Expecting something like a colour version of Pope`s Survey, I was initially disappointed in this selection of "Highlights" from the Victoria and Albert Museum`s mighty carpet holdings.
The cover looks promising: a mouthwatering closeup of a strapwork border. But the frontispiece illustration of a NW Persian rug, decidedly ebay ,is a real downer,perhaps included as a tribute to someone who was close to the museum.
It`s of the type which will have novices in the Museumshop exclaiming "We`ve got one of those!" and could indeed be the start of a new and awful career in rugs.
The book is titled "Oriental Carpets-and Their Structure". As a hands-on guide to preparing a technical analysis for oriental carpets, itīs definitely the best thing ever written for the beginner and the pros can learn something here too.
Demonstrably not a catalogue, the book`s layout is more conducive to coffeetabling than to consequent study, as it opens with short descriptions of each plate and ends with more descriptions and fuller technical analysis.
This makes navigation difficult and I was reduced to using the inside flaps as bookmarks in order to flip from front to back.
One of the great strengths of the V&A`s collection was the foresighted decision on the part of the powers that be to collect contemporary weavings, albeit for design purposes. Illustrated here are a number of antique pieces in pristine condition, including the rather cheesy pieces donated by the Shah of Persia in 1877.
Robert Murdoch Smith may have been instrumental in their choice, but we are not specifically informed about which . The author has elaborated further elsewhere, as has Leonard Helfgott in Ties that Bind.
Further idiosyncrasies are the arrangement of the selection through design, making a quick search difficult, and the authorīs staunch refusal to attribute anything on more than a vague geographical basis.
Not even a Sanguszko for plate 28,or a Salor for the museum`s famous choval(plate 97) can be extracted from her sibylline lips. However, as design was at the core of the museum`s collecting philosophy, this is all quite understandable,and sometimes revelatory: it had just not occurred to me that a rare type of caucasian Soumak with rows of three medallions was actually derived from the Shield carpet Group(see the latest Hali,page 90,advert Bausback,for one of these).
The rough attributions are a boon for the beginner, who does not need to be initially burdened with them, and a challenge for the more advanced, who will be skidaddling off to their libraries-as in the case of plate 54,apparently an 18th century Turkish rug with a design which later had a second lease of life amongst the Afshar.
Of course Classical Carpet Buffs get their rations here too, and no book from the Museum could be complete without the obligatory Ardebil, still the world`s most photographed and controversial carpet. The author states it`s sale price as having been 2500 pounds sterling, although earlier authors have always mentioned 2000.
Who is right here?
The invoice would be worth publishing in its own right.
Plates 33 and 34 are vasey-things with a strapwork border and apricot ground, purchased together in 1956, and rightly so, for they are magnificent. I can`t remember having seen them published elsewhere(but do they really have a woolen warp?).
Another two fragments (plates 31 and 32)are also probably from one carpet, but were purchased over a timespan of 65 years-that`s continuity for you! Thereīs a useful closeup of the Fremlin carpet, and an Indian animal carpet which surely has it`s counterpart in the Getty Collection?
My initial doubts about this book have finally given way to a persistent and not unpleasant feeling of elation...Shamefully ignored by Hali(the title was received-by Mr.Salting?) extremely well photographed with excellent repro, charmingly didactic, and the 50 Euro it cost me here won`t even buy you a good meal on the Brompton Road!
Go out buy it now and turn yourself loose.