Fragment from an Isfahan, 'In and Out Palmette' carpet

Probably Qazvin, Central Persia
Circa 1565-1585
Wool pile on silk warps and cotton wefts
73.5 x 38 cm

This important 16th century fragment from an Isfahan ‘In and Out Palmette’ carpet is a major accomplishment of the weaving arts. With its tight, masterful design, it is a quintessential achievement of centuries of abstraction in weaving and drawing. Furthermore, the carpet provides a glimpse into the world of royal patronage and refinement in a group of carpets believed to have been woven in Isfahan during the Safavid dynasty (1502-1732) and most likely during the reign of Shah Abbas the Great (1587-1629).

The richly coloured fragment, with its complex, layered design of spiralling tendrils terminating in palmettes, belongs to the red ground, so-called “spiral-vine” or “in and out palmette.” The flowering, swirling vines are supported by sinuous cloud bands and what appear to be birds, in pairs, of varying plumage.

The earliest examples of the spiral-vine carpets are characterized by the use of silk in the foundation, an unusually wide variety of colours and superbly delineated drawing, as in the present example. The ‘cloud band’ motif in carpets itself traces its history back to the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) and subsequently to the Persian court carpets of the time of Shah Abbas, from when it continued to the end of the 18th century.

The shaded raspberry-red field with scrolling tendrils linking palmettes, floral sprays and cloud band motifs are rendered in a counterposed design, and bold palmettes are linked by angular flowering tendrils between ivory flowering vines and raspberry-red linked leaves and flowerheads; the delicate drawing of the spiralling tendrils remains clear and allows the design to remain fluid in its movement. The vivid colour and remarkable state of preservation of the fragment attests to its having been a treasured object for over 400 years.

The fragment is emblematic of the sense of refinement and attention to great design exercised in the weaving studios of Isfahan. The best-known carpets belonging to this early group are the pair of “Emperors’ Carpets” with one example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the other in the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. This example comes from an important Florentine collection, the source of other important carpets that have furnished great merchants’ homes and palaces such as the Palazzo Pitti and the Palazzo Corsini, both in Florence.


Provenance: Private European collection, 1960s.

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