Warps: cotton, Z spun 4 plied off-white,
Wefts: wool and cotton three passes, the first and third wefts are wool, 2 Z spun off-white, light pinkish-beige to brown, second weft 2 Z spun, blue-grey, grey-beige, blue and off-white.
Pile: mostly 2 Z spun, with the possiblity of a few 3 Z, Sw plied, asymmetric knot open to the left
Knot count: per square cm. ranges from 27.5 to 39, with most areas of the carpet around 36 knots per square cm.
Sides: later dark blue wool overcasting
Ends: later red wool blanket stitch
Colours: lac-red, rose-pink, fuschia-pink, apricot, taupe, oxidised walnut-brown, celadon-green, apple-green, forest-green, indigo, sapphire-blue, powder-blue, rust-orange, sandy-yellow, pale lemon-yellow, ivory, charcoal-black (17)
This previously unpublished and unrecorded Safavid fragment, until relatively recently, had remained in the same English collection for nearly a century. It is a significant section from a once truly magnificent Kirman ‘Vase’ carpet woven in the first half of the 17th century and is pivotal in our understanding of the overall scheme. It is a generous portion belonging to the upper left-hand section that includes a narrow strip of the bold indigo strapwork border and a substantial section of the upper central field that is filled with a complex three-plane lattice of floral trellis with a background of flowering vine, featuring two partial Chinese style vases on a crimson-red field.
The term 'Vase' was first coined following an exhibition organised by May Beattie in 1976, which highlighted a group of carpets with designs featuring stylised vases and which all shared a similar weaving technique. The term has since been used to signify all of those carpets woven in this manner and, whether their designs include vases or not, all are now referred to as such, (May H. Beattie, Birmingham, 1976, p.11). The structure of the 'Vase'-technique group is very unusual in having three passes of wefts after each row of knots. The first and third wefts are tautly pulled over the closely laid warps with the second weft being much thinner, mostly in natural colours, as seen on the present fragment, but also integrating occasional passes of different coloured wool. The use of fine silk for the second of the three wefts, denotes a carpet of the highest quality within the group. May Beattie suggests that it is not only finely drawn examples that are considered to be early in the canon of ‘Vase’-technique carpets but also those with particularly complex designs which would have required an excellent draughtsman who would likely have been working under court patronage during the reign of Shah 'Abbas the Great (1587-1629). Shah 'Abbas I was a great patron of the arts and had a deep appreciation for sumptuous textiles, silks and woven carpets, and production rapidly grew under his patronage with a number of workshops weaving simultaneously during the 17th century. A number of these would have been working directly for the shah, producing carpets which were specifically commissioned to be appreciated locally.
Including the present lot, a dozen carpet fragments from this same impressive carpet exist internationally in both private and institutional collections but which vary dramatically in size and condition. It was Ian Bennett who researched and traced the majority of these pieces and believed that they were all part of one impressive carpet which, when added together, would have measured approximately 1460cm. in length and 585cm. in width. While fragments survive from other seemingly enormous ‘Vase’ technique carpets, unfortunately there is not one complete carpet that is known to have survived intact.
The documented fragments of this carpet are housed in various institutions including, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Musée du Louvre, Paris (inv. no.10556), the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin, formerly in the Friedrich Sarre Collection, the Kunstindutriemuseet, Copenhagen, the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyons (inv.no.28.153), the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, formerly in the collection of Colonel Norman Colville which sold in these Rooms, 25 April 2002, lot 76 and the Alice de Rothschild fragment that sold in Christie’s London, 19 April, 2016, lot 100.
The present fragment aligns, through the apricot split-palmette in the upper right-hand corner, with the apricot palmette in the lower left-hand corner of the Rothschild section. The narrow segment of the border on the left hand side on our example is just sufficient to indicate that it aligns with the border section now in Copenhagen and the top left hand corner ajoins the field section of the fragment in the Louvre. In addition, through the horizontal tan and apricot abrash that splices the lower left-hand palmette on the present lot, we can confirm that our fragment is the opposing section of the carpet to that in the Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyon, which bears the same palmette with an identical abrash. The presence of a similarly decorated part-vase on the extreme left of our fragment and the extreme right of the Lyon section further demonstrates the twinned symmetry of the overall design.
The discovery of the Colville fragment, which sold in Christie’s London, crucially gives the resolution in the centre of the carpet. This is demonstrated by the main border design on the left of the fragment which shows the carpet to have had a specific design in the centre similar to the corner resolution. This feature, of a specific break in the centre of the otherwise flowing border design, is extremely rare in Safavid carpet design. The Rothschild fragment is key to our understanding of the overall design, in that it is the only one of the known fragments that clearly illustrates the symmetry of the design that is mirrored along the central vertical axis. Each huge bold polychrome palmette, flowering blossom and serrated leaf is harmoniously balanced with another on each side of the field. The bold indigo palmette that is placed at the centre sits on the primary blue stemmed lattice where the large-scale palmettes or flowerheads sit proudly upright. The discovery of this section and the Rothschild fragment illustrate how all of the fragments correspond proving further the unlikelihood that these fragments were once part of a pair of near identical large carpets rather than a single much larger carpet, a theory first considered by Christine Klose in 1999 at the International Conference on Oriental Carpets in Milan.
Interestingly, the condition of the present lot is very similar to that of the Rothschild fragment which was widely considered to be the best amongst all of the documented fragments to date. Much of the surface remains in impressively high pile with a soft-textured wool and a rich palette of colours, which are used in playful contrast with one another to create a hypnotic kaleidoscope of pattern. The notable absence of any known part of the central section of the carpet and the irregular shape of the Berlin section, may suggest that significant areas of the carpet were too heavily damaged to save. The present section is extremely fortunate in that it remains beautifully balanced in design and proportion and includes all of the salient aspects of the design, including not one but two vases where others have none. Through its complex design and skilful play of colour, the audience is transported to a garden of Paradise in which we are viewing a private enclosure that joins the realms of heaven and earth. This carpet fragment provides further evidence to support the theory that the weavers of Kirman in the 17th century were the most inventive and influential of all carpet designers in the history of the Persian carpet.