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The field centred by a quatrefoil medallion formed of inverted palmettes linked by delicate flowering stems that extend into the field forming curvaceous arabesques terminating with maroon red, forest-green or burnished gold split-palmettes, framed within a shaded grass-green border of palmettes alternating with individual flowerheads enclosed within paired saz leaves between pale peach floral meander minor stripes, with an extensive colour palette and considerable silk pile throughout, overall excellent condition
6ft.5in. x 4ft.6in. (197cm. x 141cm.)
Baron Adolphe Carl von Rothschild (1823-d.1900), Paris, (his label on reverse), thence by descent
Anonymous private collection (Estate of Maurice de Rothschild 1881-1957), Palais Galliéra, Paris, 28 March 1968, lot 99
Gallery Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, from whom purchased by the father of the present owner, 1970
Remained in the same German noble family collection for over 50 years
Collection de Tapis Persans dits Polonais débuts de XVIIe siècle, Palais Galliéra, Paris, 28 March 1968, front cover illustration
Special notice
Specifed lots (sold and unsold) marked with a filled square not collected from Christie’s, 8 King Street, London SW1Y 6QT by 5.00 pm on the day of the sale will, at our option, be removed to Crown Fine Art (details below). Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent ofsite. If the lot is transferred to Crown Fine Art, it will be available for collection from 12.00 pm on the second business day following the sale. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Crown Fine Art. All collections from Crown Fine Art will be by prebooked appointment only. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice. 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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Barney Bartlett
Barney Bartlett Junior Specialist

Lot Essay

Technical Analysis
Warps; natural cotton
Wefts; natural cotton, with occasional red silk wefts
Metal brocade; both silver gilt and gilt metal, wrapped around ivory and golden yellow coloured silk threads
Pile; silk – 12 colours; ivory, maroon-red, light blue, mid-blue, indigo, golden yellow, fawn, dark brown, peach, aqua-green, light green, apple-green
Selvages; bound with red silk, partially frayed
Ends; natural cotton kilim with original fringes, with 2 single rows of darker knots

Radio Carbon C14 Test results
1496 – 1602 (72.7% probability)
1612 – 1650 (22.7% probability)
Full report available on request


This important and rare silk and metal-thread Polonaise carpet is the perfect marriage of beauty, artistry and exoticism. It previously formed part of the esteemed art collection of Baron Adolphe Carl von Rothschild (1823-1900), known affectionately as ‘Dolly’. Adolphe von Rothschild was the son of Carl Mayer von Rothschild (1788-1855), a member of the great banking dynasty whose political, economic and cultural achievements were so successful and ubiquitous, that they seemed almost untouchable in relation to other familial dynasties of the 19th and 20th centuries. Rooted in Frankfurt, London, Paris, Vienna and Naples, Adolphe remained in Naples where he was appointed General Consul of the Duchy of Parma. Less renowned for his banking prowess but more as an art connoisseur with exquisite taste, Adolphe took the bold decision in 1865, to become the first family member to leave the partnership in order to devote his time to building a significant and important art collection. It took a further two years of arduous negotiation before he was able to successfully step down from his familial duties.

In 1857 Adolphe bought Châteaux de Pregny on the shores of Lake Geneva, but his time was also spent in Paris at rue de Monceau, located in a fashionable area inhabited by similarly wealthy banking families such as the Ephrussi, Camondo and the Goüin. In 1868 Adolphe, who already owned 45 and 49 rue de Monceau, purchased no 47 from Princess Mingrelie and the Marquess de Fernandin. With the help of the family architect, Felix Langlais, Adolphe continued to make alterations to the building which included a single story extension with a glazed roof that would house a ballroom, a conservatory and a smoking room. Adolphe’s wife, Julie, whom he had married in 1850, shared his passion for fine art but where he favoured the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, his wife appreciated fine French furnishings of the 18th century. Together they filled the house with treasures which were sensitively displayed in bespoke galleries illuminated from above with natural light from the glazed ceilings.

Upon Adolphe’s death at rue de Monceau in 1900, the house passed to his wife and, following her death in 1907, later passed to Adolphe’s cousin, Maurice de Rothschild (1881-1957), second son of Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934). Sadly the house was demolished in the 1970’s but we can see from this watercolour, that the interiors were indeed sumptuous and that textiles and oriental carpets were greatly admired and were integral to the collection.

This 'Polonaise' carpet remained in Maurice de Rothschild’s collection for a further sixty years until after his death in 1957, when a legendary sale took place in Paris in 1968 at Palais Galliéra containing a group of no less than twelve 'Polonaise', from an anonymous private collection, but which was widely acknowledged as being that of Maurice de Rothschild. We can be certain that this 'Polonaise' carpet was once part of Adolphe’s collection as, remarkably, it still retains the original cloth hand-stitched label, noting that it was formerly in the, “appartement au Baron Adolphe de Rothschild, 45 rue Monceau”.

