This rug is one of a group which are generally attributed to Cairo once it had become part of the Ottoman Empire following the defeat of the Mamluks in 1517. Technically they are almost indistinguishable from their Mamluk predecessors both in construction and colouring. Their designs are however completely Ottoman, implying a direct artistic input from Constantinople. A couple of extra colours are introduced, notably a light blue tone which increases the contrast within the design. Three rugs which can probably be considered as the earliest of the group combine Ottoman designs with a pure Mamluk structure and colouring (for references see the entry under the rug of this group in the Bernheimer Family Collection of Carpets sold in these Rooms 14 February 1996, lot 99). This intermediate group argues against the theory that these rugs are the products of the Egyptian weavers imported together with their yarns to Constantinople by Sultan Murad III in 1585, as does the fact that on stylistic grounds many of their designs, as here, are dateable to before this.
Within the Cairene group there is considerable variance of quality with many, and particularly many of those of larger format, considerably lacking in finesse. The Cairene rugs are differentiated in most of the literature from the rugs with very similar designs and colouring which are on silk foundations and which contain cotton in the pile which are thought to have been manufactured in Turkey. For brief discussions of the group see Ernst Kühnel and Louisa Bellinger, Cairene Rugs and those technically related, 15th-17th Century, Washington D.C., 1957, pp.41-64; Robert Pinner and Michael Franses, 'East Mediterranean Carpets in the Victoria and Albert Museum', Hali, vol.4, no.1, 1981, pp.39-40; and Walter Denny, 'The Origin and Development of Ottoman Court Carpets', Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, London, 1986, pp.243-259.
This rug is unusually finely knotted for one of this group; the accuracy of the design implies a cartoon supplied by the Imperial nakkashhane in Constantinople. The use of such cartoons is well established in the fields of textiles and pottery (Walter Denny, 'Textiles', in Yanni Petsopoulos (ed.), Tulips, Arabesques and Turbans, London, 1982, pp.125 and 126; and Walter Denny, 'Turkish Ceramics and Turkish Painting' in Essays in Islamic Art and Architecture in Honour of Katharina Otto-Dorn, Malibu, 1981, pp.29-35). Precisely the same design elements as are seen here can also be found in drawings and tile revetments of the mid-sixteenth century. Most notable is the scrolling saz leaf lying across a palmette, half of which shows to one side of the leaf. This can be seen in many of the drawings in album H.2147 in the Topkapi Palace (Esin Atil, The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, exhibition catalogue, Washington, 1987, pls. 45a-d) amongst others. It can also be found in the tilework of the mosque of Rustem Pasha dateable to 1561 (Tahsin Öz, Turkish Ceramics, Istanbul, n.d. pl.XLII) and on the magnificent massive tiles in the façade of the Sünnet Odasi in the Topkapi Palace dateable to circa 1550 (Oktay Aslanapa, Turkish Art and Architecture, London, 1971, pl.VI). In rugs and carpets, with the exception of the group attributed to Bursa (Kühnel and Bellinger, op.cit., pp.57-64) however the execution is rarely good enough, in contrast to that of the present rug, to indicate a commissioning cartoon.