Shah 'Abbas, who moved his capital in 1598 from Qazvin to Isfahan, was known to have a particular liking for sumptuous silks and carpets. Production in Isfahan, which started under his patronage, rapidly grew, and there must at some stages in the seventeenth century have been a number of workshops weaving simultaneously. Some of these would have been working directly for the shah weaving carpets which were appreciated locally. Two carpets of this group are known to have been given in royal waqf to the great Shiite shrine of the Imam 'Ali at Najaf.
The opulence of the silk textiles and carpets in seventeenth-century Kashan and Isfahan was such that numbers of travellers there commented specifically on it. John Fryer in 1676 notes that Isfahan had special bazaars handling the sale of rugs "both woolen and silk, intermixed with Gold and Silver, very costly, which are the peculiar manufacture of this country (quoted by M.S. Dimand and J. Mailey, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, p. 59). Other travellers who commented on the silk weavings at this time in Kashan and Isfahan include Pater Florentino de Nio Jesus in 1607-8, Thomas Herbert in 1627-8 and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1676.
Sir John Chardin however, who visited Persia between 1666 and 1672, also noted that the workshops were also free, when they had time, to work for other patrons. A large proportion of the 'Polonaise' carpets made at the time ended up in Europe. Some were directly commissioned, such as a group of eight carpets ordered by Sigismund Vasa III of Poland in 1601, which appear to have been delivered in 1602, some or possibly all of which then passed by marriage into the Wittelsbach family and are now in the Residenz Museum in Munich. This group also includes a pair of silk kilims, worked in a technique similar to that in lot 189, which have the central arms of the king (D. Sylvester, D. King and J. Mills, The Eastern Carpet in the Western World, London, 1983, no. 73, pp. 95-6, illustrated in colour p. 44). Others were presented as diplomatic gifts by the shah such as one given to Marino Grimani, Doge of Venice, "to become part of the treasury" where it still remains, in 1603. This group of 'Polonaise' rugs, of which about 300 remain, has principally survived in European collections, many of them princely or noble. In addition to those already mentioned, further 'Polonaise' carpets came into this century in the collections of the Kings of Denmark, the Hapsburgs in Austria, the Czartoryskis in Poland, the Grand Dukes of Liechtenstein, and the royal house of Savoy in Italy.
The present rug is very unusual in its colour scheme. One larger example has been published with similar colouring, a carpet formerly with L. Bernheimer in Munich (A.U. Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl. 1248). The colour combination was, however, very popular in the borders of Polonaise carpets which often contain a meandering band which divides panels of these two colours. A pair of large Polonaise rugs, one formerly in the Widener Collection and now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the other formerly in the collection of Count Henry Skirmunt, demonstrate this border very well (A.U. Dilley and M.S. Dimand, Oriental Rugs and Carpets, New York, 1959, pl. XIV; A.U. Pope, op.cit., pl. 1249).
The somewhat more worn pair to this rug, formerly in the collection of the Paris branch of the Rothschild family, was sold in Paris, Palais Galliera, 28 March 1968, lot 102, illustrated in the catalogue in black and white, described as having a "fond rubis" and "bordure jaunetre" and measuring 215 x 144 cm. Another of identical field and border design, but with a "brilliant gold and silver field" and a "turquoise blue border" was in the V. & L. Benguiat Collection, sold American Art Association, Anderson Galleries Inc., New York, 22 November 1930, lot 733, also illustrated in the catalogue in black and white. The field design is clearly taken from the Isfahan rugs with in-and-out palmette designs, usually on a red ground, which were woven in the late sixteenth and seventeenth Centuries.
A technical analysis of this carpet is available on request