The plethora of auctions this spring and acor/Boston combined to occupy much of the available time RK feels like devoting to this website. It was for those reasons we did not turn our attention to some lots in those sales we normally would have addressed.
Things have quieted down enough for us to have this morning looked over some of the material previously chosen for commentary and we decided to say a few words about a lot in last month’s Sotheby London carpet sale, which took place on the 5th of April.
The sale had a few early carpet fragments, the best of those in our estimation was this:
Called “A KHOROSSAN CARPET FRAGMENT, NORTHEAST PERSIA” by sotheby's cataloguer, it was estimated at 30-40,000 pounds that, at the time we first spied it in the catalog, we felt was over the top and frankly plain dumb.
The sale’s results proved us right and it was unsold.
Once again, our views on auction guesstimates and the reality they are rarely spot on was shown to be fact.
We know the auction biz well enough to appreciate the quandary auction houses face, both from trying to get good interest in their offerings and, at the same time, satisfying consignors who naturally do not want to give away their possessions by chancing the power of a low estimate to bring them fat returns.
The later of those problems was surely at fault here unless, of course, the cataloguer made a major error in believing this fragment could bring such a ridiculously high price.
Had the frag. been in mint condition, that faith could have been realized but, alas, the distressed condition over a good part of the piece precluded anyone going the distance in their bidding.
Attributing this fragment to Khorossan is, in our mind, equally as chancy but before we open this can of worms let’s read together the rather comprehensive description the catalog also provided:
“This carpet fragment is a beautiful and successful example of how the proximity of Mughal India to Safavid Persia could result in the sharing or transferring of design elements.
The field pattern of flowering shrubs within a very articulate latticework is most similar to that of a Mughal fragment in the Kier collection, see Spuhler, F., Islamic Carpets and Textiles in the Kier Collection, London 1978, no. 60.
This is here framed by a border of palmettes and vinery that might be found on any number of 17th century carpets attributed to Isphahan, Herat, Khorossan or even Indo-Persia.
Here, the flowering shrubs are rendered in meticulous detail on an ivory ground which is unusual for both India and Persia.
The most closely related examples of East Persian weavings with a Mughal design similar to this lot are the Bernheimer lattice carpet (Christie's London, 14 February 1996, lot 149; 16 October 1997, lot 113 and 14 October 1999, lot 107) and a fragmentary carpet in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, see Spuhler, F., Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, Washington, D.C. 1987, no. 126.
spuhler, no. 126
Both of these carpets have a red ground and the drawing is more stiff and rigid than that of the fragment offered here. The eloquence of the design here is complemented by the saturated and jewel-like color that is a hallmark of Khorossan weaving, for an example see lot 160, Property from the Collections of Lily & Edmond J. Safra, Sotheby's New York, 3 November 2005."
(We added the italics in two place to note our interest in discussing these points.)
First off, we agree this frag. is beautiful and can well imagine the sheen and glow the wool and high quality dyeing must exhibit.
We likewise concur determining whether certain carpets were the product of Persian Safavid or Indian Mughal looms is neigh on impossible to provenance with any assurance.
The same holds true for dating them, especially when they are not the earliest or latest in their design continuum, as is the case here with lot 58.
After putting all that, and more, into the hopper we’d have to say the east Persian, Khorossan, designation is not as good as putting this example into the Mughal rather than the Persian rug universe, anything more exact beyond guessing Jaipur pointless for us.
We have, over the years, looked on with amusement as the classical carpet world, and the varying expertise of those who claim to be mavens in this area, have struggled with weavings that fall deeply into the cracks, as does lot 58.
Taking into account this carpets visual tour de force of design and color, which are more than apparent from even the poor quality photo we publish, signifies for us this carpets probable Mughal origin.
This should not be interpreted as saying the weavings of this period from Persia are deficient in these area because obviously they aren’t. It just that those factors, combined with the extremely graceful and life-like naturalistic articulation of the plants and shrubs, says Mughal India to our ears.
The date sotheby advances, mid-17th century, is similarly misplaced and we’d suggest at least 50 years earlier if not more.
Comparing it to the others cited in the catalog, as well as to other unmentioned but as related examples, adds fuel to our story rather than the one the catalog spins.
The main border, which is wonderfully drawn and amazingly complex, we’ll grant has Persian overtones but this doesn’t really prove the rug comes from there. It does, rather, substantiate the exchanges occurring between these two imperial courts. Those exchanges, by the way, were not limited to only trading designs but, in our view, included the trade of dyestuffs, wool and even the weavers who worked in the royal workshops where all these types of rugs were produced.
Finally, the presence of jufti knotting adds that last cherry atop our belief India, not Persia, can claim this masterpiece weaving.