Depicted in black and white within a slim, partially illustrated catalogue, the present 'Polonaise' was clearly considered to be the best of the group as it was displayed in full colour upon the front cover. The carpet was acquired at the auction by the New York branch of the renowned gallery Rosenberg & Stiebel, who themselves had a long and loyal relationship with the Rothschilds and indeed with many of continental Europe’s noble and aristocratic families. The gallery parted with the carpet a year later in 1970, when it was purchased by a private collector in whose noble family it has remained. At the time, the art historian and curator of the Near Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York, Dr. Maurice Dimand, had encouraged the sale by writing to his client that the Rosenberg and Stiebel carpet was,“….a very fine piece, which I would date to the first half of the seventeenth century.


The decision of Shah ‘Abbas I (1587-1629) to move his capital city from Qazvin to Isfahan in 1598, was to become the crowning glory of his imperial achievement. Under his reign, Isfahan arguably became the most beautiful city in Iran, filled with palaces, mosques, gardens and squares of breath-taking beauty. In contrast to the previous shah of note, Shah Tahmasp, who had been strongly influenced by his deep religious fervour, which had resulted in the closure of nearly all the royal workshops, Shah ‘Abbas welcomed foreigners with their trade and innovations in all fields. He appointed an Englishman, Sir Robert Shirley, as his ambassador, to visit the courts of Europe and establish important political relations with Persia. The artistic renaissance encouraged a variety of different art forms to flourish from calligraphy, painting and metalwork and of course, carpet and textile production.

Shah ‘Abbas had a great appreciation for sumptuous textiles, silks and woven carpets and production in Isfahan rapidly grew under his patronage. The present carpet is testament to the inspirational designs and techniques produced in the new weaving ateliers. The results of the recent scientific Carbon 14 test clearly demonstrate that the vast probability is that this rug was made well within his reign. Silk was one of the most costly materials available and, as such, was reserved almost exclusively for the courts use. A number of workshops would have been working specifically on personal commissions for the shah which would have been appreciated within his palaces. Two such carpets are known to have been given in royal waqf to the great Shiite shrine of the Imam ‘Ali at Najf. 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 Nino Jesus in 1607-08, Thomas Herbert in 1627-8 and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1676.


The design of ‘Polonaise’ carpets saw a major departure from traditional Persian carpets. Until this point carpet designs adopted a single ground colour within the field, maybe another secondary colour within the medallion, or rarely, a reciprocal design of two colours for the border. The earliest Kashan silk and metal-thread carpets follow the same concept, with monochrome metal-thread fields (Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pls. 1242 &1243). Shortly after this the designers began using the irregularly shaped panels formed by the scrolling foliate arabesques to create individual fields, each of which was defined by a different ground colour, a technique already long established in manuscript illumination. The field design of this carpet demonstrates this feature very well, through a complex interlocking arrangement of forms each of different coloured silks and gold and silver metal-threads, overlaid with a fine lattice of leafy vine and arabesques.

A significant proportion of 'Polonaise' carpets made at the time, were gifted by the Shah as ambassadorial gifts to European royalty and nobility, foreign emissaries and leaders of trade delegations. They were hugely appreciated by the Baroque nobility of the 17th century courts, Louis XV apparently owned twenty five such rugs with precious silk and metal thread. The Polish royalty in particular held a deep fascination for such Persian works of art. Records show that in as early as 1584, King Stephen Bathory (r.1576-1586) acquired thirty-four Persian textiles, while in 1601 a group of eight Safavid silk carpets embellished with gold was ordered by Sigismund Vasa III of Poland for his daughter’s wedding, (Axel Langer, The Fascination of Persia, Zurich, 2013, p.121). These appear to have been delivered in 1602, some or all of which then passed by marriage into the Wittelsbach family and are now in the Residenz Museum in Munich. Further examples remain in noble European collections today such as those of the Swedish and Danish royal families, the Princes of Lichtenstein, the royal house of Savoy in Italy, the Duke of Buccleuch and the Papal collection in the Vatican.

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 Prince 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.8405). Visitors and journalists mistakenly concluded that these carpets had been woven in Poland and it wasn’t until after the exhibition had closed, that the true origin was discovered. The Polish attribution has persisted and continues to be used today.

