Please complete the form to email this item.

Carpet - The Ardabil Carpet

The Ardabil Carpet

  • Object:

    Carpet

  • Place of origin:

    Iran (made)

  • Date:

    1539-1540 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    The exact knot-count of the Ardabil carpet varies throughout its structure, as is typical, and the given count of 340 knots per inch (equivalent to 5,472/dm2) is therefore an average value. The Los Angeles Ardabil carpet in turn has been recorded to hold an average of 350 knots per square inch: the two carpets therefore have roughly the same knot-count. This near-parity supports the accepted proposal that the two carpets were woven by the same team at the same time.

  • Museum number:

    272-1893

  • Gallery location:

    Islamic Middle East, room 42, case 21

  • Download image

The Ardabil carpet is one of the largest and finest Islamic carpets in existence. It is also of great historical importance. It was commissioned as one of a pair by the ruler of Iran, Shah Tahmasp, for the shrine of his ancestor, Shaykh Safi al-Din, in the town of Ardabil in north-west Iran.

In a small panel at one end, the date of completion is given as the year 946 in the Muslim calendar, equivalent to 1539-40. The text includes the name of the man in charge of its production, Maqsud Kashani.

The carpet is remarkable for the beauty of its design and execution. It has a white silk warp and weft and the pile is knotted in wool in ten colours. The single huge composition that covers most of its surface is clearly defined against the dark-blue ground, and the details of the ornament - the complex blossoms and delicate tendrils - are rendered with great precision. This was due above all to the density of the knotting - there are an average of 5300 knots in every 10 square centimetres (340 knots per square inch).

Physical description

The Ardabil Carpet, medallion carpet, wool knotted pile on silk foundation, Safavid Iran, dated 946H, 1539-40.
Warp: white silk; Z2S; depressed; 126 threads per dm (32 per in)
Weft: white silk; unable to ascertain spin, ply, twist; 3 shoots of paired threads after each row of knots; 78 knots per dm (19 per in)
Pile: wool; 10 colours: dark red, red, light red, yellow, green, dark blue, blue, light blue, black, white; asymmetrical knot open to the left; 5300 knots per sq. dm (340 per sq. in)
Side and End Finishes: missing
Design: Field: dark blue ground with yellow central medallion with 16 satellite ovals. Above and below are suspended red lamps, one larger than the other. Each corner has one quarter of a medallion; the rest of the field has a rich scattering of blossoms.
Main border: blue ground with red cartouches separated by large green rosettes.
Inner border: cream ground with floral meander.
Outer border: red ground with double meander.

Place of Origin

Iran (made)

Date

1539-1540 (made)

Artist/maker

unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

The exact knot-count of the Ardabil carpet varies throughout its structure, as is typical, and the given count of 340 knots per inch (equivalent to 5,472/dm2) is therefore an average value. The Los Angeles Ardabil carpet in turn has been recorded to hold an average of 350 knots per square inch: the two carpets therefore have roughly the same knot-count. This near-parity supports the accepted proposal that the two carpets were woven by the same team at the same time.

Marks and inscriptions

جز استان توام در جهان پناهی نیست
سرمرا بجز این در حواله گاهی نیست
عمل بنده درگاه مقصود کاشانی
946
Except for thy haven, there is no place for me in this world.
Other than here, there is no place for my head.
The work of a servant of the court, Maqsud of Kashan.

Dimensions

Width: 530 cm non-inscription end, Width: 529.5 cm middle, Width: 535.5 cm inscription end, Length: 1032.5 cm left side looking from inscription end, Length: 1044 cm middle, Length: 1031 cm right side looking from inscription end

Object history note

Purchased in 1893 from Messrs. Vincent Robinson & Co. Ltd., 34 Wigmore Street, London. Robinson's in turn had purchased the carpet from Ziegler's of Manchester, a trading firm with offices in both Tabriz and Sultanabad (modern Arak) in Iran: Ziegler's bought the carpet in 1888 from the shrine of Shaykh Safi in Ardabil, repairing it heavily. In 1889-90, the shrine authorities completed new restoration works on the earthquake-damaged buildings of the complex: arguably, the carpet was originally sold in order to fund this renovation. By 1892, the Ardabil Carpet was on display in Vincent Robinson's showroom.

The Museum first learned of the Ardabil Carpet from John Edward Taylor, a wealthy private collector (and sole owner of the Manchester Guardian), who brought it to the Director's attention over the summer of 1892. In January 1893, the institution offered to pay £1,500 to acquire the carpet. Further funds were still needed to reach an offer acceptable to Edward Stebbing, the managing director at Vincent Robinson's, however, and Taylor volunteered to raise the required sum through a group of private donors. By March of 1893, there were still insufficient funds, and after some consultation with art referees William Morris and Frederic Lord Leighton, the Museum decided to increase the initial proposed spend to £1,750 for the Ardabil Carpet. This was accepted by Vincent Robinson's, and the sale went ahead, with further payments expected from Taylor (who had guaranteed £250) and others. The private donors recorded in the Museum's documentation include Taylor, Morris (who offered to contribute £20), A.W. Frank, E. Steinkopff, "and other gentlemen" (V&A accession register).

