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Posted on: April 21, 2020

Find it at the Met – Safavid Silk Animal Carpet

This marvelous Safavid silk animal carpet may look fragile, but it has survived half of a millennium! Its longevity is the result of its unrivaled quality materials and its ingenious weaving technique. Continue reading to learn more about its composition and intricate design.

This Safavid silk animal carpet displays a crimson field filled with a pattern of fighting animals (lions, tigers, rams, dragons, and deer) amidst a variety of floral motifs. The field is enclosed by a indigo border of alternating cream, red, and green palmettes and birds that is flanked on either side by a thinner border of yellow and crimson that showcases a unique floral pattern.

This brilliant Safavid silk animal carpet is a fine example of the hunting carpets produced by the Safavid court. It is assumed to have been commissioned for royal use in the second half of the 16th century under the order of Shah Tahmasp. Most likely woven in Kashan at the height of this textile center’s production, this supple silk handicraft displays the harmony Safavid art. That is to say, it represents the dynasty’s unification of science, spirituality, and art. Even though many of the motifs would remain the same under successive Safavid kings, increased local and foreign demands meant that the quality of the supply would suffer.

This Safavid silk animal carpet displays a crimson field filled with a pattern of fighting animals (lions, tigers, rams, dragons, and deer) amidst a variety of floral motifs. The field is enclosed by a indigo border of alternating cream, red, and green palmettes and birds that is flanked on either side by a thinner border of yellow and crimson that showcases a unique floral pattern.

Like many textiles from the era, this Safavid silk animal carpet was made from the finest raw materials. Handspun silk forms its foundation as well as its pile. Furthermore, its weaving technique is quintessential to the grandeur of Safavid carpets. With approximately 800 knots per square inch, the weaver is able to contribute many delicate details and curvilinear designs to this carpet’s pattern. The silk brocaded with metal thread enhances its awe-inspiring impression. Many royally commissioned Safavid textiles apply this three-dimensional quality to this two-dimensional form. It allows for a multifaceted viewing experience that is sure to keep one entertained.

This detailed image of the border of this fine Safavid silk animal carpet shows two alternating palmette designs outlined in red, one has a yellow center and the other a green center. Each palmette is followed by an alternating bird of paradise, one adorned with red and the other a subtle cream with color in its wings. This main border is flanked on either side by a floral border - the inner border is a golden yellow with red and blue flowers while the outer border is crimson with yellow and blue flowers.

In terms of design, this Safavid silk animal carpet is absolutely brilliant. Its theme – the hunt – was reserved for royalty at the time. Its mix of animal and flower forms are so detailed that they look illustrated rather than woven. Despite the plethora of flora and fauna motifs, the carpet remains visually balanced. The animals in the field include warring lions, tigers, rams, dragons, and deer. A plethora of different flowers create the landscape surrounding these beasts. In the border’s pattern, on the other hand, one will find a mirroring of beautiful pheasants that are almost in an embrace. The alternating palmettes are the only thing keeping them apart.

A closeup image of this Safavid silk animal carpet reveals a lion - the symbol of Persian royalty - taking down a blue and green spotted ram with his teeth and claws. This scene is surrounded by a large variety of floral motifs in blues, greens, yellows, and cream.

Furthermore, the figural forms are exceptionally unique because of their coloring. The pastel greens, pinks, and yellows are rare in Safavid Persian carpets because they were hard dyes to produce naturally. This soft palette stands out on the deep crimson and indigo backgrounds of the field and border respectively.

This Persian 'Tree of Life' carpet is similar to the Safavid silk animal carpet in that it depicts similar flora and fauna imagery. There are many motifs of flowers in green, pink, red, and blue that fill the field and border alongside animal hunting imagery. Here we see tigers, deer, dogs, and several birds. The colorway, however, drops the crimson and adopts a blue field with an indigo border.

Love the hunt? The antique Tehran ‘Tree of Life’ carpet (c. 1880) pictured above is a Qajar revival of the lost Safavid flora and fauna motifs. You can find out more information about this carpet on Orley Shabahang’s 1stdibs page.