AN EXCEPTIONAL LARGE SAFAVID FIGURAL VELVET PANEL
AN EXCEPTIONAL LARGE SAFAVID FIGURAL VELVET PANEL
AN EXCEPTIONAL LARGE SAFAVID FIGURAL VELVET PANEL
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AN EXCEPTIONAL LARGE SAFAVID FIGURAL VELVET PANEL
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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE ENGLISH COLLECTION
AN EXCEPTIONAL LARGE SAFAVID FIGURAL VELVET PANEL

IRAN, FIRST THIRD 17TH CENTURY

Details
AN EXCEPTIONAL LARGE SAFAVID FIGURAL VELVET PANEL
IRAN, FIRST THIRD 17TH CENTURY
Of rectangular form, the motif of mother and child standing by a cypress and a pomegranate tree repeated three times completely, the two upper thirds and the lower third of the figure showing at top and bottom, the mother figures wearing a pink, beige, deep blue or brown robe under a beige drape, the upper fragmentary figure with bright yellow drape, each wearing rows of necklaces and earrings of various colours, with an elaborate headdress adorned with leaves, the lips and toenails delicately coloured in pink, the child wearing yellow or beige coat with a small pendant medallion, the trees with strongly contrasting colours with brown branches, green and yellow leaves, blue, beige and yellow fruits and flowers, the foliage spreading to the entire ground, a crouching dog at the mother's feet and a leopard with contrasted blue, brown or white spotted coat, with remains of metal thread in places, four original fragments sewn together, areas of wear and discolouration
65 x 12 ¼in. (165 x 31cm.)
Provenance
Acquired from Spink & Son, London, 1987
Further details
Some countries prohibit or restrict the purchase and/or import of Iranian-origin property. Bidders must familiarise themselves with any laws or shipping restrictions that apply to them before bidding on these lots. For example, the USA prohibits dealings in and import of Iranian-origin “works of conventional craftsmanship” (such as carpets, textiles, decorative objects, and scientific instruments) without an appropriate licence. Christie’s has a general OFAC licence which, subject to compliance with certain conditions, would enable a buyer to import this type of lot into the USA. If you intend to use Christie’s licence, please contact us for further information before you bid.

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Lot Essay


This extraordinary panel is one of four that were apparently found together and were then sold, like this, through Spink & Son in London. One of the other panels, with only two figures, which retains very well preserved colours, is in the David Collection, Copenhagen (Inv. no. 1/1988; Kjeld von Folsach and Anne-Marie Kleblow Bernsted, Woven Treasures, Textiles from the World of Islam, Copenhagen, 1993, no.34, p.112; by Kjeld von Folsach Sultan, Shah and Great Moghul, Copenhagen, 1996, no.260, p.280; and Art from the World of Islam in the David Collection, Copenhagen 2001, no.665, p.389). Another smaller fragment, showing just the top half of the woman in a yellow drape, was sold at Bonhams, London, 8 April 2014, lot 60 (Francesca Galloway Islamic Courtly Textiles & Trade Goods 14th-19th century, London, 2011, no.5, pp.12-13).

There are a number of well-known Safavid velvets woven with elegant figures paired with flowering trees or floral sprays. The figures can be male, as in the famous coat gifted to Queen Christina of Sweden in 1644 and now in the Royal Armoury, Stockholm (Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl.1060 amongst many publications) or female (John Thompson, Silk, 13th to 18th centuries, Treasures from the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, Doha, 2004, no.8, pp.40-43; or a similar example in the Keir Collection published in Friedrich Spuhler, Islamic Carpets and Textiles in the Keir Collection, London, 1978, no.107, pp.182-3 and 187). These examples, and more, such as the Rosenborg velvets that obviously fall into the same group, a group attributed by Pope to Yazd, are typified by a feeling of considerable space around the elements of the design, with no major design element showing any hint of overlapping another. The figures are elongated, curving, very much in the style introduced first by Reza 'Abbasi in the early 17th century. A Safavid velvet panel depicting two figures, one with a dog, was sold at Sotheby's, Doha, 19 March 2009, lot 301. Another 17th century velvet depicting a lady with a dog is in the National Museum of India, New Delhi (inv. no. 56.29).

