This rug belongs to the second major group of carpets attributed to Cairo and represents the union of two distinct cultures, namely the Mamluks and the Ottoman Turks, after the 1517 Ottoman conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate. While this rug's "S" (clockwise)-spun/"Z" (anti-clockwise)-plied wool and its limited palette link it to the earlier tradition of Mamluk carpets, its elaborate design is purely Ottoman Turkish. As with the Mamluk group, the Cairo attribution for these rugs has been contested in existing carpet literature, with some scholars believing them to be of Bursa or Istanbul production. It is generally accepted today that the earliest examples of the group were made in Cairo, adapting an Ottoman design aesthetic with traditional Mamluk materials and that either later or contemporaneous rugs with similar designs were woven in Turkey proper. The combination of Mamluk techniques and materials with Ottoman designs dates this group of rugs to after the 1517 conquest and their production most likely continued into the early seventeenth century (see Pinner, R. and Franses, M.: "East Mediterranean Carpets in the Victoria & Albert Museum," Hali, Vol. 4, no. 1, 1981, pp.39-40). The joining of these two artistic traditions has created weavings that are among the most elegant carpets surviving today.
As both Erdmann and Yetkin point out, the design of the present rug demonstrates an unusual characteristic of the relationship between field pattern and the medallions and corner spandrels sometimes seen in Ottoman carpets. Here the medallion and spandrels are superimposed on the endless repeating floral lattice of the field without any cohesion or allowance in the field design for the medallion/spandrel elements (see Erdmann, op. cit., p.50 and Yetkin, op. cit., pp.113-120).
The individual design elements of the medallion, field and border of this rug are fairly typical of the Ottoman Cairene repertoire and can be seen in different manifestations in several other examples, such as another rug formerly in the Bernheimer's possession (Erdmann: op. cit., no.131), a rug in the collection of Prince Paar, Vienna (Yetkin: op. cit., p.121, illus. 74) and a rug formerly in the collection of Susan and Lewis Manilow, sold Sotheby's New York, 7 April 1992, lot 86.
Similar to their Mamluk cousins, very few Ottoman Cairene rugs seem to have been depicted in Western paintings, perhaps because of their complex patterning and muted coloration. They were, however, extremely popular with European collectors in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and many Cairene rugs appear listed in European collection inventories of the period (see King, Donald and Sylvester, David: The Eastern Carpet in the Western World from the 15th to the 17th Century, London, 1983, p.79). The popularity of Ottoman Cairene has continued with Western collectors, in both Europe and the United States, from the early part of this century until today as demonstrated by their inclusion in most major carpet collections of this period.