing of the group, that formerly in the Campana Collection whose field design is centralised around a large octagon in the Mamluk manner, but whose design elements are similar to those seen here (Gantzhorn, op. cit.: ill.325, p.212; Jon Thompson, Milestones in the History of Carpets, Milan, 2006, pl.121, p.140). The same border is also used on the rug of this group in Cairo whose design appears to show the influence of an earlier Anatolian model (Belkis Balpinar and Udo Hirsch, Carpets: Vakiflar Museum, Istanbul, Wesel, 1988, no.1, pp.34-39, ill.p.179).
While all the rugs with this structure and field design, in its slight permutations, display an alternation between the colours of the medallions, the present example makes this a much more prominent feature of the design. While the two colours involved in most are a blue-green alternating with a soft green (see for example the magnificent carpet sold in these Rooms 17 October 1996, lot 417 or the Berlin piece mentioned above), this rug uses a far lighter and clearer blue coupled with an off-white, bringing a brighter and fresher look to the palette. The same light blue in the border is again clearer and fresher than that which is normally encountered.