The Eastern Carpet in the Western World

Oriental Rugs and Carpets, Part of Islamic Art Week London

Jan (Johannes) Vermeer (1632-1675), The Procuress, 1656 (oil on canvas)
Gemaeldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany, which depicts a very similar
medallion Ushak carpet to lot 96 in the present sale

Carpets and luxury textiles have been symbols of power, status and great wealth for millennia, but due to their use and relative fragility they have often not survived in great numbers. As a result the importance of paintings for our knowledge of early carpets cannot be overstated as they provide context for these weavings and allow us a glimpse into how they were traded, used and valued by their wealthy owners.

In 1271–1272 Marco Polo famously remarked that the best and most beautiful carpets in the world were made in Turkomania (Anatolia). Italian artists of the 14th century were the first to depict oriental carpets, the majority of which originate from Anatolia. The importance and status of these precious textiles is conveyed by the fact they were initially only found in depictions of religious scenes, often under the foot of the Virgin or as altar coverings.

By the 16th century carpets had become important inclusions in fashionable still lifes, portraits, and genre scenes reflecting the wealth and sophistication of the patron. It is interesting to note that in the 19th century when carpet scholarship was born, it was to the paintings of the Renaissance artists that the authors looked to in order to classify the different types of carpets. To this day a number of groups of early Turkish carpets are referred to by the names of the artists that depicted them, most famously the Lotto and Holbein rugs.

Islamic Art Week London runs from 8–11 April at Christie’s King Street and South Kensington.