Inspiration

A page from an art collector's book: Charles Tyson Yerkes

In our article about the Baghdad carpet we mentioned that it was sold to Mr Charles Tyson Yerkes (June 25, 1837 – December 29, 1905), who was an American financier. The lives of collectors like Mr Yerkes are often filled with adventure, misadventure and interesting facts that we, these days, seldom encounter and that make the art, such as the Baghdad carpet, that they collect even more interesting. Mr Yerkes is a very interesting character. He played a major part in developing mass-transit systems in Chicago and London. When Charles Tyson Yerkes decided to leave Chicago for New York City in 1895 he had everything he wanted—a staggering fortune and successful career as a financier and street railroad titan. Three years earlier he had donated nearly $300,000 to the University of Chicago to build the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin which included the world’s largest telescope. The only thing he could not achieve was acceptance into high society.

Yerkes had started out in the brokerage business in Philadelphia, where he also began developing traction and street railways. As his fortune increased, the married Yerkes noticed the 16-year old Mary Adelaide Moore. Mary, called Mollie by her friends, was one of nine children of a chemist and before long was Yerkes’ mistress. Charles Yerkes was more ambitious than scrupulous and in 1871 was sent to prison for embezzling $400,000 in city money. His teen-aged mistress faithfully visited him there, earning her the nickname “prison angel” by the prison officials. Yerkes discovered upon his release that both his and Mary’s reputations among society were irreparably ruined—he was seen as a scoundrel, she as a home wrecker. He divorced his wife and in 1880 took Mary to Chicago where they married. Mary failed utterly as a hostess, partly because of Yerkes’ merciless business tactics. By 1896 when the Yerkes New York mansion was nearing completion at No. 864 Fifth Avenue the robber baron had taken a new teenaged sweetheart. Emilie Grigsby was exactly the age that Mary had been when he met her—just sixteen. When Yerkes and his wife moved to New York, Emilie would not be far behind.

The mansion on Fifth Avenue was called by a Chicago newspaper “a palace.” Designed by R. H. Robertson, the brownstone pile rose five stories and stretched 100 feet along Fifth Avenue—four times the width of an average rowhouse—and 153 feet along 68th Street. The Yerkes mansion announced that he and Mary had arrived. The house was called “not only one of the handsomest in New York, but it is one of the most extensive.” The house next door and the lot behind the mansion would become art galleries,The outer entrance doors were framed in bronze and the inner doors were platinum-plated bronze. Upon entering the vestibule, the visitor was surrounded in marble of various shades and colors. The walls were clad in polished red marble. Pilasters separated panels of different colored marble, the floor was inlaid black and sienna marble and even the ceiling was marble in “a richly coffered design.”
The two-story entrance hall, like the vestibule, was completely constructed of marble. “Just beyond the door are two columns with pilasters of rich purple marble, with Ionic capitals of white marble and bases of Istrian marble,” as described by Barr Ferre later. Yerkes apparently felt that marble was reflective of success and taste and even the Drawing Room was clad in the stone. “The walls, from floor to ceiling, are wholly encased in Cipollino marble,” said Ferre.

The grand marble staircase rose to the second floor loggia and “serves as a monumental approach to the Italian Palm Garden,” wrote Ferre. “It is a spacious and delightful place, having the true character of an indoor, or winter garden…All of this interior is of white marble, save the cornice, which is copper.” As with most lavish homes of the 1890s the Yerkes mansion had period rooms. The Music Room was Louis XV in style with frescos by Will H. Low. The Dining Room was Elizabethan with highly-carved quartered oak walls and a vaulted ceiling. There was an East Indian Room, an Empire Room, and a Japanese Room—a near requirement of the time. The Library was finished with antique 16th century panelling.

The main bedrooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms on the second floor were sumptuous. The fireplace of the Charles’ bedroom was black onyx and the “adjoining Dressing-Room is trimmed with rosewood and has a gold-leaf frieze and ceiling. His bed had once belonged to King Ludwig of Bavaria and sat upon a dais with two steps covered in green velvet. The Bathroom has a polished marble floor and wainscot, above which is a gold frieze and ceiling with a silver cornice. The bathtub and basin are of marble and a shower is enclosed within a marble screen.” Mary’s oval boudoir was pronounced “one of the most charming [rooms] in the Mansion.” Her bed had belonged to King Leopold of Belgium. Below ground were the billiard room, a bathroom for guests, and the wine cellar. The walls of the billiard room were covered in leather with patterns formed by brass-headed nails.

