Audio: A Mughal Millefleurs 'Star-Lattice' Carpet
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Very good pile, localised light wear and touches of repiling, a few small repairs, overall very good condition
12ft.9in. x 13ft.6in. (388cm. x 411cm.)
Cornelius Vanderbilt II, at 1 West 57th Street, New York City, subsequently at The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island (d.1899), to his daughter
Countess László Széchényi (nee Gladys Vanderbilt, d.1965), to her heirs who sold the carpet in 1977
Private Collection, France
Offered Sotheby's London, 19 October 1983, lot 254
Anon. sale, Rippon Boswell & Co., Wiesbaden, November 18, 1989, lot 123 (a world record price for any carpet)
Anon. sale Christie's New York, 10 April 1995, lot 100 (a world record price for any oriental carpet), to the present owner
Le Tapis d'Orient dans les collections françaises, London, 1982, front cover and p. 26
Hali, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1982, p. 283 (exhibition review, illustrated in colour)
Hali 49, February 1990, p.96 (marketplace, review of November 1989 sale, illustrated in colour)
Oriental Rug Review, Volume 15, no.4, April/May 1995, front cover illustration
Hali 81, June-July 1995, p.124 (marketplace, detail illustrated in b/w).
Centre Culturel de Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris, 1982

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Louise Broadhurst
Louise Broadhurst

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Lot Essay

Warp: cotton, ivory, Z6S
Weft: cotton, blue, Z2-3, 2 shoots alternating, 75 depression
Pile: pashmina (laboratory confirmed), asymmetric open to the left, Z3-5S, H20xV19
Sides: dark red overbound last two pairs of warps
Ends: mostly finishing on black knotted guard line

From the earliest European encounters with Mughal India, carpets were among the luxury items brought back from India to decorate the grandest houses. In England Mughal carpets decorate Knole, brought there by the later seventeenth century Lord Chancellor of England, the 6th Earl of Dorset. Carpets were specifically commissioned by Sir Thomas Roe before 1619 (John Irwin, The Girdlers Carpet, London, 1962, p.1), by Robert Bell for the Girdlers Company in the 1630s (Irwin, op.cit., p.2) and by William Fremlin in around 1640 (V&A Museum, IM.1-1936; own/). All these carpets were of the type originally influenced by Persian carpet weaving, before the classic Mughal lattice and floral style had been developed. For a discussion of early Mughal carpets please see the note to lot 100.

The derivation of the Mughal lattice design can be traced from a two-plane lattice such as is found on the magnificent Altman lattice carpet where the powerful ivory ogival lattice overlays delicate spiralling tendrils which themselves produce flowerheads at just the right point to make the design perfectly balanced (Daniel Walker, Flowers Underfoot, Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, New York, 1997). The complete two-plane lattice, as in the Altman carpet, but with the upper, more prominent lattice of a form much more comparable to ours, is found on two pashmina piled carpets that were donated to the Shrine of the Imam Reza in Mashhad (E Ganz-Ruedin, Indian Carpets, Fribourg, 1984, pp.130-133). Much smaller fragments of one of these are in a variety of collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Walker, op.cit, cat.30, pp.112-113 and p.171).

A painting in the Padshahnama on f.116b shows a single plane carpet, almost certainly related to our group, on the ground before the dais on which Shah Jahan is enthroned while receiving gifts from Europeans (Milo Cleveland Beach and Ebba Koch, King of the World, The Padshahnama, London, 1997, pl.19, pp.56-57). Painted in around 1650 it demonstrates that the single plane lattice with smaller floral forms enclosed within each compartment was already fashionable by 1650. Our carpet, together with one other very similar example formerly with French & Co in New York, sold at Sotheby's New York in 1981, and now in a private collection, of similar square format but reduced from a larger carpet (Walker, op.cit., no,.34, fig.114, p.116) are easily the closest to the carpet in the Padshahnama manuscript. Both have their floral field designs apparently contained within each roundel and cruciform lattice panel, even if occasional tendrils creep out underneath the lattice and join the designs in the neighbouring compartments in both actual carpets, thus retaining a vestige of the second plane.

There is no doubt that our carpet is later in date than the two carpets in Mashhad. It seems to be a transitional design between the large scale lattice carpets of the mid-17th century and the fine millefleurs designs of the eighteenth. Our border in particular presages the smaller scale of the eighteenth century taste. This border indicates that it on these grounds it should also be dated later than the French & Co example. Unfortunately the technical analysis of the French & Co example is not given among Walker's generally very thorough analyses, so we do not know whether it shares the light blue cotton wefting of the present carpet of whether it uses the red silk wefts typical of the earlier group. One of the features however of most of the earlier pashmina carpets that are woven on silk structures is that the silk has severely weakened, and sometimes rotted, meaning that there are serious condition problems, and a great number are fragmentary as a result. The present carpet, with its cotton foundation, retains its original suppleness and is very considerably stronger in structure than the earlier examples.

With the rise of industrial wealth in the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, many of the new American millionaires began to emulate the collecting tastes of earlier European aristocracy. Along with collecting early furniture and old master paintings, these wealthy Americans avidly acquired magnificent early carpets. During this period, many sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century Safavid Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Mughal Indian carpets entered the collections of the most prominent Americans such as J.P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, Benjamin Altman, John D. Rockefeller and William A. Clark, the 'Copper King' whose carpets have recently been deaccessioned by the Corcoran Museum of Art. Among this esteemed group with a passion for rare, early carpets was Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who acquired this Mughal pashmina carpet for his palatial mansion in New York City. Vanderbilt fully recognized the importance of this carpet and proudly displayed it on the wall of the Moorish Smoking Room at 1 West 57th Street. At a later date the carpet was transferred to Vanderbilt's country 'cottage', The Breakers, in Newport, Rhode Island, where it was placed in Vanderbilt's master bedroom. After Vanderbilt's death, the carpet remained at The Breakers in the possession of his heirs until the settlement of the estate of his youngest daughter, Countess László Széchényi which led to its sale in 1977. Interestingly, the appreciation of Mughal carpets existed throughout the Vanderbilt family as evidenced by two very good 18th century millefleurs prayer rugs in the collection of Cornelius' youngest brother, George W. Vanderbilt, at his home Biltmore, in Asheville, North Carolina.

The fact that the carpet remained in the Vanderbilt family's possession for nearly 100 years helps to explain the magnificent physical condition of the carpet. This impressive condition, along with the carpet's inherent beauty, ranks it as one of the most remarkable classical carpets existing today. In 1982, when the carpet was displayed at the Boulogne-Billancourt exhibition in Paris, it was described in the exhibition catalogue as "one of the best examples of the millefleurs group and one of the very few to be in excellent condition. Through its extraordinary richness of colour and the beauty of the delicately drawn design it radiates the noble character of Mughal weaving and should be considered a masterpiece" (Le Tapis d'Orient, p.26). The Hali reviewer of the 1995 sale commented that "it is, after all, the most sublime of all decorative carpets".

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