The distinctive stylised ‘Vase and Pomegranate Tree’ design is well documented as symbolising fertility within East Turkestan carpets and can be traced as far back as 2000 years in this region. This same design appears on a series of early (105 AD) wood carvings which were excavated from the ruins of Niya, once a major commercial centre on the Silk Road on the southern edge of the Tarim Basin, China. It also appears frequently in religious Christian works as well as Oriental textiles, (Hans Bidder, Carpets from Eastern Turkestan, Tubingen, 1979, pp.49-53).
Produced in both wool and silk, the carpets were most commonly woven upon a deep indigo field or less frequently a red, ivory, yellow or pale powder blue, as seen here. The symmetrical design varies little and is most frequently drawn with two vases at each end with a mirrored design along the central vertical axis. The present carpet differs however from these as its design is more notably open and displays a single ascending pomegranate tree issuing from a single vase at the lower end of the field. Those examples with a single stem are often considered to be amongst the earliest such as one in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (inv.no. 1883), which is considered to be 18th century (U.Schürmann, Central Asian Rugs, 1969, p.168, no.88). Here, the rose-pink pomegranate fruits are outlined in a crimson-red which are accentuated against the lightly abrashed ice-blue ground together with the small trefoil pale lemon-yellow leaves that flutter along its branches. The inner border is influenced by traditional Chinese geometric fretwork patterns while the pale lemon-yellow and aqua-green abrashed outer border which frames the carpet is striking in its plainess.
A closely related Yarkand carpet, formerly part of the Doris Duke collection, set upon a similar ice-blue field, displaying two vases at each end within a similar abrashed pale yellow-green border of ram’s horn design, is part of the MATAM collection, published by Moshe Tabibnia, Intrecci Cinesi: Antica Arte Tessile XV-XIX, Milan, 2011, pp.218-219. pl.53. There are two further Yarkand carpets in the same collection, both with double vases at each end, one with a yellow field and red flowerhead border, (Tabibnia, op.cit. pp.220-1, pl.54), the other, with an abrashed ice-blue field with a sold red trellis and red fruits within a similar border to the other (op.cit, pl.55).
The pomegranate design was used in other weaving centres within the Tarim Basin. A related Khotan carpet of more classic colouring, with a yellow trellis bearing red pomegranates set upon an inky-blue ground but with an additional pierced polychrome trellis border and greater length, offered as part of The Bernheimer Collection, Christie's, London, 14 February 1996, lot 68. A smaller rug, with a 'cloud head' border and a single pomegranate-vase in the field was sold in these Rooms, 14 October 2004, lot 28.