Since the production of carpets in Europe, with the exception of Spain, was limited before the 16th century, there was an active demand for carpets imported from the East. The needlepoint offered here, most likely woven in Arraiolos, Portugal, is an example of a successful Western interpretation of the Eastern vernacular, specifically the Anatolian small-pattern Holbein design. European weavers began to draw heavily upon Eastern carpet designs including, Lotto, Cariene and both large and small-pattern Holbein. An example of a 15th century Spanish carpet also with the small-pattern Holbein design is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Yetkin, S., Historical Turkish Carpets, Istanbul, 1981, fig. 29, p.59) and illustrates how early the influence of Anatolian carpets began in Spain.
The design of the present lot is highly unusual, and although it is immediately recognizable as a small-pattern Holbein carpet, it has introduced a third medallion of octagonal form within the field, for which there is no comparable published example. Strangely, the addition of this motif does not in anyway impede the design but instead appears to ricochet away from the other rotating repetitive medallions, settling comfortably within what appears to be a previously unoccupied space One cannot be sure if this rare addition is purely idiosyncrasy, or if it was copying a rare variant that unfortunately no longer appears to survive. The alternating colors in the strap work border and within each enclosed star adds a further unconventional rhythm.
While small-pattern Holbein carpets usually have a characteristic deep red field, the carpet here has faded on the face to a dusty straw color, but the color on the reverse appears a very pale salmon-pink. As with many Spanish carpets of the 16th and 17th centuries with salmon-red backgrounds, it appears that the same red colors in Arraiolos weavings faded over the years due to the loss of traditional dyeing skills (Sherrill, S., Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1996, p.45).