A SAFAVID SILK AND METAL THREAD POLONAISE CARPET, the silver- thread field with palmettes and leaves around open golden-thread cusped lozenge medallions containing bold palmettes issuing from light blue similar lozenge medallions, flanked by similar golden-thread part- medallions with apricot centrepieces linked in the centre by a lemon- yellow medallion containing an arabesque rosette, in a shaded raspberry-red border of meandering palmette and leafy floral cartouches between ivory and tan meandering vine stripes. (areas of wear and very slight restoration)

Details
A SAFAVID SILK AND METAL THREAD POLONAISE CARPET, the silver- thread field with palmettes and leaves around open golden-thread cusped lozenge medallions containing bold palmettes issuing from light blue similar lozenge medallions, flanked by similar golden-thread part- medallions with apricot centrepieces linked in the centre by a lemon- yellow medallion containing an arabesque rosette, in a shaded raspberry-red border of meandering palmette and leafy floral cartouches between ivory and tan meandering vine stripes. (areas of wear and very slight restoration)
14ft. x 5ft.9in. (427cm. x 175cm.)
Provenance
Private Collection, London, sold in these Rooms 10 June 1976, lot 61 Private Collection, Dallas, Texas, sold Sotheby's New York 4 June 1988, lot 261

Lot Essay

In 1598, due to the proximity of the Ottomans, Shah 'Abbas I moved his capital from Qazvin to Isfahan. He is well known to have had a particular liking for suptuous silks and carpets and it is therefore not surprising to find a number of reports from visiting Europeans in the 17th century of the production of opulent silk carpets in that city. Visitors such as Pater Florentino de Niño Jesus (1607/8), Thomas Herbert (1627-8), John Fryer (1676), Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1676), and, later, the chevalier Chardin (1735) all make special note of the fine silk and metal thread carpets to be found there and/or at Kashan.

The history of these carpets is further known by the number of them that were given as presents by the Shah to visiting foreign dignitaries and ambassadors or which were purchased when new by merchants from abroad. For this reason about three hundred of these carpets have survived, principally in European collections. Many are still in the hands of royal or princely families, the same families that received them about three hundred years ago. Thus Venice, the Danish royal family, Austria due to the Hapsburgs, the Czartoryskis in Poland, and Liechtenstein among many others retain their examples. Further examples were given by the Shah in waqf to religious establishments such as the two at the great shrine of the Imam 'Ali at Najaf. Many others, probably originally from similar sources, have found their way onto the market and are now located in museums and important private collections.

While a relatively large number of examples have survived, as noted above, the vast majority of them are of a smaller format, usually about 6ft. x 4ft. Only about thirty examples are known today of the present large size (another of similar dimensions formerly in the collection of King Umberto II of Italy was sold in these Rooms 29 April 1993, lot 432). Within both sizes, a number have pairs, and it seems likely that many were conceived to be used as pairs together. No pair to the present example is known.

Two features of the present carpet are immediately noticeable. The first is the overall design executed in pale colours of concentric lozenges outlined by split palmettes and feathery leaves. These divide the field whose ground colours originally would have emphasised the effect with concentric gold and silver coloured panels. The overall effect was intentionally pale; only the occasional knot is found in either a dark blue or the rich carmine so dominant in the border. Traces of black are similarly scarce while there is none of the rich salmon pink that is sometimes found on these carpets. The original design therefore was certainly to accentuate the difference between the subtle field and the rare feature of a very strong red border which is the most distinctive feature of the carpet. A red border has been noted on five other carpets, but even among these, the Colnaghi (Ferrier, R. (ed.): The Arts of Persia, New Haven and London 1989, pl.25, p.132) and its pair, the Doria Pamphily, have a red which is a salmon rather than the deeper carmine found here.
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