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Considerable silk pile, corroded and oxidised silver and gold metal-thread, no restoration, original selvages, each end with complete braided and metal embroidered kilims, stretchered on a frame, overall very good condition
6ft.9in. x 4ft.5in. (211cm. x 140cm.)
Collection of Prince Pio Falcó, Rome
1973, acquired by the renowned art dealer Pietro Accorsi, Turin
Purchased that same year by the present owner
Ian Bennett, ‘Due Importanti tappeti “Polonaise” del XVII secolo, Battilossi, Tappeti d’antiquariato, Turin 1988, pp.30-33
L. E. Brancati, I gemelli polonaise, Il Giornale Dell’Arte N.170, October 1998, p .XIV
‘Polonaise Carpets in Baroque Rome’, Irene Sabatini, Oriental Carpet & Textile Studies VII, ICOC, 2011, pp.99-103, fig.4 (inaccurately noted as fig.5)
Galleria Battilossi, Turin, 1988
Sale room notice
The USA prohibits the purchase by US persons of Iranian-origin “works of conventional craftsmanship” such as carpets, textiles, decorative objects, and scientific instruments. The US sanctions apply to US persons regardless of the location of the transaction or the shipping intentions of the US person. For this reason, Christie’s will not accept bids by US persons on this lot. Non-US persons wishing to import this lot into the USA are advised that they will need to apply for an OFAC licence and that this can take many months to be granted.

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Lot Essay

The identical pair to the present carpet is in the collection of the princely Doria Pamphilj family where it remains on public display at the Palazzo del Principe in Genoa, built for Andrea Doria in 1521. Once led by Pope Innocent X, Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (1644-1655), the Doria Pamphilj, a Roman family of Genoese extraction, were strongly tied to the Catholic church and became heavily involved with Roman and wider Italian politics of the 16th and 17th centuries. The family commissioned the construction of the imposing Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj in Rome in the 17th century, which continues to house one of the most valuable private collections of paintings in the world.
While there are no records confirming the precise chain of provenance for our rug until the 1970s, there is a highly probable line of descent from the Doria Pamphilj family, since it is certain that originally these two rugs would have been presented or purchased together. In a significant Italian aristocratic marriage of 1878, Olimpia Doria Pamphilj Landi (1854-1929) married Fabrizio Colonna, part of an important noble family that could number one pope, twenty-two cardinals and numerous dignitaries. The Colonna also owned a substantial art collection, that is displayed in the impressive Palazzo Colonna in Rome. It was common following such marital alliances that one frequently saw the exchange of works of art between collections, clearly evident today as certain suites of furniture remain separated between the two families in question. It is highly probable that the present ‘Polonaise’ carpet was separated from its twin upon this martial allegiance.
In 1932 Princess Donna Sveva Colonna (1912-1999), grand-daughter of Olimpia, married Prince Don Alfonso Pio Falcò, (1903-1967) from one of the most distinguished Spanish noble families. In 1973, the present rug was sold by Princess Donna Pio Falcò to the renowned Torinese collector and antiquarian dealer, Pietro Accorsi, from whom the present owner promptly purchased it that same year. Our carpet has remained in that same private collection for nearly fifty years.
In his thesis on the subject pf ‘Polonaise’ carpets, Friedrich Spuhler documents around 230 complete and fragmentary examples, from which he draws the conclusion that many of the rugs either show identical designs, or take sections of endless repeat patterns and which are either then displaced by one width or are increased on a larger scale. The field designs, with few exceptions, are based on thirteen different patterns and stylistically almost all the carpets seem to belong to the same period. The present carpet falls under the XII classification, F.Spuhler, Seidene Repräsentationsteppiche der mittleren bis späten Safawidenzeit - Die sog. Polenteppiche, dissertation, Berlin, 1968, pp.223-4.
Of the 230 that are preserved today, twenty nine of these have a matching twin, identical in field and border design as well as in colour and are therefore considered to have been woven as pairs, and would likely have been displayed together on ceremonial occasions, (F.Spuhler, Islamic Carpets and Textiles in the Keir Collection, London, 1978, pp.108-9). One such pair can be found in the collection at Skokloster Slott, Sweden, (Inv.no.1723:2) the former residence of Count Carl Gustaf Wrangel (1613-1676), where they have remained ever since. Their field design consists of an overall repeat pattern of Chinese ‘Bat’ motifs alternating with pomegranates. A previously unpublished pair with eight-pointed central medallions within a reciprocal ‘trefoil’ border, were sold in these Rooms, 14 April 1988, lot 83 and 84. Remarkably the Doria Pamphilj family had originally been in possession of a second pair of ‘Polonaise’ carpets, larger in proportion than the single medallion format of the present example. The present carpet and its twin bear a striking similarity to that pair, in that they were both woven with the same vivid green and orange colour palette within their borders. It is tempting to consider that both pairs were woven contemporaneously and gifted to the family to be displayed en-suite. While that pair no longer remains with the family, both are now part of prominent institutional collections. One was sold by Sir Joseph Duveen, London, to John D. Rockefeller, who by 1930–50 had gifted it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, while its pair was sold on the European market in 1976 to the Shah of Iran for a rumoured record price and which is now on permanent display in the Carpet Museum of Tehran, Iran, as a national treasure.