Although he had failed in Philadelphia and Chicago, Yerkes attempted to push his way into New York society. He dressed Mary in the most expensive fashions and jewels. But again she fell short. Wealthy New Yorkers already knew of their reputations and Mary’s heavy drinking and clumsy manners added to the problem. She made public scenes, once interrupting a play by loudly announcing that the “Lady Teazle” on stage was incorrect—the actress was wearing pink whereas a portrait in her husband’s collection proved that Lady Teazle wore yellow. 
Mary’s fury over her husband’s flagrant affair with Emilie Grigsby intensified when he built her a magnificent Park Avenue mansion not far away. The younger woman was banned from the Fifth Avenue house where Mary more-and-more lived in isolation. According to The Evening World, “Mrs. Yerkes barred her doors to Miss Grigsby the moment she discovered the truth, and the estrangement of husband and wife dated from that moment, although to the outer world they continued to appear as before.” While Mary drank and sulked, her husband collected. The house filled with irreplaceable artwork and statuary as he spent freely at the auction houses of Europe. The valuable items in the mansion were tempting targets for accomplished sneak thieves. One of them was the cultured and educated Elijah C. Harvey. The New York Times described Harvey on May 12, 1899 as “a mulatto, thirty years old, who is a graduate of an educational institute at Andover, Mass., and who afterward studied for the ministry.” As spring weather that year induced housekeepers to open mansion windows, Harvey took advantage of the opportunity. He would brazenly climb the brownstone stoops and enter the homes through the windows. On the morning of May 3 it was the Yerkes parlor he entered.

For months the East 67th Street Police Station had been receiving complaints from residents of “a burglar who was making extensive depredations,” said The Times. Just two days before the Yerkes break-in, the night watchman at the George Crocker mansion at 64th Street and 5th Avenue had nearly captured the crook. Now this morning housekeeper Mrs. Margaret Fitzpatrick walked into the Yerkes parlor just in time to see Harvey slipping out the window with a silver basket valued at $1,000. The openwork basket was easily identifiable; on one side was Mary’s monogram and on the bottom her full name: Mary Adelaide Yerkes. Two days later when Harvey was detained by Policeman Cornelius Glynn, the burglar put on his best cultured act. “Is it not possible for you to be mistaken in your identification? I never committed a felonious act in my life,” he said. “I protest against this outrage. You must have something more than mere surmise on which to take me into custody.” When that tactic did not seem to be working, Harvey pulled a razor and lunged at the officer. He was arrested and among the pawn tickets in his pockets was one for the silver basket which he pawned for $30. “Nearly all the articles were pawned in the name of Yerkes,” reported The Times.

Even though Charles and Mary were essentially estranged—he spent most of his time in hotels—he kept her in high style. When Emily Grigsby acquired a new Columbia Hanson automobile in 1903, Mary got a custom vehicle. “One of the handsomest of the electrics ever built is the special Victoria, owned by Mrs. Charles T. Yerkes, of No. 864 Fifth Avenue,” said Automobile Topics. By 1904 Yerkes’ art collection had become so great that it required a separate building. The millionaire purchased the mansion next door at No. 860 Fifth Avenue and filed plans to convert it to a gallery. On April 21 The New York Times reported that “The house will be converted into a one-story building, 40 feet front, 100 feet deep, and 41-1/2 feet high, with a façade of carved brownstone and brick. The interior is to be finished in carved marble, decorated with ornamental columns to harmonize with the Winter garden which it will adjoin. It is to have ornamental doorway opening into the present picture gallery.” Two art gallery annexes, one to the rear on 68th Street, and one replacing the mansion next door at No. 860 held Yerkes' massive collection -- photo Library of Congress Architect Henry Ives Cobb designed the annex which cost $20,000—or about $425,000. Shortly thereafter a second gallery was added to the rear of the mansion on 68th Street, also designed by Cobb.