At the time of its purchase by the South Kensington Museum, the Ardabil Carpet was discussed with enthusiasm as a unique object. However it was woven as a pair, both of which were sourced from the Ardabil shrine, and in 1892 Vincent Robinson sold the twin abroad to the American tycoon Charles Tyson Yerkes for $80,000, apparently on condition that the carpet should not return to Britain. From the Yerkes collection, this second Ardabil Carpet was sold on to Joseph Raphael De Lamar, then to the art dealer Joseph Duveen, and finally in 1938 to John Paul Getty, who donated it in 1953 to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where it remains today (museum number 53.50.2).

Descriptive line

Medallion carpet known as the 'Ardabil Carpet', wool pile on silk foundation, design of central medallion with two hanging lamps, Safavid Iran, dated 946H, 1539-1540

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Sheila S. Blair, "Proclaiming Sovereignty: The Ardabil Carpets", in Text and Image in Medieval Persian Art (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014) pp.228-282.
Lynda Hillyer and Boris Pretzel, "The Ardabil carpet - a new perspective", V&A Conservation Journa (2005) 49 pp.11-13.
Walter Denny, "Anatolia, Tabriz, and the Carpet Design Revolution", Carpets and Textiles in the Iranian World 1400-1700, (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003) pp.58-71.
For discussion of the knot count variation and the use of paper cartoons in design transfer, see pp.66-70.
Jennifer Wearden, Oriental Carpets and their Structure (London: V&A, 2003) pp.26, 127.
Sheila S. Blair, "The Ardabil Carpets in Context", in Andrew J. Newman (ed.), Society and Culture in the Early Modern Middle East, Studies on Iran in the Safavid Period (Boston: Brill, 2003) pp.125-143.
Jon Thompson, "Early Safavid Carpets and Textiles", in Sheila Canby and Jon Thompson (eds.), Hunt for Paradise. Court Arts of Safavid Iran 1501-1576 (Milan: Skira, 2003) pp.271-317.
"Irregularities [in early Safavid carpet design] are so numerous and so widespread that one can be certain that the weavers were not counting the squares on a knot-plan, but were following shapes. In other words, the weavers were using a drawing or cartoon as their guide. [...] When a carpet was commissioned to be made for the [Safavid] court it would have been perfectly possible for an artist from the kitabkhaneh to have been called on to provide the design. [...] During the reign of Shah Tahmasp, the influence of the royal <i>kitabkhaneh</i> in the design of carpets is easy to identify. [...] In practice weaving a carpet design accurately from a drawing is much more difficult that using a knot plan on squared-paper and requires skill of a high level."
Sheila S. Blair, "Texts, Inscriptions, and the Ardabil Carpets", in Kambiz Eslami (ed.), Iran and Iranian Studies. Essays in Honor of Iraj Afshahr (Princeton NJ: Zagros, 1998) pp.137-147.
Donald King, "The Ardabil Puzzle Unravelled", HALI 88 (1996) pp.88-92.
Jennifer Wearden, "The Surprising Geometry of the Ardabil Carpet", Ars Textrina 24 (1995) pp.61-66.
Jennifer Wearden, "The Ardabil Carpet, The Early Repairs", HALI 80 (1995) pp.102-107.
Annette Ittig, "Historian's Choice: The Victoria & Albert Museum's 'Ardabil' Carpet", HALI 69 (1993) pp.81-83.
Martin E. Weaver, "The Ardabil Puzzle", The Textile Museumf Journal 23 (1984) pp.43-51.
Alexander H. Morton, "Carpets at Ardabil in the 18th century", Oriental Art 23/4 (Winter 1977) pp.470-471.
Alexander H. Morton, "The Ardabil Shrine in the Reign of Shah Tahmasp I", Iran, British Institute of Persian Studies, 12 (1974) pp.31-64, followed by "The Ardabil Shrine in the Reign of Shah Tahmasp II", Iran, 13 (1975) pp.39-58.
Rexford Stead, The Ardabil Carpets (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1974).
Kurt Erdmann, "The 'Holy' Carpet of Ardabil", in Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets (London: Faber&Faber, 1970) pp.29-32.
A. Cecil Edwards, The Persian Carpet. A Survey of the Carpet-Weaving Industry of Persia (London: Duckworth, 1953) pp.8-13.
Edward Stebbing, The Holy Carpet of the Mosque at Ardebil (London: 1892)
The second chapter of this short publication reproduces "a paper ['Persian Carpets'] read at the Meeting of the Art Workers' Guild, December, 1891". Intended to drum up customer interest, the book accompanied the display of 23 carpets, including the Ardabil Carpet, in the salesrooms of Vincent Robinson's & Co.: "...a carpet from the Mosque at Ardebil, of extraordinary and exceptional value, having come into the hands of the above mentioned firm, it has been thought that a wider circle should be invited to inspect this and the other specimens referred to, before their inevitable dispersal in the ordinary course of trade."
W.R. Holmes, Sketches on the Shores of the Caspian (London: 1845) pp.38-40.
[On entering the ruined Jannat-saray building at the Ardabil Shrine:] "On the floor were the faded remains of what was once a very splendid carpet, the manufacture of which very much surpassed that of the present day. At one extremity was woven the date of its make, some three hundred years ago."

