A Safavid Waist Sash

Central Persia, Circa 1680-1700
442 x 60 cm

This remarkable Safavid waist sash, or patka, with woven borders is a superb example of the personal effects worn by men in the 17th century in Central Persia. In both the refinement of its fabric and design it is a masterpiece of the weaving arts and in remarkable condition considering its antiquity.

The delicacy of its patterned arrangement as well as its chromatic variations are truly breath-taking – five floral sprays, probably marigolds, are set within a rectangular golden register at both ends of the sash, rising from precisely ordered stems and leaves. Around this rectangular section, a row of interlocking floral motifs forms a fitting frame for their display.

Within the main ground of the sash, the ground is formed by a running series of horizontal bands where upright flowerheads in pale rose chromatic alternate with their inverted counterparts, separated by delicate, green lanceolate elements. These bands are themselves seen to alternate with bands where a row of more abstract floral designs are observed, all in the same pale rose chromatic. Between the bands, a slender separating trim of lavender tone serves as a resting place for the eyes.

Running along the two main borders of the sash is a border of alternating pale rose and vivid purple flowers, setting up a lyrical rhythm that is truly spellbinding. The overall magic of the sash is formed by the chromatic and geometric balance where form and colour take turns in seducing the eye and provide a segue for the next group of interlaced organic forms.

The patkas were wrapped two or three times around the wearer’s waist and tied with their ends hanging down in the front. Worn over jamas, the long robes typical of the time, they allowed men to display their wealth by tucking daggers, pencases, and other precious objects into the fabric. After being exported to Europe through the British military’s presence in colonial India, a modified version of the patka was worn in tuxedo sets, taking its name from the Hindustani and Persian term kamarband, which means ‘waist bound up’.

Fashions throughout the late Safavid period (1650–1722) differ from the cut and fit of earlier garments, reflecting changing tastes and ideas in Safavid society. Styles after 1650 reflect a dramatic shift toward tailored garments, possibly in emulation of European examples. Menswear evolved along similar lines, in that the outer robe became more fitted and often included a fur collar and a lining. The overall look for men in some cases was more elaborate than that of women, as male ostentation was considered more acceptable by cultural standards.

A comparable sash with woven borders is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, [Acc. No. 15.70.2].


Provenance: Private collection, UK, 1960s.

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