Masterpiece Persian Carpets
Plate One

Plate Three & Four

Plate Eight

Plate Ten

Plate Twelve

Plate Fourteen

Plate Sixteen & Seventeen

Plate Nineteen

Plate Twenty-One

Plate Twenty-Three

Plate Twenty-Six

Plate Twenty-Eight

Plate Thirty
Plate Two

Plate Five, Six & Seven

Plate Nine

Plate Eleven

Plate Thirteen

Plate Fifteen

Plate Eighteen

Plate Twenty

Plate Twenty-Two

Plate Twenty-Four

Plate Twenty-Seven

Plate Twenty-Nine

Plate Thirty-One & Thirty-Two

The Safavid family had a completely different background than the Timurids. The founder of the dynasty, Shaikh Safi-al Din was born around 1252 in Azerbaijan , probably of Kurdish stock. Like the majority of people in Persia at the time he would have been orthodox Sunni but interestingly enough he went on to found a Sufi order. From the beginning it was centered in Ardabil , though that city was controlled at the time by the il-Khanid Mongols, the last of whom were Shia adherents.

This Sufi sect played an important mediatory role in Persian history and Safi-al Din's death in 1334 coincided with the disintegration of the Mongol rule. Thereafter the group attracted followers from all over the Middle East . Tamerlane spared Ardabil and the Shrine flourished figure 7.

At the end of the 14th century Safavid propaganda took on a distinct Shia flavor and the movement became increasingly interested in temporal power. They thought nothing of aligning themselves with the Sunni Ak-Koyunlu Turcoman. A complex and probably spurious hagiography made them Sayyids, descended directly from the prophet, but the last Shaikhs of the lineage enjoyed a rigorous military upbringing.

Various close calls nearly swept the family from history but they triumphed in 1501, when Ismail the First had himself proclaimed Shah-in-Shah at Tabriz . He was 14 years old at the time. The young Ismail had been in hiding all his life, having already survived an assassination attempt. He was presented as the Imam, a Mahdi-like figure who had come to sweep away the woes of an ailing country.

His first act was the imposition of Shi'ism as the State religion, which emphasized the power of the Safi clan and at the same time distanced the country from their Sunni neighbours, the Ottomans and Timurids. This political act was forced through against varying degrees of resistance.

Ismail's initial military success was considerable. At the head of a Qizilbash army he took Bagdhad in 1508 and Khorasan with Herat in 1510. But the Safavids were obliged to wage a two front war-a worst possible scenario- against the Ottomans and the increasing power of the Uzbeks. They lost Khorasan in 1512 in an abortive attempt to reinstall the Timurid prince Babur and, in a disastrous battle at Chaldiran in 1514, were trounced by the Ottomans under Selim the Grim.

Chaldiran became Ismail`s Stalingrad.

Thereafter he lost his nimbus of invincibility and seems never to have recovered his morale. Worst of all his followers lost faith in their God-King and thereafter the Shah become a recluse, devoted to partying and the pleasures of the hunt. He never again led an army into battle and died in 1524.

His ten-year old son, Tahmasp, was placed on the throne in the same year but Persia was effectively ruled by a Qizilbash military Junta. Tahmasp had his cousin and chief of state Husayn Shamlu assassinated and replaced him with a Persian Governor. Subsequently he reigned for 52 years.

These were times in which a son thought nothing of putting out his father's eyes but the psychograms of Ismail and Tahmasp mirror a parallel development as it were in reverse - the young Ismail as a deeply religious militant Dalai Lama figure, who finally took to a life of carousing and his son Tahmasp brought up in such an atmosphere who became a devout Muslim.

This happened around 1540 when Tahmasp issued an edict adjuring alcohol and the lowlife habits of the court. Interestingly, this coincides with the dates on the Ardabil carpets and a plaque commemorating this event was actually installed in the Shrine at Ardabil . Thereafter Tahmasp lost interest in the visual arts although in his youth he had been more than just a dabbler at painting and calligraphy. The great Houghton Shah-Name, figure 11, one of the supreme achievements of Persian art, was finished in his reign.

After Tahmasp`s death in 1576 a period of infighting between Qizilbash, Georgian and Circassion factions ensued and, at it's end, his forty year old son Ismail II was crowned Shah. Ismail, who had been confined for twenty years and was mentally deranged, immediately embarked on a program of fraticide by killing five of his own brothers. Worst of all he seemed to be drifting towards Sunnism and, in a coup dètat, was removed in 1577 through the application of an opium cocktail.

But worse was yet to come.