The Baillet-Latour Mamluk Carpet
The carpets of Mamluk Egypt are the most magnificent and complete group of early carpets to have survived to the present day. Their designs are closely connected to the geometric designs of other Mamluk art forms and are characterised by a complex, almost kaleidoscopic, geometry created by the juxtaposition of colour and form. Their restricted palette of wine-red, green and light blue silky wool and the variety of complex interlocking small octagons are unlike any other group of carpets which has an effect akin to luminescence.
The Mamluk Empire stretched from south east Anatolia to the Hijaz, in modern day Saudi Arabia, taking in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and parts of Sudan and Libya, lasting for over 250 years. The origin of Mamluk carpet production has remained uncertain but it is generally accepted that Cairo is the most likely weaving centre. It is thought that carpet weaving in Egypt commenced under the reign of Sultan Qa’it-bay (r.1468-1496), when there was a golden age of artistic creativity. This theory is supported by 43 surviving documentary sources that make reference to a carpet weaving centre in Cairo, the earliest and most famous of which appears in the writings of an Italian traveller named Barbaro who, in 1474 was comparing the carpets of Persia, Cairo and Turkey. This along with a 16th Century inventory of the Medici Collection which lists a Mamluk carpet as being ‘Un tappeto Cairino’, help to establish a chronology for these weavings (Alberto Boralevi, ‘Three Egyptian Carpets In Italy’, Oriental Carpet & Textile Studies II: Carpets of the Mediterranean Countries 1400-1600, London, 1986, pp.205-220).
Mamluk carpets are unique in the history of carpets both in terms of their design and structure. The lustrous silky wool found in Mamluk carpets is ‘S’ (clockwise) spun and ‘Z’ (anti-clockwise)-plied whereas every other group of Eastern carpets are constructed from ‘Z’-spun/’S’-plied wool. Louisa Bellinger has shown that the technical characteristics of Mamluk wool is consistent with the characteristics of Egyptian wool used in the production of textiles for centuries (Ernst Kuhnel and Louisa Bellinger, Cairene Rugs and Others Technically Related, Washington DC, 1957, p.80). It has been suggested that the designs are reflections of other forms of Mamluk decorative arts, such as the striking geometric Cairene floor mosaics, tiles, book bindings and architectural woodwork. The strongest correlation appears between the composition of Mamluk carpets and Egyptian fountain courtyards. However, it is interesting to note that the Cairo attribution is not unanimously accepted and, in her article ‘’Mamluk Carpets’ of North Africa’, Jenny Housego has put forward an interesting but unproven argument that the square-format Mamluk carpets, such as the Baillet-Latour Mamluk, may in fact have been produced in the Maghreb, which had a long and prestigious history of weaving (‘Mamluk Carpets’ of North Africa’, Oriental Carpet & Textile Studies II: Carpets of the Mediterranean Countries 1400-1600, London, 1986, pp.221-241).
The Baillet-Latour Mamluk carpet relates particularly closely to two important square-format Mamluk weavings with star-shaped medallions, the example in the Osterreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna, inv. no. T8345, and the Mamluk rug in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, formerly in the collection of George Blumenthal, inv. no. 41.190.262. All three of these carpets have a very similar field organisation, they share a rosette and three section cartouche border without additional internal medallions, as well as two tiers of feather-shaped motifs that surround the interior octagon. Where our carpet differs is in its use of five colours instead of the three employed in the other two examples and the very unusually open central medallion with small floating ornaments which make the design feel particularly luminous and almost iridescent due to the large amount of light blue employed in both the inside and outer band of the medallion.
The present carpet is important not only for its rarity and extraordinary beauty but also for its place in the history of carpet scholarship. It was one of the first Mamluk carpets to be published and appears as plate XXXVIII in the Friedrich Sarre’s seminal Orientalische Teppiche, Vienna, 1892-96 (see lot 2 in the present sale), which was the first comprehensive carpet survey and was hugely influential on subsequent texts. In Orientalische Teppiche, the carpet is listed as the property of ‘Herrn Grafen Vincenz Baillet-Latour’. This is Vincenz Baillet-Latour (1848-1913), an Austrian count and politician, of noble Belgian origins and the grandson of Theodor Count Baillet de Latour (1780-1848).
The Douglas Mughal ‘Millefleurs’ prayer rug
The pashmina Mughal millefleurs prayer rugs are amongst the most revered and sought-after of all classical Indian carpets. Distinguished by their elegant compositions of finely drawn floral stems and luminous, jewel-like colours; fewer than fifteen examples of these exquisite rugs are known and half of these are housed in important museum collections. Woven using pashmina, the short, silky soft wool from the underbelly of Himalayan goats found in Ladakh and Tibet, it seems most likely that these beautiful weavings were the product of a specialist workshop in Kashmir, where there was a ready supply of pashmina wool due to the established shawl industry. These extraordinary weavings would have represented the height of luxury and would have have most probably been woven as special commissions for the Mughal court.
The origin of the design of the millefleurs prayer rugs can be traced back to the magnificent pashmina shrub niche rugs created during the reign of Shah Jahan in the mid 17th Century. These earlier weavings, such as the famous Aynard rug formerly in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, have very similar design elements to the millefleurs prayer rugs, such as the cusped arch, two bisected cypress trees at each side and a central hillock or vase from which issue the floral stems. Many of the carpet designs created during the reign of Shah Jahan continued to be popular under the reign of his heir Aurangzeb and his successors, however one can witness a tendency towards reducing the scale of ornamentation. The millefleurs carpets developed out of this tendancy towards miniaturisation and, Dan Walker suggests, from the European influence on Mughal floral patterns (Daniel Walker, Flowers Underfoot; Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, New York, 1997, pp.119-129). In his article ‘Ten Thousand At A Glance’, ibid., Steven Cohen suggests that the designs of Mughal Kashmir shawls may have also influenced the development of the designs of the millefleurs prayer rugs. The correlation between the composition of the millefleurs prayer rugs and the boteh design of mid 18th Century Kashmir shawls is undeniable (Steven Cohen, ibid., figs. 2 and 3, p.75) but it does not follow that the design originated with the shawl industry.