The gallery was a virtual museum Yerkes would not enjoy his new art galleries for long. Before the 68-year old traveled to London in 1905 with Emilie Grigsby he discovered that Mary had found a paramour—a 29-year old fortune hunter named Wilson Mizner. Prior to his voyage, Yerkes pressured Mary for a divorce and tried to get her to leave the mansion, threatening to leave her out of his will. She refused but was left seriously concerned about her security.
While in London Yerkes became seriously ill. Emilie nursed him for five weeks until he was well enough to sail home. In the meantime, Mary did some snooping. Later, in 1909, “The Federal Reporter” would say “In October, 1905, when Mr. Yerkes was in London, Mrs. Yerkes had his safe in 864 Fifth avenue, the combination of which was known only to Mr. Yerkes…drilled open, and she found in it, among other things…a bill of sale dated Mary 24, 1896, assigning to her ‘her executors, administrators and assigns, all and singular the furniture and household goods together with each and every painting and picture now contained in the house, No. 864 Fifth avenue.” As long as Charles Yerkes died before he had a chance to change the will, Mary was in good shape. Yerkes arrived in New York in November and went directly from the steamer to the Waldorf-Astoria. Had he gone home, he would have found that Wilson Mizner was living in his mansion. Instead, doctors and nurses crowded into his suite in the hotel and tried to save him. Rather than asking to see Mary, he repeatedly called for Emilie. The beautiful young mistress stayed by his side, in obvious despair, while doctors advised “against the visit of Mrs. Yerkes,” according to newspapers. He died on December 29, 1905 with Mary and her sister in an adjoining room. Mary briefly considered going into the room to reconcile; then told her sister “It is too late now,” and after his death commented “I think I did right. He treated me shamefully.”

Charles T. Yerkes’ body was removed from the Waldorf-Astoria in a wicker basket and taken to the mansion on Fifth Avenue where it was transferred into a rich wooden casket. Mary had the house protected by a team of detectives to keep unwanted interlopers—presumably including Emilie Grigsby—away from the funeral. Roundsman Sheehan told reporters “We have orders to shoot any one who tries to go up those steps. And we’ll carry out orders.” Yerkes coffin, draped in black velvet and dripping with purple orchids, was carried down the brownstone steps to the hearse by six detectives. The Evening World reported “Only six carriages followed the hearse, and neither Miss Emilie Grigsby nor any member of her family was in the cortege.”

New York society waited to hear if Emilie would be beneficiary to any of Yerkes’ millions. But Yerkes had died before he had time to change his will and on January 3, 1906 the terms were publicized. The will, according to The Ottawa Free Trader on January 5, “leaves practically all the vast estate, estimated at $15,000,000, to Mrs. Yerkes and the two children for their life use…After the death of Mrs. Yerkes the family home and its magnificent art collection, supported by an endowment of $750,000, becomes a public gallery.” The newspaper added “Whatever provision was made for Miss Grigsby…if any, evidently was made by gift before the magnate’s death. It is reported that Mr. Yerkes, only a few days before his death, gave Miss Grigsby a check for something like $250,000, which was dated ahead, and therefore is worthless, as the magnate died before the date of the check.” Emilie Grigsby, however, had nothing to worry about financially. Charles T. Yerkes had left her quite well taken care of.

If Mary Yerkes still had any aspirations of social climbing, they were dashed when the newspapers reported of her marriage to Wilson Mizner less than a month after her husband’s death. On February 1, 1906 The New York Times said “Mrs. Mary Adelaide Yerkes, the widow of Charles T. Yerkes, and Wilson Mizner were married at the home of Mrs. Yerkes at 864 Fifth Avenue, at 8:30 o’clock on Tuesday evening.” The newspaper added “Mrs. Mizner is 45 years old. Mr. Mizner is not yet 30.” The Times shocked proper readers by saying “Wilson Mizner has been in town for several weeks. He has been stopping at the Hotel Astor, and has received many telephone messages from Mrs. Yerkes. Immediately after the receipt of every message Mr. Mizner went in a cab to the Yerkes residence.”

