On Friday RK made a visit to Milan, Italy and stopped in at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum where a new exhibition "The Garden of Paradise" had just opened.
On view in this elegant boutique museo, former city palazzo of the Pezzoli, were a group of Safavid carpets among which was the newly conserved, cleaned and gussied up Darius of the World "Tiger" carpet.
With it were six other masterpiece carpets made during the Golden Age of Persian carpet weaving.
These sumptuous, richly-colored pile carpets were frequently woven with pure gold and silver wrapped threads, traces of which the recent cleaning and conservation has now once again revealed in the Darius of the World "Tiger" carpet.
The designs, usually done in a cartoon showing a quarter of the carpet which was then repeated four times, were drawn by the most talented court artists.
In short these carpets, and many other like them long gone to moths, foot traffic and other earthly debilitations, were the supreme tip of courtly artistic production. They required huge expenditures of specialized manpower and resources, which no doubt has not gone recognized as these weavings are still today believed to be the most important, beautiful and valuable of any oriental carpet.
That is if in fact size and gold and silver wrapped threads are the measure, then undoubtedly this view is correct.
However, in our opinion the sum total of this type of carpet's real value -- that of the subject matter -- is one we find sensationally lacking.
Seen one seen, them all might sum up where RK is at. Because if one is after seeing flowers, then go to a real garden and smell, not only see them. Well, OK, if you can’t go because it’s winter and snows covering the garden?
And your name’s Darius then you can look at this carpet.
Seriously, for us they have little to nothing to say other than presenting scrolling vines and leaves, animals in combat, hunters and their prey, flowers of all types and etc, etc.
They are decorative to the max. But are they evocative? Do they stimulate the mind? Do they open a window to man's consciousness?
Of course, the answer is NO to all the above. And it is for this reason RK was left with a somewhat hollow feeling after spending some time looking at them in the Pezzoli's galleries.
This is not the first time we have had this feeling after looking at Safavid carpets, nor is it the first time we have so commented.
For us it is just more of the same -- a complete gaga over a carpet that has royal connection, but says nothing.
We can’t help but compare this to the complete lack of recognition given to other masterpiece historic weavings, like those from Anatolian and Turkmenistan, which are equally as old, as rare, and as important except for one point: They have no royal connections.
We are not going to trod ground we have well already walked and therefore will end with an insight that recently came to us.
Islam forbade the representation of the human body, as well as forbidding the worship of old Gods (and Goddesses). Islamic monotheism relegated to the wastebasket of history the pantheon of Gods worshiped by the Roman and Greeks, as well as the numerous animistic Gods and Goddesses who had existed long before those empires rose and fell.
Christianity, which came on the scene a few hundred years before Islam, did the same -- it outlawed all Gods but its own.
When the Safavid and Ottoman carpets are viewed within this construct it is not hard to realize why they are soullessly beautiful and speechless.
Their designers could not produce, or even intimate, the existence of the old cultural traditions of pantheism and animistic deities, and therefore cut off from the roots of their design traditions were forced into creating mute and silently beautiful pictures, like the Darius of the World "Tiger" carpet and the others which are now on show in the Pezzoli.
But the prohibitions and tenets of monotheism stopped at the palace walls and gates, which allowed the preservation and representation of those archaic pantheistic and animistic icons to remain viable.
In the best and earliest small–scale society weavings from Anatolian and Turkmenistan it is possible to not only sense, but also to see, such iconic imagery.
These weavings have something to say, they are not mute beauties.
RK knows what we are talking about, and given the opportunity we could prove our thesis.
Taking a masterpiece Anatolian or Turkmen weaving and hanging it across from a Darius of the World “Tiger” carpet would be an apt test by inviting the museum public to view them and then vote -- which they “liked” more being the arbiter and score-keeper.
But, alas, the prejudice against non-classical carpets runs deeper than racism in South Carolina. And, like it, the cause is fear – fear of the unknown and the difficult to realize.
In the catalog for the Pezzoli show michael franses waxes gloriously over the “importance”, surface beauty, royal connections and other totally obvious features of the Darius and other carpets he helped install.
But does franses actually say anything about them? No, he surely doesn’t and RK spent some time reading his essay in a pre-published version of the coming catalog someone from the museum kindly let me peruse.
And the reason he doesn’t is quite obvious – there is nothing under the surface beauty, pseudo importance and “royal connections” these carpet surely possess.
Do they have soul? Do they grab you and make you wonder?
Again, naturally, the answer is No.
So why are these carpets revered and those made in small scale societies which still possess the pre-monotheistic traditions languish unappreciated?
Simple: it’s far easier to find a carpet in a painting, or to look in an inventory listing of some royal house to determine the provenance of a classical carpet than it is to research the ancient history of Near Eastern weaving cultures, which requires a far more complex and demanding multi-disciplinary approach.
RK knows the historic masterpieces of Anatolian and Turkmen small scale society’s time will eventually come, and once critical mass is reached attention will turn to them and away from the speechless, mute beauties that have again recently become the darlings of the museum world.
It is obvious once better known the public’s eye will refocus on these dynamic and vocal weavings made in dirt-floored villages and tent encampments by weavers who both knew, and were not prohibited to express, what their ancient weaving culture taught them to weave.
Below is our virtual experiment, which we unfortunately have to present in a reduced format as it is impossible to present entire pictures of theese two weavings in an online format.
So we have decided to present a quarter of each, and considering the Darius of the World “Tiger” carpet is based on a drawn cartoon that has been repeated four times we do not think this format harms it much.
However, it does put the Anatolian rug at a disadvantage… one which it nonethess overcomes nicely. At least in our eyes.
Left: masterpiece of central Anatolian pile woven fragment; RK Collection; Right: Darius of the World “Tiger” carpet, central Persia; Poldi Pezzoli Museum