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Posted on: June 23, 2020

Find it at the MET – Isfahan Carpet

This Isfahan carpet was woven in the 17th century under the Safavid empire in what is present-day Iran. The Safavids are world-renowned for their fine textiles. As such, they were an important exporter of handmade rugs to the European market in this era. They had several important carpet manufacturing cities, but their capital Isfahan was arguably the most important. Here, the kings housed their most valued weavers and master weavers to create such durable yet fine works of art as this Isfahan carpet.

This Isfahan carpet has a four-pointed curvilinear gold colored central medallion that is ornately surrounded by floral motifs in pastel blue, midnight blue, and soft gold. The black yarn in the border is broken up by gold arabesque floral scrolls.

The design of this silk carpet is referred to as Polonaise. Polonaise carpets were popularized in Europe by the 17th century, having previously been made for Persian royalty in weaving centers such as Isfahan. They are marked by their boldly colored silk threads, shiny metallic weft, cotton foundation, and decorative silk and metal brocading. Looking at these pieces now, however, much of the reflective brilliance has been lost. The hues have faded into pastel tones and there is not much of the metal or brocading left. This is not to say that Polonaise carpets have not retained their beauty. Instead its charm now comes from the understated palette applied to such an intricate and ornate pattern.

Many of the Polonaise carpets that survive today were salvaged from European collections. The Met’s Jack and Belle Linsky Collection houses this particular Isfahan carpet. As American collectors of fine European art, their endowment houses hundreds of 15th to 19th century sculptures, paintings, and decorative arts. This particular piece was most likely thought to be Polish at the time of its purchase, a common misconception of where these rugs originated and how they got the name Polonaise. Experts can now discern that this rug comes from Persia.

This Orley Shabahang silk carpet takes inspiration from the Polonaise Isfahan carpet of the 16th and 17th century. Its thread colors include copper, wheat, beige, crimson, light blue, and grey-blue.

Orley Shabahang took inspiration from the Polonaise carpets of Safavid Isfahan when creating the silk carpet pictured above. This 8′ x 9’9″ handmade Persian carpet follows the same recipe as its predecessors: a cotton warp coupled with a senneh-knotted silk pile. The colorway, however, follows a subtler palette. It more closely aligns with the colors these antique reflect today rather than the loud colors they initially projected. Regardless, Orley Shabahang sets out to make every single carpet with the historic intention of longevity. Today we weave the museum-grade antiques of tomorrow.