The interplay of geometric forms is one of the leitmotifs of Mamluk Egyptian art. Over the two and a half centuries that the two branches of this dynasty were in power in Egypt, the geometry used in all art forms became ever more complex. The straightforward geometry based on the octagon, which was the staple of the early Mamluk period, developed through the fifteenth century to include ten-sided and twelve-sided forms with much more complicated forms in the surrounding areas. Such geometry is found in window grilles and wooden constructions including doors and minbars. It is included in stone mosaic floors, covering the exterior of domes in polychrome ceilings, on the "carpet pages" of qur'ans, and on bookcovers. What unites all these different milieu is the strapwork which forms the boundaries between the various forms, which also forms a pattern that is endlessly repeatable.
What is remarkable about the Mamluk carpets is that they follow very different geometry from the other materials. The patterns are certainly not infinitely repeatable; on the contrary they are almost always very strongly centralised. There is also no strapwork dividing the geometric forms, so that their divisions are less clear. Such strapwork is only found in the borders of two Mamluk carpets, one in the Bardini Collection (Boralevi, Alberto: Oriental Geometries - Stefano Bardini and the Antique Carpet, Livorno, 1999, p.27), the other formerly in the same collection but now missing (Ellis, Charles Grant: "Mysteries of the misplaced Mamluks", Textile Museum Journal, II, 2, December 1967, p.15, pl.21). Thus in almost all examples there is almost a deliberate ambiguity about which areas form the field and which form motifs. These carpets share a limited palette and an intricate, almost kaleidoscopic design created by the juxtaposition of colour and form instead of the clearly delineated designs found in most other carpets. The creation of a Mamluk carpet cartoon must have been a complex process indeed.
The present carpet exhibits these characteristics very clearly. It manages to combine the Mamluk geometry with the two-one-two arrangement of medallions known from much earlier weavings in completely different styles such as a 9th Century Egyptian textile sold in these Rooms (30 April 1982, lot 322). The corner medallions are very cleverly emphasised by the plain octagons around them, lifting them out of the complexity of their surroundings. Another feature which shows the influence of other weavings is the drawing of the arms of the very centre of the medallion. Each contains a knotted panel such as that used in the earliest stylised kufic borders in Turkish carpets (The Wind carpet, Christie's London, 20 October 1994, lot 519 for example).
A number of people have tried to establish a chronology within Mamluk carpets, but without complete success. The most comprehensive study still remains Kühnel, Ernst and Bellinger, Louisa: Cairene Rugs and Others Technically Related, Washington D.C., 1957. The construction of their designs makes comparisons with other art forms very difficult. It is generally accepted however that they were made in Cairo in the later 14th and first half of the fifteenth century, before the new designs created for the Ottomans in Istanbul put their complexity out of fashion (Kühnel, Ernst and Bellinger, Louisa: Cairene Rugs and Others Technically Related, Washington D.C., 1957).