Historically the Habsburg prayer rug has been considered the earliest of the millefleurs prayer rugs, dated by most authorities to the late 17th Century or early 18th Century. It is this prayer rug that most closely resembles the earlier prototype of the Aynard rug. It is the only millefleurs prayer rug in the group not to depict a vase, instead the floral stems rise directly from the hillock, which contains individual shrubs and is seen as the prototype for the present rug. The present prayer rug is most closely related to the magnificent Marquand/Benguiat/Kevorkian rug. Both rugs have a wider profile to the cusped arch and to the field due to the much smaller cypresses to each side. In each rug the drawing of the vase is very similar, it is ramed by the curled sickle leaves and flanked on each side by miniature secondary vases. The beautiful and sinuous border of the present rug is shared by the Metropolitan Museum rug, one of the Vanderbilt rugs at Biltmore and the Dubernard rug; these are the four examples that relate most closely to the border of the Habsburg rug.
The present prayer rug is unique amongst the group of pashmina millefleurs prayer rugs, being the only example to have an elegant similar palette in the field and spandrel design. All the other examples in the group are woven with strongly contrasting spandrel and field colours. The subtle colouration of our rug softens the prominence of the prayer arch whilst simultaneously creating a sense of depth and three-dimensionality across the field, distinguishing it as one of the most extraordinary of these rare and beautiful weavings.
In his publication of the present prayer rug in Seltene Orientteppiche IX, Munich, 1987, p8, Eberhart Herrmann listed eight additional prayer rugs in the group, the Habsburg prayer rug in the Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna; The Textile Museum prayer rug; the three rugs formerly in the Joseph V. McMullan collection now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, respectively; the two rugs from the George W. Vanderbilt collection at Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina; the Dubernard rug in the Musee Historique des Tissus, Lyon; The Marquand/Benguiat/Kevorkian rug. To this list should be added the prayer rug offered at Sotheby’s New York, 19 September 2003, lot 84 and the Rippon Boswell rug sold December 1, 2007, lot 133 (Hali 155, p.147).
The Dirksen Cairene Carpet
The design of scrolling flowering vine with rosettes, palmettes and curling saz leaves as seen here, characterises late 16th and early 17th Century Ottoman carpets produced in Cairo originally intended for the Sultan’s court in Istanbul. They were highly regarded and in turn were exported in considerable numbers to the West. As these carpets were disseminated through Europe they slowly began to appear in various Western paintings, in some more clearly than others. One such painting, A couple with a Dog, circa 1640 by the Dutch artist, Elias Vonck (1605-1652), now in a private German collection, clearly shows a square-shaped table with an Ottoman Cairene carpet draped across its top, (Hali, April/May/June, 1987, Issue 34, p.6). That carpet is very similar in design to the present lot, even down to the individual single flower head minor stripes. The inclusion of these carpets in paintings such as this, provide us with valuable information as to when the carpets might have been woven which, in this case, must have been at the turn of the century at the latest for it to have been woven, shipped to Europe and painted within this time. For further examples of paintings that include Cairene Ottoman paintings see Onno Ydema, Carpets and their Datings in Netherlandish Paintings, 1540-1700, Zutphen, 1991, pp.19-25.
These Timeless Masterpieces Are Featured Twice A Year At Christies London Oriental Rugs And Carpets Sale, As Well As Christies Auctions In New York And Paris.
The field design of the Dirksen Cairene is typical of one sub-group where the medallion and spandrels are superimposed on an endless repeating field of palmettes and saz leaves. A hand drawn diagram of the design for this group is included in Erdmann op.cit, fig.t, p.49. Serare Yetkin discusses this in her study on Turkish carpets (S. Yetkin, Historical Turkish Carpets, Istanbul, 1981, pp.101-127; also Walter Denny, ‘The Origin and Development of Ottoman Court Carpets’, Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, London, 1986, pp.243-259). A comparable example is in the Städtische Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf, (Kurt Erdman, The History of the Early Turkish Carpet, London, 1977, fig.41, p.45), although the minor stripes in that rug are a little more elaborate and the main roundel has linked radiating petals issuing from its central flower head. The field design on the Dirksen rug is also better spaced and allows the eye to travel through the field and around each spiral without interruption. Further examples, including some slight variants in the group, can be seen in Otto Bernheimer; Alte Teppiche des 16-18. Jahrhunderts der Firma L. Bernheimer, Munich, 1959, pl.5., a rug in the collection of Prince Paar, Vienna (Yetkin, op.cit., p.121, illus. 74) and a rug formerly in the collection of Susan and Lewis Manilow, sold Sotheby’s New York, April 7, 1992, lot 86.
It has been suggested that the earliest Cairene carpets only used the three-colour Mamluk palette (see for example lot 99 in The Bernheimer Family Collection of Carpets, sold in these Rooms, February 14, 1996), but by the mid-16th Century a number of other colours had been introduced, with a total of seven colours being employed in the present lot; red, light blue, yellow, grass-green, pale green, tan and white. The green and blue colours within this rug in particular, remain in a wonderful state of preservation with a soft silky pile and glorious luminosity. The popularity of these beautiful Ottoman carpets with Western collectors has not ceased from the early part of the 17th Century to the present day, as demonstrated by their inclusion in most major carpet collections of this period.