The present velvet is from a much smaller group, where the figures are more solidly proportioned, and there is clear design interaction between the figures and the surrounding vegetation. The design here is clearly on more than one plane, in contrast to Pope's "Yazd" group. One textile that shares these characteristics is the magnificent double panel of four repeats with two figures that was sold at Sotheby's in 1998 and is now in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, (Jon Thompson op.cit, no.7, pp.36-39). Another velvet that shares the same features, and which is noted by Folsach and Bernsted as being technically very similar to our panel, is one that depicts a standing lady wearing a thick cloak holding a wine cup and bottle. The best published example of this was with Bacri frères in Paris (Pope, op.cit, pl.1043); two further smaller panels of the same design, one of which belonged to Dr Albert Figdor, were exhibited in Munich in 1910 (Meisterwerke Muhammedanische Kunst, exhibition catalogue, Munich, 1910, pl.192), while a third very similar fragment is in the Textile Museum, Washington (Carole Bier (ed.), Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart, exhibition catalogue, Washington D.C., 1987, no.55, p.239). That textile is signed with the name "Abdullah", but we cannot be sure if that is the name of the weaver or if it indicates something else. The same name appears on a very varied group of textiles including one which is catalogued as first half 17th century, but where the turban style would indicate a later date (Bier, op.cit, no.22, p.179).

In her discussion of the "Abdullah" panel in the Textile Museum, Carol Bier comments on the European aspects of the depiction of the lady. This seems to be a feature of all the group. The Qatar panel and the smaller examples of that design are purely Persian in drawing and composition, but our panel, like the "Abdullah" velvet, shows obvious European influence. It is clear that it depicts a mother and child, but the identification with the Virgin Mary is not explicit. There is however a further velvet in the Palazzo Mocenigo, Fondazione Musei Civici, in Venice which dispels any doubt (Centro Studi di Storia del Tessuto inv. no. 37). Again there are two figures, but there one is a maidservant and the other is the nimbate Virgin Mary, very clearly suckling the infant Jesus who also has a flaming halo (Pope, op.cit, pl.1061B; for a different repeat from the same textile see Hali 104, May-June 1999, p.81). The composition is much more crowded than Pope's "Yazd" group but, unlike here, there is no overlap between the main design elements. That velvet panel is clearly recorded in the Venetian archives as having been presented to the Doge Marino Grimani by the visiting Persian mission sent by Shah 'Abbas in 1603. The European, or at least Christian, influence is there undisguised for everybody to see.

Beginning in 1603 Shah 'Abbas re-settled huge numbers of Armenians from their homes on the borders of Iran and Turkey. The reason for this was to decimate the buffer lands between the two countries and make them very inhospitable for any tempted Turkish army. While the rural Armenians were settled in the countryside, those from the cities, and particularly Julfa, were brought to Isfahan where they formed their own community, New Julfa (John Carswell, New Julfa, The Armenian churches and other buildings, Oxford, 1968, p.3). This new suburb of the city rapidly became a centre of its own culture, and it subsequently clearly affected certain artistic developments in the city. However in 1603, the year the Venice velvet was woven, New Julfa had not quite yet been set up. John Cartwright, who travelled to (Old) Julfa around 1600 wrote of the Armenians in his account published in 1611 as "a people rather given to the traffique of Silkes, and other sort of wares, whereby [the town of Julfa] waxeth rich and full of money"(John Cartwright, The Preacher's Travels to the East Indies, through Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Media, Hircania and Parthia", London, 1611, pp.35-36, quoted by Carswell, op.cit, p.73). It is not surprising that the Shah wanted to benefit from the proximity of the Armenian silk merchants by bringing them to Isfahan. Their wealth rapidly grew in the capital, the church of St James was founded in 1606, and 13 years later the church of Saint George was decorated with a cuerda seca tile panel, the technique popular throughout Isfahan for decorating public buildings, depicting the magi kneeling to the Virgin and child. As in our velvet, the figures are very solid, wearing thick robes and cloaks, not at all the slightly fay figures of Reza 'Abbasi and his followers.

We cannot be sure whether this outstanding very large velvet panel was woven in a Christian or Muslim context, or for which of these communities it was destined. It demonstrates however a beautifully balanced synergy between the Christian-inspired mother and child figures and the overlaid cypress and pomegranate tree that are such a part of the early Safavid decorative arts, especially in carpet and bookbinding design. It does so in an outstandingly complex technique with a very wide range of colours that demonstrate Safavid textile prowess at its best.

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