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Carpet - The Ardabil Carpet

The Ardabil Carpet

  • Object:

    Carpet

  • Place of origin:

    Iran (made)

  • Date:

    1539-1540 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (Maqsud Kashani is named on the carpet's inscription, along with the date of 946H., production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Hand knotted woollen pile, on silk warp and weft; asymmetrical knot, open to the left; average of 340 knots per sq. in (average of 5300 per sq. dm)

  • Museum number:

    272-1893

  • Gallery location:

    Islamic Middle East, room 42, case 21

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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 946 AH, 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 (Maqsud Kashani is named on the carpet's inscription, along with the date of 946H., production)

Materials and Techniques

Hand knotted woollen pile, on silk warp and weft; asymmetrical knot, open to the left; average of 340 knots per sq. in (average of 5300 per sq. dm)

Marks and inscriptions

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 from Messrs. Vincent Robinson & Co. Ltd., 34 Wigmore Street, London. After some consultation, the Museum decided to increase their initial proposed spend from £1,500 to £1,750 for the carpet. Further funds were still needed to cover the cost. £750 was eventually raised by a group of private donors, headed by J.E. Taylor, the man who had initially brought the carpet to the museum's attention.

Historical context note

This very large carpet looks as if the design should be one quarter of the whole, reflected horizontally and vertically to form the complete rectangle, but the design is actually one long half, reflected across the vertical axis. The fact that some of the small ogival medallions clustered around the lower corners and around the central medallion are noticeably distorted suggests that a sketch was used for most of the design while a cartoon was used for the detailed interlocking motifs in the yellow medallion. The combination of sketch and cartoon was common in 16th century Persian medallion carpets.
Note the abrash, the colour difference caused by different dye batches, in the yellow of the central medallion.

Descriptive line

Medallion carpet known as "the Ardabil Carpet", wool pile on silk foundation, Safavid Iran, dated 946H, 1539-1540

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

R. W. Ferrier (ed), The Arts of Persia, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1989. 334p., ill. ISBN 3-8041-801-06230-8 Ch.8, pl.4. K. Erdmann, Oriental Carpets (Sussex: The Crosby Press 1976): 32, 36, pl. 64. W. Von Bode & E. Kuhnel, Antique Rugs from the Near East (London: G. Bell 1970): 92, 94, ill. 61. A. C. Edwards, The Persian Carpet (London: Duckworth 1953): 8-11, 13.
The Ardabil Carpets in Context, Blair S.S.,Society and Culture in the Early Modern Middle East, Studies on Iran in the Safavid Period. , Brill, Boston, 2003
Anatolia, Tabriz, and the Carpet Design Revolution, Denny W., Carpets and Textiles in the Iranian World 1400-1700, Ashmolean Museum, oxford, 2003
Sixteenth-century Iran: The Early Safavid Period, Thomson, J. Milestones in the History of Carpets, 2006
The Ardabil Puzzle Unravelled, King D. Persian Classical Carpets, Hali 88, pp.88
The Ardabil Carpet, The Early Repairs, Weardon, J, Persian Classical Carpets, Hali 80, pp.103
The Ardabil carpet - a new perspective, Hillyer, L., Pretzel, B., V & A Conservation Journal, No. 49
Historian's Choice: The Victoria & Albert Museum's 'Ardabil' Carpet, Ittig, A. , Hali 69, pp.81
The Ardabil Shrine in the Reign of Shah Tahmasp I, Morton, A.H., British Institute of Persian Studies, Iran, Vol. 12 (1974) pp.31-64
The Ardabil Carpets, Stead, R., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, 1974

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 lay in the Safavid shrine at Ardabil, northwestern Iran. The second carpet is now in Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Materials

Silk; Wool

Techniques

Knotted pile

Subjects depicted

Stylized flowers; Medallions

Categories

Textiles; Floor coverings

Collection code

MES

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