Home > Archive >sotheby London April Sale Part II
email: jc@rugkazbah.com
Sun, May 7th, 2006 06:00:26 PM
Topic: sotheby London April Sale Part II

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.

Author: JBOC
Sun, May 7th, 2006 06:00:26 PM

RK Replies:

We did not over-react we just called you out for your errors:

1. you attributed sotheby's words to us

2. you present Coulter as the expert with you riding shot-gun for her

3. your opinions, or anyone else's are welcome here -- just make sure opinions are not presented as fact and make sure there is some back up for those opinions.

In your haste to try and, once again, prove your point, you did not even have the courtesy, or gumption, to apologize, or even recognize, your incorrectly quoting us.

So yes, anyone who comes in here, accuses us of saying something we didn't say and then incorrectly criticizes us would be unwelcome anywhere, not only at RugKazbah.com.

And how about criticizing Coulter for the statement you objected to and mis-attributed to us? Or is she, unlike us, Teflon-coated by your anointment of her as an expurt?

We have an open shop here but it is not a dunking gallery for pot-shots like yours, sir.


Actually Jack you misread my post, I fully respect your opinion. I just voiced mine. Now if dialogue and opinion is unwelcome then I will not intrude. I thought you meant it when you post on your site, "Anything Goes". Maybe it is anything except voicing an opinion goes. I never said my opinion was better than yours. I think you are over reacting. With best wishes I remain: Yours truly, Barry

Author: Barry OConnell
Sun, May 7th, 2006 10:58:00 AM

RK Replies:

Opinions are like noses, everyone’s got one and while ms Coulter might be an expert in your eyes, she surely isn’t in RK’s.

But this is neither a personality nor a beauty contest and though RK never minds anyone critiquing our comments, we do mind people putting words in our mouth we never uttered.

We never stated: “"the saturated and jewel-like color that is a hallmark of Khorasan weaving.". This, kind sir, was sothebys talking – not us.

Here is what we wrote: “First off, we agree this frag. is beautiful and can well imagine the sheen and glow the wool and high quality dyeing must exhibit.”

Again we don’t mind critique or criticism, just get it right and don’t damn us for someone else’s statement.

And please save the references to lab test for someone who really needs to hear them – we are miles past anyone else we know on the lab test road.

And, by the way, what technique do you refer to in the sentence that follows you lab test admonition?

As for the border?

We agree it has a Persian character but unless your ouijji board contacts the actual weavers, the reality is: “So what”, considering the voluminous amount of exchange, and copying, these Courts, Mughal and Safavid, were constantly engaged in.

Likewise, for the jufti knots, which are no positive indication of origination, as both Persian and Indian weavers used them to save time and materials.

As for the age?

Please, this rug is 16th and we were conservative in saying it could be perhaps 50 years older.

It is a century older and the delicacy of the drawing, the life like plants and the color combination all say Mughal to us.

If you don’t agree, fine, that is your prerogative but don’t come stomping in here like your opinion, or that of Coulter, is any better than ours.

Frankly, RK could care less about anyone’s opinion, let alone critique, presented without anything more positive than what we offered to back up our opinion.

And please remember, what “sounds reasonable” to you is worthless here on RugKazbah.com, especially when neither you, nor ms Coulter, have the experience and expertise we do.

Granted we are not classic carpet oriented but regardless of that reality, we have probably seen, handled and examined more of that type of carpet that you or Coulter combined.

So while we seek, and enjoy, anyone presenting their opinions here on RugKazbah.com, we do not candle to those who feel their opinion is better than ours and face fact, sir, that was the rational and gist of your post.


Hello Jack,

Thanks for putting together an interesting commentary on an interesting fragment. I have a few comments, which I hope you will not mind.

First of all I am not entirely impartial in that I think the world of Sotheby's and admire and respect Jacqueline Coulter. While Sotheby's is not perfect I know of no one better.

So take my thoughts for what they are worth.

You mentioned "the saturated and jewel-like color that is a hallmark of Khorasan weaving."

Baring any sort of lab test an assessment of dying technique based on saturation and tones is subjective. However there was a difference between Khorasan technique and that used elsewhere including Mughal India.

I suspect that Coulter has seen enough from that genre to make her subjective assessment worthy of note.

Add to this the border.

I have made it a point to spend time looking at Mughal carpets and their borders and I agree that the border lends weight to the probability that it is Persian.

You mention jufti knots and if they are present then Sotheby's will call it Khorasan. That is what they do and they are consistent about it.

The only exception That I recall was the Keshishian Khorasan Saf. That carpet was Jufti knotted but was attributed to Mughal India. I see that as an anomaly and not significant. So while I appreciate your opinion I respectfully disagree.

As much as anything it just looks Khorasani to me. I also see the logic of their assessment of age.

With that field and that border "mid-17th century" sounds reasonable to me.

This is not to say that I agree with all their entries. I spotted a lampas fragment I think they dated too late but maybe I will post that one later.

I have to get to church now.

Best wishes, Barry O'Connell

Home   Buy/Sell at the Kazbah   Terms Of Service