Labels and date

The Ardabil Carpet

To preserve its colours, the Ardabil carpet in the centre of the gallery is lit for ten minutes on the hour and half-hour.

The Ardabil carpet is one of the largest and finest Islamic carpets in existence. It is also of great historical importance. It was commissioned as one of a pair by the ruler of Iran, Shah Tahmasp, for the shrine of his ancestor, Shaykh Safi al-Din, in the town of Ardabil in north-west Iran.

In a small panel at one end, the date of completion is given as the year 946 in the Muslim calendar, equivalent to 1539-40. The text includes the name of the man in charge of its production, Maqsud Kashani.

The carpet is remarkable for the beauty of its design and execution. It has a white silk warp and weft and the pile is knotted in wool in ten colours. The single huge composition that covers most of its surface is clearly defined against the dark-blue ground, and the details of the ornament - the complex blossoms and delicate tendrils - are rendered with great precision. This was due above all to the density of the knotting - there are 5,300 knots in every 10 square centimetres (340 knots per square inch).

Museum no. 272-1893 [20/07/2006]
First Wall Panel

THE ARDABIL CARPET
PERSIAN, dated 946AH (1539-40AD)

This is the most famous carpet in the Museum and is one of a pair said to have been used in the complex of shrines and mosques at Ardabil, which was the burial place of the founder of the Safavid dynasty, Shaikh Safi al-Din.There is a dated inscription in the white panel at one end which reads:

Except for thy haven, there is no refuge for me in this world.
Other than here, there is no place for my head.
The work of a servant of the Court, Maqsud of Kashan, 946

The first two lines are from a verse written by the 14th century poet Hafiz. It is not known who Maqsud of Kashan was but it is possible he was the designer. It is not known for certain who commissioned these carpets nor where they were woven, but the fact it would have taken about 4 years to weave the pair and this would have been reflected in the cost, suggest it was a royal commission. Medallion designs of this type are usually associated with Tabriz in north-west Persia.

The pair to this carpet is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inv.no. 53.30.2); pieces were taken from it to repair the border of this carpet (see diagram below) before both were sold in the early 1890s.

Technical details:
Size: 34'6" x 17'6"
Warp: cream or undyed silk; average of 35 threads per inch.
Weft: cream or undyed silk; 3 paired shoots after each row of knots.
Pile: wool; asymmetrical knot; 340 knots per square inch.

The carpet was purchased by the Museum with the help of a public subscription. Please see the wall panel on the opposite side of the carpet for information about the design.

Second Wall Panel
THE ARDABIL CARPET
PERSIAN, dated 946AH (1539-40AD)
The ground of the Ardabil is covered with a dense mass of swirling vegetation which consists of two layers of spiralling stems, one placed on top of the other. There is one pattern of thick stems with leaves (diagram 1) overlaying a pattern of thinner stems with blossoms and leaves (diagram 2).

The deliberate difference in the size of the lamps and of the oval pendants nearest to them on the central medallion was an attempt to counter the optical effects of foreshortening and diminution which would apply to a carpet of this length. The designer of the Ardabil Carpet knew exactly how it would be used: the dignitaries would be seated on the carpet or on low cushions at the end where weaving had begun, that is at the end with the smaller lamp. From here they would be looking against the pile and so would more easily appreciate its colours and to them both the lamps and their corresponding oval pendants would appear to be the same size.

Please see the wall panel on the opposite side of the carpet for information about technique and repairs.
272-1893 [05/07/1998]

Production Note

The carpet is one of a matching pair, which originally lay together in the Safavid shrine at Ardabil, northwestern Iran. Only partially intact, the otherwise identical second carpet is now in Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Fragments from both carpets also exist in public and private collections.

Materials

Silk; Wool

Techniques

Knotted pile

Subjects depicted

Stylized flowers; Medallions

Categories

Textiles; Floor coverings

Collection code

MES

Download image
Qr_O54307
Ajax-loader