The present carpet is typical of the elegant designs produced in the weaving ateliers of Isfahan during the reign of Shah' Abbas I (1587-1629). At this time, Isfahan was a thriving city, the court of a monarch who had completely changed Persia, having moved his capital there in 1598 from Qazvin. In contrast to the previous Shah of note, Shah Tahmasp, he welcomed foreigners with their trade and innovations in all fields. He even appointed an Englishman, Sir Robert Shirley, as his ambassador, to visit the courts of Europe and establish relations with Persia. He was a great patron of the arts. Isfahan today owes her fame as one of the most beautiful cities in the world more to his embellishments than those of any other period. The school of painting in the capital developed a new style, principally through the work of Reza 'Abbasi. This flowering in the arts was all the more notable since the latter years of Shah Tahmasp had been strongly influenced by his deep religious fervour which had resulted in his virtually closing the royal workshops. The contrast between the new Shah and his recent predecessor could not have been more marked.
Shah’ Abbas had a great appreciation for sumptuous textiles, silks and woven carpets, and production in Isfahan rapidly grew under his patronage with a number of workshops weaving simultaneously during the 17th century. A number of these would have been working directly for the shah, producing carpets which were specifically commissioned to be appreciated locally. Two carpets of this group are known to have been given in royal waqf to the great Shiite shrine of the Imam 'Ali at Najaf. European visitors travelling to Persia at the time, commented specifically on the richness of the silk textiles and carpets that they saw. John Fryer in 1676 notes that Isfahan had special bazaars handling the sale of rugs "both woolen and silk, intermixed with Gold and Silver, very costly, which are the peculiar manufacture of this country (quoted by M.S. Dimand, and Jean Mailey, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, p.59). Other travellers who commented on the silk weavings in both Kashan and Isfahan, include Pater Florentino de Niño Jesus in 1607-08, Thomas Herbert in 1627-08 and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1676. Sir John Chardin, who visited Persia between 1666 and 1672, also noted that the workshops were allowed, when they had time, to work for other clients as well as the Shah.
A large proportion of ‘Polonaise’ carpets made at the time found their way to Europe having been given as ambassadorial gifts to royal families, religious figures and deserving high-ranking officials and they found great favour with the Baroque nobility of the 17th century courts. (see, Portrait of Louis XV en costume de sacre, by Hyacinthe Rigaud, painted 1715, Musée Saint Remi, France).


The term, ‘Polonaise’ was first coined at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1878 where, in the Polish section of one of the pavilions, examples of this group of carpets belonging to the Princes Czartoryski, some bearing his recently added personal coat of arms, were exhibited publicly for the first time (Kurt Erdmann, Europa und der Orientteppich, Mainz, 1962, pl.36, pp.84-5). Visitors and journalists mistakenly concluded that these carpets had been made in Poland and it wasn’t until shortly after the exhibition had closed, that the true country of origin was discovered. The Polish attribution however, persisted, and these carpets still bear the name ‘Polonaise’ today.
One of the main characteristics of the group were their brightly coloured palettes of silk woven on a cotton warp and silk weft foundation. The addition of brocaded gold and, or silvered metal-thread would have made their appearance both dazzling and brilliant. The absence of distinct lines, the lack of figural representations and an overtly baroque treatment of the individual details are other defining characteristics of the group, (Friedrich Spuhler, Preben Mellbye-Hansen & Majken Thorvildsen, Denmark's Coronation Carpets, Copenhagen, 1987, p.32).
The absence of a single ground colour is replaced by curvaceous planes defined by scrolling stems in-filled with different coloured silks and gold and silver coloured metals. These harmonious and balanced compositions of design and colour, although Persian inspired, were not however typical of Persian tastes but clearly corresponded to those of the West. There are two references in1599 and 1601 that indicate that Polonaise carpets were being produced in the last quarter of the 16th century but individual examples can only be dated on stylistic grounds. While it is generally accepted that the very best pieces were produced over a period of forty to fifty years starting from the first quarter of the 17th century, by the third, and particularly in the fourth quarter, ‘Polonaise’ carpets show an obvious degeneration and by around 1700, had widely lost their importance, (‘Entwurfspraktiken safawidischer Hofmanufakturen am Beispiel der sog. Polenteppiche’, Friedrich Spuhler, HALI, Autumn, 1978, pp.244-47).
Not including the present carpet, which retains an astonishing amount of silk pile and a significant proportion of silver and gold metal brocade, the vast majority of surviving examples seen today are now faded in colour as the dyes were fugitive and survive very worn and low in pile, due to the fragile nature of the silk, making this lot particularly rare and attractive. Woven during the golden age of Safavid art, it is only befitting that 'Polonaise' rugs with their silk, gold and silver-thread epitomize this era to many scholars and collectors today, who view these rugs with an appreciation equal to that of the European travellers visiting the Persian court during the first half of the seventeenth century. It is indeed a rare opportunity to see an example that has remained hidden for the past half a century and remains so well preserved.

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