Since its first publication in 1892/3 by Leonard Stebbing the London Ardabil Carpet has been copied many thousands of times. According to Michael Hillman, such carpets were popular in the homes of well-to-do Iranians before the revolution and they are apparently still being woven today.
J.K.Mumford reproduced one in his book(1), which he saw being woven in Tabriz sometime before 1900.
The water colour reproduction in the Stebbing book would hardly have been adequate for such an enterprise so itīs likely the Ardabil(s) were copied onto graph paper at the time of their purchase by Ziegler`s.
Mumford relates the factory owner in Tabriz was named Hildebrand F. Stevens and interestingly P.R.J Ford credits a George Stevens with the re- introduction of graph paper designs into Kerman in 1910.
Ford presumed the use of graph paper cartoons was a traditional production method, which had fallen into disuse in 19th century Persia, until it was revived by the large European companies(i.e Zieglers, OCM and Petag)
There is a charming story recounted about Ziegler`s manager in Sultanabad, Mr. Theodor Strauss, who may well have discovered the Ardabils. He is said to have proposed to his wife in 1900 while they were standing before the Ardabil carpet in the Victoria and Albert museum! He vowed to make a copy of the Ardabil, which was eventually finished before the first World War. The piece was smaller of course, is said to have taken ten years to complete and has in the meantime vanished. It would seem that at the time of purchase the Ardabils were in good enough condition to have been copied knot for knot onto graph paper.
There is one seemingly very old carpet which relates directly to the Ardabils in its field design - the Stora carpet, which was first published by Pope in 1926 and is now in the Keir Collection.
It is shown here in its 1926 condition(2)
and in its 1978 appearance(3).
Obviously horrible things had happened to it in the meantime - presumably washing and the fading of repairs that have taken their toll. It was Pope who first pointed out its resemblance to the Ardabil, dating the piece in 1926 to the second half 16th century (attribution:Keshan), and in 1939 to the end of the sixteenth century(attribution: Kirman).
Dr.Spuhler in his entry for the Keir Collection catalogue pulls him up on this and dates the carpet to the mid-16th century. The similarities in the field design are obvious, the Stora/Keir piece(4)
displays a simplified yet elegant version of the Ardebil`s
volcanic flower landscape(5).
Otherwise the two are galaxies apart.
Stora/Keir has a mundane border design of ragged palmettes not out of place
on an Indo-Isfahan with ragged lotus palmettes replacing the usual cartouches above and below the well-drawn central medallion. Apart from the dark blue field the colouring is unexceptional(6).
The structural analysis is said to be: warp Z4S dyed orange and weft 3 shoots of grey brown wool, 2 straight and 1 wavy. The knot count 3480 per dcm. This is basically a Vase Carpet structure, although one would expect coloured variation in the wefting. Perhaps a more thorough analysis would reveal this feature.
The Stora/Keir has been compared stylistically to the round carpet in the possession of the Marquet de Vasselot(7)
due to the use of ragged lotus palmettes and the small whiteground borders. Notably the piece shows a good deal of cloudbanding in the main border and central roundel, a device generally absent from the Sanguszko group of carpets into which the Stora/Keir has also been elevated. This occurred almost clandestinely in Ian Bennett`s celebrated article on the Classical carpets in the Lyons museum(Hali 33,p.48).
Discussing the Sanguszko group, he writes "the Stora differs from all others in both colour and in the lack of any figurative elements; its field, medallion and borders are filled with floral arabesques and palmettes". On the face of it this is not a substantial basis for comparison but it`s clear that Pope was edging his way in this direction, stating that "the two carpets seem to be carpet-weavers products without the intervention of a miniaturist" i.e Sanguszko carpets sans Sanguszko.
There is a tendency to date the Stora/Keir carpet much later, even into the late 19th century. But as Pope pointed out it is not a copy(a la Mumford) but an interpretation of the Ardabils made by people with access to the carpet itself or to the original sketches or cartoons. Although peripheral, its relation to the Sanguszko group is evident and it reveals the occult influence the Ardabils must have had during the last 350 years.