Before long Mary realized that Mizner was only after her millions and shortly after the wedding she told a reporter “Just another idol shattered. That’s what all this money has done for me. Robbed me of all my real friends, made me doubt them all, suspect and fear them.” She divorced Wilson Mizner in May 1907 and arranged to take back the name Yerkes. Even with Wilson Mizner out of the house, Mary’s life did not get easier. Days after the divorce, Joseph D. Redding appeared. Redding was the lawyer Mary had hired in 1904 when her financial security seemed tenuous. The lawyer was retained to “obtain for her a share of the property of Yerkes including a share of his bonds, stocks, and all securities.” He claimed she agreed to give him twenty percent of whatever she received. Then, the day following Charles Yerkes’ death, he received a letter from Mary dismissing him. Redding now brought suit against her for his twenty per-cent commission.

Her troubles continued. Within a month she was riding down Jerome Avenue in her automobile with two other women “when the party ran foul of Policeman Silverbaur,” reported The Sun on June 10. Mary’s chauffeur, Edward Roshing, was arrested for speeding despite her protesting that they were indeed not going fast. In order to get home Mary gave her house as security so her chauffeur could be released. On June 25, 1908 Mary was once again riding in her car chauffeured by Roshing. Also in the automobile were Catherine Manack and Mary A. Fitzpatrick and Mary’s footman. As the car entered Washington Square Park from West 4th Street, 11-year old Dominick Pasquale ran in front of it. Little Dominick was struck and the footman, Edward Hurley, grabbed the boy in his arms. “Mrs. Yerkes threw open the door of the tonneau, and, reaching her arms out to the lad, said to the foorman: ‘Give him to me and then drive to St. Vincent’s Hospital,’” reported The Times. On the way to the hospital Mary comforted the boy “with promises of baseballs and bats and all sorts of other things if he would only be brave and try not to cry.” At the hospital it was determined that the boy had severe internal injuries. Mary asked the physician to “do everything in his power for the boy.”

Once again Edward Roshing found himself under arrest and, once again, Mary Yerkes was without a ride home. She asked Lt. Noble to send a policeman with her chauffeur so he might drive her home before being arrested. Despite her pleas, she was compelled to send to a nearby garage to hire a driver to take her home in her car. Mary’s greatest problems were to come. The will was contested. Later The New York Times explained “When a division of the estate was attempted, the widow maintained that the Fifth Avenue house and the art collection was her property under deeds of assignment made by her husband. This was not upheld by the probate courts of Cook County, Illinois, where Yerkes had his residence.” Mary was forced to give up the Fifth Avenue mansion and the art collection, all of which was sold at auction.

An advertisement in the New-York Tribune on February 20, 1910 listed part of the “very important collection of exceedingly valuable ancient and modern paintings.” Included were works of art by Rodin, Houdon, Falconet, Boucher and Van Loo. Antiques included Renaissance and Flemish tapestries, Persian rugs of the 15th and 16th centuries and paintings of the great masters. There were four Rembrandts, four works by Franz Hals, and paintings by Boucher, Breughel, Holbein, Raphael, Rubens Watteau and many others. The auction lasted for days and newspapers reported the staggering amounts paid for rare items. A sword owned by Oliver Cromwell and dated 1650 sold for $1,500. A life-sized bronze sculpture of Diana by Houdon brought $51,000; two Carrara marble sculptures by Rodin were purchased by an anonymous donor as gifts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art including this Baghdad carpet. If Manhattan’s elite never passed through the Yerkes doorways for social functions, they did for the sale. Among the buyers were Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. Cooper Hewitt, Seth Milliken, Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, Mrs. Herman Oelrichs, and Mrs. Samuel Untermyer.

Charles T. Yerkes fabulous mansion became home to Louis Terah Haggin. Haggin had started out life as a lawyer; but with the death of his father in 1914 he took over the presidency of the Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation. Of his father’s $20 million estate, Haggin had inherited nearly $4 million, which was quickly increased with the directorships in other companies he took over from his father. The widowed executive lived alone in the massive mansion with his staff of servants. His daughter, Eila, who was married to Robert Tittle McKee, lived nearby at No. 136 East 79th Street. A tireless worker, he was still going routinely to his office in 1929 at the age of 81. In the middle of March that year, however, Haggin contracted pneumonia. He was confined to his bed in the mansion for ten days until he died there on March 26.

