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Looking at carpets with arabesque
field designs, the blue-ground piece from the Bernheimer
collection, Plate Thirty One, and another, Plate Thirty
Two, in the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria
are excellent representatives. This group well displays
the amount of experimentation going on with the same design.
The Bernheimer example is
characterized by an enervating freehand drawing style
and in comparison the Vienna piece seems labored and lost
in its own complexity. This carpet's version of the border
is simpler but keeps the rhythm of the design perfectly
There is a dearth of
prayer rugs from the early periods, a fact that
has never conclusively been explained, though perhaps
the ravages of time and their devotional function
are to blame. The Berlin Museum of Islamic Art owns
probably one of the oldest remaining Safavid carpets,
figure 33, and curiouslyit
is from a Saf, a term used to describe multi-niche
prayer rugs that were made for mosques. It has been
suggested Shah Tahmasp may have presented this Saf
to the Ottoman Sultan.
A third fragment in the Joseph
MacMullan collection and now in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York, figure 30 features
a similar border, arabesque loop field and a typical
selection of imaginary flowers. This group paved
the way for the 19th century Kurdish Gerus carpets,
The Vase carpets
are pure knotted productions owing little to the
other visual arts, although their color palettes
were probably influenced by changing fashions
in painting. It may be that they influenced the
large medallion Suzanis of the 19th century, and
possibly, by way of Kurdistan , the Dragon carpets.
One innocuous little fragment in Munich, figure
32 with a Caucasian style border and rarely found
animals, might be a kind of missing link to the
Reviewing Safavid history
of the 16th century, it's a miracle any of these carpets
were made at all. The three great Shahs, Ismå`ìl,
Tahmasp and Abbas, grew up in a world of backstabbing
and treachery, dominated by war and the fifth columnist
activities of their insurgent Qizilbåsh followers.
After re-gaining Herat in 1510, Ismåìl had
a drinking cup made out of the vanquished Uzbek Khan`s
A large contingent of court
artists were transferred to Tabriz, which was subsequently
sacked in 1514 by the Ottomans. Thus at least some artists
from Herat were probably deported twice (Herat-Tabriz-Istanbul).
Tahmasp was betrayed by both his brother and two of his
sons, a fact which may account for the large contingent
of Circassian women in his Harem. And Abbas, having usurped
the throne from his father, was a prey to suspicion and
paranoia his whole life.
Yet we remember Ismåìl
for his great personal courage, Tahmasp for his political
skills, and Abbas as the builder of Isfahan and for having
opened up Persia to the western world.
After the fall of the Safavid
Dynasty in 1722, court patronage came to an end, and the
carpets went underground . Tribal weavers from all over
Persia continued to use spare parts from the Safavid machine,
intermingled with their own traditions, till they, too,
ended in another cul-de-sac.