Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

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 (made)

  • 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, The Jameel Gallery, case 21

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 (made)

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

Joz āstān-e to-am dar jahān panāh-ī nīst
Sar-e marā be-joz īn dar ḥawāla-gāh-ī nīst
ʿAmal-e banda-ye dargāh Maqṣūd Kāšānī
sana 946.
Except for thy threshold, there is no refuge for me in all the world.
Except for this door, there is no resting-place for my head.

The work of a servant of the court, Maqsud of Kashan.
The inscription is knotted into a white-ground panel at one end of the field. Written in nastaliq script, the first two lines are Persian verses quoting the poet Hafiz, while the third line takes the form of a signature, giving the name Maqsud Kashani ("of Kashan") and the date 946H.

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 the art-import firm Vincent J. 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 (directly or indirectly, through Tabriz-based carpet dealer Hildebrand Stevens) 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 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 so 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 two influential Art Referees William Morris and Frederic Leighton, the Museum decided to increase the initial proposed spend to £1,750 for the Ardabil Carpet. This was accepted by Stebbing and the sale went ahead, with further payments expected from Taylor (who had guaranteed £250) and others. The private donors noted 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 together with a second carpet, as a matching pair. Both 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 (LACMA museum number 53.50.2).

Historical context note

The Ardabil Carpet is one of the world’s most celebrated carpets, woven in 1539-40 for the Safavid dynasty in Iran. It is a magnificent example of courtly design, as well as weaving technology, and has a remarkable significance for Safavid dynastic kingship. Together with its twin (today in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), the carpet was produced for the ancestral shrine of the Safavid shahs, the pious foundation built around the tomb of Shaykh Safi al-Din (d.1334), in Ardabil, northwestern Iran. At the time when these two carpets were commissioned, Safavid shah Tahmasp (r.1524-1577) was completing a significant expansion to the shrine complex, with new buildings allowing for greater emphasis on his dynasty’s right to kingship. Cementing the Safavids’ very recent conquest over Iran (led by Tahmasp’s father Isma`il), this kingship was also claimed as a moral entitlement, thanks to direct descent from their saintly ancestor, Shaykh Safi. Under Tahmasp, the Safavids further claimed their family bloodline went back to the Shi`a Imams and ultimately to the Prophet himself. This sacred lineage made the shrine of Ardabil very important as a basis of Safavid royal entitlement, which explains why Tahmasp expanded the complex with such splendour. Based in the capital of Tabriz, Safavid court culture also emphasised the dynasty’s magnificence through the visual arts, with an extraordinarily beautiful and complex design tradition produced for the arts of the book and other media. The specific design of the Ardabil Carpet therefore, in its complex design, iconography and site-specific format, confirm a Safavid message of kingly magnificence, pious charity, and divine grace.
The Ardabil Carpet has a medallion design: the main field has a bold central medallion (also called a shamsa) radiating oval pendants. Quarter versions of this medallion are repeated in the four corners of the main field. Along the central axis of the carpet, two hanging lamps are depicted: representing divine light, these lamps refer to the Safavid dynasty’s claim to direct descent from the Prophet, whose holy nature is often described in terms of light (or Nur-Muhammadi). The backdrop of the main field is an extraordinary performance of Safavid court design: there are two independent systems of spiralling leafy plant scrolls, laid one above the other, one with dark red stems, the other with thinner cream stems, all against a dark blue ground. The main border is a series of lobed cartouches, each containing designs of cloudbands and lotus flowers. Beautiful and complex design motifs such as these were also produced for manuscript illumination and bookbinding, and many other media, in the Safavid period.
As noted above, the Ardabil Carpet at the V&A has a twin, which is now in a museum in Los Angeles. It is important to think of the V&A’s carpet as part of a twin commission, designed for the Safavid shrine estate. Measuring approximately 10m each in length and 5m in width, the two carpets were designed to lie side by side, perfectly occupying a square space under the dome of the Jannat-sara, one of the new buildings completed by Shah Tahmasp at the shrine. This grand chamber would certainly have been used by Tahmasp in 1544 as a royal reception hall, when he invited the exiled Mughal emperor Humayun to visit the royal shrine. Both of these men loved the arts. As is well documented, Humayun was deeply taken by the court arts of Iran, and he would return to India with a number of Safavid court artists in his entourage. The impact of Humayun’s visit to Ardabil, when he walked over the twin carpets, may have contributed to that lasting impression.

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 Journal (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.
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.
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 Museum 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)
W.R. Holmes, Sketches on the Shores of the Caspian (London: 1845) pp.38-40.
Keith Edward Abbott, Narrative of a Journey from Tabreez Along the Shores of the Caspian Sea, to Tehran (1843): National Archives FO251/40.
"An Extraordinary Carpet", The Times (26 May 1892) p.5.
Kishwar Rizvi, The Safavid Dynastic Shrine: Architecture, Religion and Power in Early Modern Iran (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011).
Moya Carey, Persian Art. Collecting the Arts of Iran for the V&A (London: V&A, 2018) pp. 174-181.

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

Wool; Silk

Techniques

Knotted pile

Subjects depicted

Medallions; Stylized flowers

Categories

Textiles; Floor coverings

Collection

Middle East Section

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.

We need your help

Hello. We are working to improve our collections online and would like to understand better how our visitors use our site. Please could you spare two minutes to answer some questions?
Take the survey
No thanks. Continue to the V&A website