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Woven silk

Woven silk

  • Place of origin:

    Iran (probably, made)
    Turkey (possibly, made)
    Turkey (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    700-900 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pattern woven silk

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This patterned silk fragment with a blue ground and red, green and white pattern shows the fabulous creature, the sēnmurw, enclosed in a roundel of pearls. Part bird, part beast, the sēnmurw is a creation of Sasanian art, although it was derived from more ancient Babylonian and Assyrian cultures, as well as from the sea-horse of Greek art.

When the silk was acquired in 1893, it was said to have come from the tomb of a bishop in Verdun Cathedral, France. Exotic patterned silks were desired not only by European rulers but also reverently valued for use in Christian rituals, such as wrapping relics, and as vestments. Many examples of imported silks have survived in European church treasuries and tombs.

Physical description

Red, green and white sēnmurw silk on a dark blue ground. Main decoration formed by mirrored sēnmurws within a pearled roundel. A smaller circle surrounded by pearled dots and hosting a four-petal pattern links the sēnmurw roundel to another on each side. There appears to be a piece of red fabric still attached to the lower end of the fabric. Weft-faced compound twill with paired main warps, tightly z-spun and no apparent twist of weft. The roundels with sēnmurws are of different height. Old repairs, crude darning.

Place of Origin

Iran (probably, made)
Turkey (possibly, made)
Turkey (possibly, made)


700-900 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Pattern woven silk


Height: 36.5 cm, Width: 54.3 cm max

Object history note

Said to have come from the tomb of a bishop in Verdun.
The fragment consist of one larger fragment, proper right side, and then has been pieced together from several smaller and larger fragments from what appears to be the same fabric, except for the red piece of fabric at the bottom. They have all been glued on. It is a possible scenario that complete fragments were taken from the tomb and then pieced together and sold as a more complete piece.

Historical significance: This silk shows symbols related to Sasanian royal imagery, such as the pearled circle and the small crescent roundels.

Historical context note

Smaller scale polychrome sēnmurw silks have survived in greater numbers than the large scale version (8579-1863). No such silks have been found in Iran. Winged horses and winged lions were popular beasts in Sasanian mythology but the most striking was the sēnmurw. Part bird, part beast, the sēnmurw is a creation of Sasanian art, although it was derived from more ancient Babylonian and Assyrian cultures, as well as from the sea-horse of Greek art. When the Arabs conquered Iran they took over the Sasanid workshops and incorporated the existing repertoire of designs into their own silk weavings with little modification. The naturalism of Greek art had already, in the few remaining relics of the Sasanid dynasty, given way to a degree of stylisation which was further extended in Byzantine and, more particularly, Islamic textile arts. It is therefore not surprising to find a Sasanian sēnmurw on an Iranian Islamic silk a century or more later. Three figures (visiting ambassadors from the region south of Uzbekistan) on a painting in Afrasiab, an ancient city near Samarkand, wear costumes with Sasanian motifs, including the sēnmurw. The painting is dated to the late 7th century by a Sogdian inscription (Albaoum, L. I., Zhivolis Afrasiab, Tashkent 1975).

The correct Middle Persian (Pahlavi) form is sēnmurw. One would expect the final -w to become -v in New Persian, but in fact New Persian uses a different dialect form, sīmurγ (sīmurgh), so the form *sēnmurv does not actually occur; Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams (29/02/2012)

Descriptive line

Middle East, Textile. Fragment of polychrome patterned silk with sēnmurws, possibly Iran or Byzantium, 700-900

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

Sievernich, Gereon, and Budde, Hendrik, Europa und der Orient 800-1900 , Berlin, 1989. Catalogue of the exhibition, 28 May - 27 August, 1989. 923 p., ill. ISBN 3750048144. Catalogue entry 4/73 p587, Ill. 685
Falke, Otto, von, Kunstgeschichte der Seidenweberei, 2Bde., Berlin 1913-1921, Vol. I Ill. 91-95, Vol. II,p.11, Ill.236
Harper, Prudence Oliver, 'The Senmurv', in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin , N.S.20, 1961, pp. 95-101
Woolley, Linda, 'A medieval treasury: the figured silks in the Victoria & Albert Museum', in Hali (March/April, 1988), pp.20 -27




Patterned weave


Islam; Textiles


Middle East Section

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