There has long been a fascination with the symbolism of the dragon and its depiction in carpet weavings. The design of ‘Dragon’ carpets consists of a field pattern composed of different coloured overlaid lattices formed of pointed, serrated leaves creating intersecting lozenges, which alternately contain palmettes and are flanked by confronting stylised dragons, birds or animal figures. The most archaic of the ‘Dragon’ carpets include dragon motifs with birds and running animals relatively naturalistically drawn, which stand either alone or in confronting pairs facing a tree. The Graf carpet, originally found in a Damascene mosque, now in the Islamiches Museum, Berlin, is considered to be the oldest example of this type, see Serare Yetkin, Early Caucasian Carpets in Turkey, Vol. II, London, 1978, p.8, fig.118.
In his discussion of 'Dragon' carpets Charles Grant Ellis has a very useful key to the various animals which inhabit the lattices seen on this magnificent group (C.G. Ellis, Early Caucasian Rugs, Washington D.C., 1976, p.14). While heavily stylised, the carpet offered here contains some of the animals he describes: the dragons are visible upon the red field arranged in alternate rows in addorsed positions enclosed by the blue, green and yellow serrated branches, of which the pale yellow leaves contain pheasants. It also has paired confronted peacocks and running deer in the field panels along the central axis. Both Ellis and Yetkin (S. Yetkin, op.cit. 1978, pp.9-16) note that when such a menagerie is included, particularly in their more recognisable forms, it is indicative of the earlier woven carpets from this particular group.
Yetkin defines four types of 'Dragon' carpet: 'Archaic', ‘Four-Dragon’, ‘Dragon-and-Phoenix’ and as a further combined development of the latter, the ‘Two-Dragon’ style, of which the present carpet falls into the 'Dragon-and-Phoenix' group along with other examples, some of which include two fragments, one in the Museum fur Kunst und Gerwerbe, Hamburg; another in the Christian Museum, Esztergom, Hungary, a complete carpet in the Kier collection; an incomplete example in the Textile Museum, Washington, D.C; the 'Cassirer' Dragon carpet in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, Lugano; the Ali Pasa Mosque carpet in Tokat, and a further example in the Vakiflar Hali Museum, Istanbul (S. Yetkin, op.cit. pp.16-20). It has been suggested that the earliest examples of the Caucasian 'Dragon' carpets have a greater number of repeats across the width of the weaving than in later pieces. An example of a 'Four-Dragon' carpet, also coincidentally from the collection of Charles Deering as the present carpet, was sold in Sotheby's, New York, 27 September 2000, lot 35.
Animal combat groups were popular motifs in late 16th and early 17th century, appearing in Persian paintings, bookcovers and of course within the magnificent carpets of the Safavid court, from which it is probable that Caucasian ‘Dragon’ carpets were modelled (Duncan Haldane, Islamic Book bindings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1983, no.106, pp.110-111, for example). Many of the classical Caucasian carpets of the 17th and early 18th centuries can be traced back to 'Vase' carpets of the 17th century. The lattice used in these carpets itself relates to the lattice of 'Vase' carpets (Ellis, op. cit, pp.12-13), but already in the present early 'Dragon' carpet the colouring of the serrated panels means that the overlay play of the lattice has been lost.
Although the present carpet is incomplete and lacking its borders it retains a strong centralised composition that is formed from the rod of linked bold palmettes that run along its axis. The drawing of these together with the animal compositions are well spaced, clearly defined and alive with a plethora of natural colours that are illustrative of the very best examples of this group.