Prior to July 1937 the Yerkes mansion and galleries had become a garden to Thomas Fortune Ryan's home.On December 13, 1925 The New York Times reported that neighbor Thomas Fortune Ryan had purchased the house and galleries for $1.1 million. The buildings, it reported, were "to be torn down to enlarge the flower garden of Thomas Fortune Ryan...which will probably be the most valuable garden site in the world." In July 1937 a modern apartment building was erected on the site


The Schwarzenberg Carpet

There is a magnificent Safavid 16th century carpet Size 517x217 in THE MIA Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar of which the origin is not clear. What is known is that this magnificent piece belonged to the Schwarzenberg family for centuries and was housed in their residence in Palais Schwarzenberg, Vienna, so to gather more information on the carpet it is always good to start with its’ provenance.

The Schwarzenberg family’s history starts with the Lords of Seinsheim, who had established themselves in Franconia during the Middle Ages. A branch of the Seinsheim family (the non-Schwarzenberg portion died out in 1958) was created when Erkinger of Seinsheim acquired the Franconian territory of Schwarzenberg and the castle of Schwarzenberg in Scheinfeld during the early part of the 15th century. He was then granted the title of Freiherr (Baron) of Schwarzenberg in 1429. At that time, the family also possessed some fiefdoms in Bohemia.

In 1599, the Schwarzenbergs were elevated to Imperial Counts, and the family was later raised to princely status in 1670. In 1623 came the Styrian Dominion of Murau into the Schwarzenberg family due to the marriage of Count Georg Ludwig of Schwarzenberg (1586 - 1646) with Anna Neumann von Wasserleonburg (1535 - 1623). Furthermore, the House of Schwarzenberg acquired extensive land holdings in Bohemia in 1661 through a marriage alliance with the House of Eggenberg. In the 1670s, the Schwarzenbergs established their primary seat in Bohemia and, until 1918, their main residence was in Český Krumlov, Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic).

At the beginning of the 19th century, the House of Schwarzenberg was divided into two princely-titled lines. This division was already foreseen in the will of Prince Ferdinand (*1652 - †1703). However, the absence of two male heirs until Joseph II. and Karl I. Philipp inhibited the execution. The senior branch,which held not only the Palais Schwarzenberg in Vienna, but also the Dominions of Scheinfeld, Krumlov, Frauenberg and Murau, died out in the male line in 1979 upon the death of Joseph III of Schwarzenberg, who was the 11th Prince of Schwarzenberg. The cadet branch, which was established by Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg at Orlík Castle, continues to the present day. The two branches have now been re-united under the current head of the family, Karl VII of Schwarzenberg, who is the 12th Prince of Schwarzenberg. He is a Czech politician and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.


Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg (or Charles Philip, Prince of Schwarzenber, 1771 – 1820, creator of the cadent branch) was an Austrian field marshal and the son of Johann Nepomuk Anton of Schwarzenberg and Marie Eleonore Countess of Öttingen-Wallerstein, He entered the imperial cavalry in 1788, fought in 1789 under Lacy and Loudon against the Turks, distinguished himself by his bravery and became a major in 1792. In the French campaign of 1793 he served in the advanced guard of the army commanded by Prince Josias of Coburg and at Le Cateau-Cambrésis in 1794 his impetuous charge at the head of his regiment, vigorously supported by twelve British squadrons, broke a whole corps of the French, killed and wounded 3,000 men, and captured 32 of the enemy's guns. He was immediately decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa.


The Baghdad Carpet

The carpet pictured here is a Safavid era carpet currently in the MET Museum where its place of origin is reflected as Iran. Object Name: Carpet Date: first half 16th century...1530 ? Geography: Iran...(who in MET changed the Baghdad to Iran ?) Medium: Silk (warp and weft), wool (pile); asymmetrically knotted pile Dimensions: Rug: H. 196 in. (497.8 cm) W. 134 in. (340.4 cm) Tube: H. 146 in. (370.8 cm) Weight: 79 lbs. (198 lbs. rolled on tube. tube is 119 lbs. empty) Diam. 20 in. (50.8 cm) Classification: Textiles-Rugs Credit Line: Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1910 (the fund that used to buy it from Yerkes estate) Accession Number: 10.61.3

 

This carpet was first showcased in one of the most important exhibitions of Art history in Paris 1878 where it was called a “Baghdad” carpet and bought by Vincent Robinson of London who sold it to Baron Adolph Thiem of Berlin who in turn sold it to Charles Tyson Yerkes in 1896. In 1910, 5 years after his death , it was bought by the MET still called a “Baghdad” carpet, but later renamed to a carpet from Iran, for unknown reasons.