In his thesis on the subject of 'Polonaise' carpets, Friedrich Spuhler, at that time, documented around 230 complete and fragmentary examples, from which he drew the conclusion that many of the rugs either show identical designs, or take sections of endless repeat patterns 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 of the carpets seem to belong to the same period. The present carpet falls under his System VII classification. Spuhler's dissertation published in 1968, was most probably completed prior to the Rothchild auction in Paris that same year, as the twelve 'Polonaise' in that collection, including the present lot, are not mentioned in his research, F. Spuhler, Siedene Reprasentationsteppiche der mittleren bis spaten Safawwidenzeit Die sog. Polenteppiche, dissertation, Berlin, 1968, pp.223-4.


Of the those examples that are preserved today, fifty-eight are recorded as pairs or matching, 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). The present carpet is one of such a pair. Its twin was acquired by Charles T. Yerkes (1837-1905), during the same period that Adolphe bought his. Yerkes was an American collector, philanthropist, and entrepreneur par excellence who, like many of the wealthy 19th century American tycoons, such as the Rockefellers and the Gettys, avidly collected an extensive and highly important collection that included paintings, sculpture and carpets. Yerkes’ collection was sold in 1910, after his death, through the American Art Association, New York, whereupon the twin to this rug was purchased by General Brayton Ives, only to be sold again via auction in 1915, to the copper baron and then senator, William A. Clark who later donated his collection to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The Corcoran de-acquisitioned the Clark collection of carpets, in which that 'Polonaise' appeared, Sotheby’s, New York, 5 June 2013, lot 7, although, it must be said, that by that stage it was a shadow of its former self, having worn considerably, retaining little of the extraordinary strength of colour that we see in the present example.

A comparison of the present carpet with its pair is interesting. Carpets woven as true pairs are normally woven side by side and therefore share the same or very similar structure and abrashes (changes of colour due to different dye batches) in the field. Both carpets have similar tonal abrashes within the green border but we can see from the displacement of the bands of red silk wefting in each, that it was unlikely that they were woven at the same time but were probably woven one after the other. A further 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), as well as another documented pair, one of which resides in the Palazzo del Principe, Genoa, while its pair recently sold at Christie’s, London, 1 April 2021, lot 129.

In 1900, Yerkes commissioned a private catalogue of hand drawn watercolours of each of his important carpets as a testament to his magnificent collection. The intention had been that a copy would be retained personally by Yerkes, with ten further volumes gifted to prominent museums and their curators. At the time of his death, in 1905, just one volume had been executed that contained seventeen hand coloured drawings of his most precious carpets, completed by selected female artists from the New York School of Applied Design, (Thomas J. Farnham, 'The Yerkes Collection', HALI, Issue 101, 1998, pp.74-87). That same unique, leather bound volume is offered in the present sale, which includes a hand painted watercolour of the pair to the Adolphe Rothschild 'Polonaise' (see lot 150, pl.7). From that watercolour, we can determine that, at the time, Yerkes’ carpet remained in the same remarkable condition as the present lot, except for the loss of its fringes at each end. It was therefore after the death of Yerkes, and the sale of his collection, when the carpet was neglected and allowed to become so worn. A record made by a researcher/scholar thirty years ago, notes that Yerkes had purchased this rug from the Parisian art dealer M. F. Schulz who sold numerous classical rugs in turn. The note continues that Schulz had acquired the rug from Prince Leopold of Bavaria (1846-1930), a member of the Wittelsbach family who were originally dukes and later kings of Bavaria. This is the same family who retain a number of Persian silk and metal thread weavings some on display in the Residenzmuseum in Munich. They in turn had received the majority of their Safavid silk carpets embellished with metal thread as part of the dowry of Anna Katarzyna Konstancja (1619-51), daughter of Zygmunt III Vasa of Poland who married Philipp Wilhelm von der Pfalz Wittelsbach (1615-90), Elector of Bavaria in 1642 (https://iranicaonline.org/articles/poland-ii-persian-art-in). The extraordinary condition of this pair, until the end of the 19th century, indicates that they had stayed together until then. The suggestion that they were part of the original Polish owned ‘Polonaise’ weavings that passed to the Wittelsbach before being sold in the late 19th century is tempting. For a fuller discussion on the personality and collection of Charles Yerkes see, T J.Farnham, op.cit. pp.74-87).

The taste for lavish and opulent works of art created under the patronage of Shah' Abbas the Great is epitomised within the present exquisite 'Polonaise' carpet. The preservation of colour within the shimmering silk pile, enhanced by the opulent use and technical mastery of the silver and gold metal-thread, similarly appealed to the wealthy collectors of the 19th century and encapsulates Le Goût Rothschild, which was synonymous with the most refined objects made by the greatest craftsmen.

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