Home > Archive >Ardabil Fight-Club 7
Author:john taylor
Thu, Aug 12th, 2004 11:11:29 AM
Topic: Ardabil Fight-Club 7

Vincent Robinson put on a good show for the Ardabil and the leading daily papers were roped in. Two catalogues were eventually printed. Even the eternally cash-strapped William Morris banged the drum eventually coughing up 25 pounds himself.

Whether the London Ardabil was sold for 2000 or 2500 pounds is still a mystery, as even Jennifer Wearden contradicted herself on this point. The American collector Yerkes may have purchased his Ardabil in1892 just shortly before the V&A`s final tortured decision. The price he paid was a great deal more than the museum's.

Robinson`s first catalogue, “Eastern Carpets”, appeared in 1882 containing a potpourri of very old, antique and quite new carpets.(1)
It`s clear from the text he had very little idea about what his firm was selling.

Carpet history had still to be invented by Riegl and Bode and, compared to the mighty Stefano Bardini, Robinson was an absolute beginner. His unprecedented image building campaign launched the Ardabil on a great career - the Mona Lisa of rugs.

Leonard Stebbing`s catalogues contributed to the mythmaking as well. The patent absurdity of a "Holy" Carpet aside, there never was a mosque at the Ardabil Shrine.(2)
Certain rooms were always set aside for prayer and there is a very old, ruined mosque just outside of Ardabil but a gullible public hungry for Orientalia needed the picturesque rather than fact. Indeed this kind of propaganda has continued down to our day.

Robinson`s main business seems to have been dealing new rugs and he is known to have stocked Zieglers. Thus he was the obvious choice of vendor for the Ardabils. They are rumored to have been sighted in Tabriz and Constantinople before setting down in London.

Purportedly the Ardabil was offered to the Louvre in Paris. Friedrich Sarre bought fragments from the Frick Tree Carpet in the Tehran bazaar in 1900, although Robinson always claimed the Frick carpet had come from Ardabil. There are fragments of the same carpet in the V&A but the when and where of their acquisition remain unknown.(3)

A third piece, said to be part of the Ardabil cache, is an animal carpet with a doublette with such a chequered history it would require a separate treatment for explanation.

In 1914 A.F Kendrick wrote to Leonard Stebbing requesting more information about the London Ardabil. Why he waited 21 years to do so is anyone’s guess considering the V&A had been offered more fragments from their apparently complete rug in the meantime and, let’s not forget, the Yerkes sale had taken place 4 years before - with the sale of the second Ardabil carpet. Then there was Mumford`s notorious catalogue.

Needless to say Stebbing never replied.

Since then we have had the dubious Major Jackson, Ziegler`s man Flinn and most recently a diary entry from La Fontaine. There is a theory that the Ardabils were removed from the Shrine at Mashad and, to cover this up, were described as coming from Ardabil as if that were not scandal enough. But one thing is sure - Robinson needed a story.

However, if anyone actually knew the truth about the Ardabil and the people behind it, Heinrich Jacoby provides the best answers that can be found by reading between the lines of his invaluable little ABC book.

Internally, Robinson did eventually confirm the existence of two Ardabil carpets in a letter dated 26 January 1926 and also came clean about the restoration. This is the only known company statement on this subject.(4)

So much for the Ardabil apocrypha.

Sterling work on this has been done in our time by A.H Morton, Martin Weaver, P.R.J Ford, Annette Ittig and, lately, by Siawosch Azadi. Ford`s work is particularly important as he correlates the Ardabils with the Art of the book. These articles were published in RugNews and are now hard to find.

Like the Mona Lisa, the Ardabil is an icon everyone knows but fewer still have looked at - an Evergreen, perhaps too Victorian for contemporary taste?

Something very strange and wonderful appears at the beginning and end of these monster carpets but is only apparent in the latest photographs made by the V&A in 1992. The photographer Daniel McGrath did a superb job.(Hali 65,page 73) Another good working picture is also published in Hali 80 on page 102.(5)

Starting at the base of the field between the first two complete ogival medallions the tracery swirls out towards the borders and then contracts gracefully above the lamp.(6)

This reveals the shape of a huge vase visible at both ends.(7)
This vase, however, is not visible on the LA Ardabil because of the disfigurement it has suffered. And it`s hardly visible when viewing the carpets themselves, which are just too big for the eye to encompass. A similar shaped vase was once in the Kevorkian Collection.(8)

Removing the base of the vase something close to the re-entrant mihrab forms on certain old Turkish carpets appears – was this an intentional sleight-of-hand? Ask Maqsud!(9)

Author: jc
Thu, Aug 12th, 2004 11:11:29 AM


Nice quote from his Excellency Kurt Erdmann.

While agreeing with you and his sentiments I would like to question one aspect of your comments. You wrote studying the classics has given you a perspective on what came after. I know dating non-classical pieces is completely without any substantiation, however, it is perfectly clear to me some of them ( I must again stress that the numbers of these are infinitesimally small compared to classical ones) are equally as old and venerable.

Presently we are on the threshold of developing the methodologies necessary to begin to prove this and personally I am positive it will be done. After all believing no non-atelier weaving was done in the 16th or even the 15th century seems to me as myopic as believing the earth was flat prior to its having been disproved.

Carpet studies are surely not an issue outside a very small circle but the forensic tools and art historical references necessary to accomplish this exist outside that tiny perimeter. It's lucky for us they do, now isn't it!

Author: JT
email: johntaylor@web.de
Thu, Aug 12th, 2004 04:12:46 AM

Hallo Jack

I`d like to thank you and everyone else at the Kazbah for hosting Ardabil Fightclub.That was the last round,but the jury is still out.

I don`t make a distinction here between high and low cultures.It`s a continuum.But studying the Classics has given me a sharper perspective on what came after.While there is a tendency to elevate these things out of context,authors such as Sarre,Pope and Erdmann were always at pains to relate court traditions with developements in the tribal/village sphere.

The same Kurt Erdmann was of the opinion that at a certain point the Safavid carpet"went off the rails"He sums up:

"To adopt these pieces as a measure,as is still freely done today,is to misunderstand the knotted rugs true nature and must lead to a false picture of its evolution."


Author: jc
Tue, Aug 10th, 2004 11:32:26 AM

Hi John:

Excellent work and it seems many RK.com readers agree as this installment has gotten more views in 24 hours than any of the other rounds.

Although you didn't mention it I believe this is the last round, right?

About the only comment I can add to your Fight-Club presentation is the somewhat unfair situation that classical rugs like the Ardabil and others you have illustrated have vis-a-vis Turkmen, non- Ottoman Turkish and Caucasian pieces. It is truly unfortunate museums and "important" (i.e. fabulously wealthy) collectors pay such homage to them while simultaneously ignoring and even turning their noses up at these other examples of Near Eastern woven art.

Granted there are only a very few of these - those I like to call 'low culture' - weavings able to compete with the classical Persian and Turkish ones but they do exist and actually these pieces are rarer than classical ones considering the numbers of Safavid and Ottoman rugs preserved in museums and private collections worldwide. It's really up to our generation of collectors to breach the gap and, using new scientific tools and proper art historical research, prove to both the carpet world and laymen as well how important these anonymous, often unheralded, weavings are. I realize it's a long hard row to hoe but if we, our generation of collectors, don't do it I am afraid it will never get done.

Congratulations on a fine job on the Fight-Club and RK.com looks forward to your next efforts.

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