Another interesting fact about this particular carpet is that it was cut into two halves at some point for unknown reasons, and later a weaver rewove the missing halves onto each carpet, creating two carpets from the one. The one “rewoven” carpet is this one and the other “rewoven” carpet is in a museum in Lyon, France.

As if the above renaming and reweaving is not enough, I was hugely excited to find this carpet and its original attribution to Baghdad, because it always puzzled me why no Baghdad carpets are in museums around the world. Since the time that the Persian king, Cyrus of the Achaemenid Empire, conquered Mesopotamia all of current day Iraq formed part of Persian territories and the capital of the Sassanid Dynasty 500 years later was Ctesiphon, located in current day Iraq, a mere 35 kilometers southeast of Baghdad and considering the massive contribution the Sassanid Empire made to Persian art, it is a given that carpets were woven in the territories of the “old” Mesopotamia. King Cyrus had a tapestry woven in Mesopotamia hanging on one wall of his tomb and it is quite possible that the infamous Sassanid Baharestan carpet,taken as spoils by the Arab invaders in the 7th century AD, was also woven here. The “Iraq” territories remained part of Persia (throughout all invasions) until it was finely taken by the Ottomans. How is it possible that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of all the carpets from the Topkapi Palace and elsewhere, that nearly none were attributed to Baghdad or surrounds? 


The lost Hatvany Safavid era carpet fragment

The carpets woven during the Safavid Dynasty of Iran are exquisite museum pieces that reminds us just how incredible this art form was when patronized by royalty. Although there are quite a few surviving pieces in the museums around the world, there are many others that did not survive through the eras due to many wars, fires and destructions. One of these pieces that I recently discovered is a fragment bought by Baron Hatvany for fifty thousand gold francs from a Polish family in Paris.

Baron Ferenc Hatvany (BUDAPEST, 1881 - 1958, LAUSANE), was the son of Baron Sándor Hatvany-Deutsch (1852 – 1913), a leading Hungarian Jewish industrialist, business magnate, philanthropist, investor and art patron. Ferenc was himself a painter and art collector, pupil of Adolf Fényes and Sándor Bihari, he worked in Nagybánya as well and finished his studies at the Academy Julian in Pars. His excellent taste is revealed not only by his paintings, but also by his noted art collection including contemporary great masters of French art: Cézanne, Renoir and Manet,

He later sold the fragment to Edmund de Unger in 1944: described as a mid- 16th century Safavid fragment size:1.94x1.49 that was thankfully photographed by Arthur Upham Pope in his Survey of Persian Art, before being lost or destroyed in WW2. From the photograph is appears that the carpet was likely made from a miniature of the Shah Tahmasp court illustrating him entertaining a guest in the garden pavilion.

For me this fragment is the ultimate showcase of the Safavid court carpets, like the Sanguszko carpet that we wrote about before, that was taken as war booty by Prince Sanguszko from the Ottoman Emperor after the Battle of Khotin and remained in the possession of the Sanguszko family. It was first exhibited in 1904 at St. Petersburg. It was rediscovered by Arthur Upham Pope and shown again in 1931 in London, at the International Exhibition (Congress) of Persian Art, where it caused a great sensation. For the next twenty-three years, Pope had it on loan exhibition" and it became known as the Sanguszko carpet due to its provenance. The carpet was displayed in 1949 for the visit of the Shah of Iran to Pope's Asia Institute in New York. I dare say that the Hatvany carpet was a much finer piece than the Sanguszko.


Saffron - the Gold of Spice

If you know Iranian food you will know that saffron plays a massive role in the overall cuisine from sweet to savoury dishes. Saffron is the most expensive “spice” in the world, it is worth its weight in gold (starting from $811 per kg), and yet in Iran there are many dishes that require this ingredient. It is not necessarily cheaper in Iran than anywhere else, but since 85% of the world’s saffron is grown there Iranians have various different grades of saffron to choose from and through time they learnt how to use saffron sufficiently but sparingly in their cuisine.

