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



click for larger image

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

Figure 30


Figure 32

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, figure 31.


Figure 31


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 Dragon Carpets.


Figure 33


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 skull.

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.