Through millennia saffron was not only prized as an ingredient for delicious food, but it was also highly prized as a dye stuff and medicine. The oldest known example of the use of saffron (as a paint) is in a 50,000 year old cave art illustrating beasts, in modern day Iraq. In ancient Persia, saffron (Crocus sativus 'Hausknechtii') was cultivated at Derbena and Isfahan in the 10th century BC. It was used as a brilliant yellow dye in royal Persian carpets as well as funeral shrouds and also as perfume, medicine and ritual offerings to deities by ancient Persian worshippers. Saffron threads were even scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a cure for melancholy. Foreign travellers to Persia, however, were widely suspicious of it as they believed it to be a drugging agent and an aphrodisiac, so much so that travellers were fore-warned not to eat the saffron-laced Persian cuisine. In addition, Persian saffron was dissolved in water with sandalwood to use as a body wash after heavy work and perspiration under the hot Persian sun. Its medicinal qualities were so revered that even Alexander the Great used saffron sprinkled in his warm bath water believing, like Cyrus the Great before him, that it would heal his many wounds and his faith in saffron grew with each treatment. He even recommended saffron baths for the ordinary men under him. The Greek soldiers, taken with saffron's perceived curative properties, continued the practice after they returned to Macedonia. From Persia it spread to many different regions where each starting growing its own variant, but Iranian saffron is still regarded as the best in quality today.

So what about saffron makes it so expensive? Firstly, the spice comes from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus" and is a triploid. It can’t grow in the wild or reproduce without human intervention. Secondly, the gorgeous purple flower is painstakingly propagated and the threads harvested by hand only on the morning it blooms. The more careful the cultivation, the higher the price. The threads are then collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. Thus to grow and cultivate this plant is a long and arduous process that require many man hours to succeed.

Gonabad is the main saffron growing region in Iran and it is a dry region with almost no rainfall. To solve the problem of providing water for the saffron crocus, the ancient Persians thought of an ingenius idea to ensure sufficient water supply to this very popular and exclusive spice and other agrecultiral endeavours, they built qanats (a gently sloping underground channel that transports water from an aquifer or water well to surface for irrigation and drinking.

Qanats still create a reliable supply of water for human settlements and irrigation in hot, arid, and semi-arid climates today). The Qanats of Gonabad is ofcourse one of the oldest and largest qanats in the world built between 700 BC to 500 BC, and is still in use today. This site was officially added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 2016 with several other qanats under the World Heritage Site name of "The Persian Qanet”.

In the time of the Achaemenid Dynasty there was a ruling that someone who succeeded in constructing a qanat and bringing groundwater to the surface in order to cultivate land, or in renovating an abandoned qanat, would not need to pay the government any taxes for up to 5 generations after him. Thanks to this engineering feat the cultivation of Persian saffron succeeded and grew through the ages to such an extent that Iran is now the largest producer of saffron in the world, together with pistachio, berberis (zereshk), caviar, stone fruit and berries.


Polite Persians

I recently watched the documentary of the late Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Iran that we posted on this page earlier this month and I had to chuckle about his confusion of the politeness of the people in Iran and their unbelievable kindness to strangers. Anyone who has ever had Persian friends or neighbours or family knows this: Persians are amongst the friendliest people in the world! It is more than just being polite and kind, complete strangers will welcome you into their home and go above and beyond any hospitality you have ever experienced in your life. So many westerners are completely awestruck and baffled by this and no matter in which country you meet Iranians, their behaviour is always the same, it’s universally Persian. I thought about this and my own experience of marrying into a Persian family and it struck me that this is why the Persian culture has survived for thousands of years. Persians will literally go out of their way to accommodate or help you in any way shape or form. Instead of giving you directions somewhere, they will leave everything to take you there themselves. A offer of having tea will often become a dinner invitation. They will offer your their bed and sleep on the floor, all just to make sure that you as their guest (which almost certainly means "new friend") is fully content.

If you ever get invited to an Iranian home you will be overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people and their shear happiness to host you. You can be sure that you will be treated like royalty for the entire night! A huge part of the evening will be dedicated to Persian cuisine that is their pride and joy. Iranians did not have a restaurant culture until recently, so all their dishes are home made with a lot of love. All Iranians know how to cook the same favourite dishes, and they are many and varied, so no matter where you meet them in the world you will be treated to these dishes cooked at home in the same way for centuries, with recipes passed down from one generation to the next. Every dish is cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients and most dishes take 6 hours or so to cook, some even up to 24 hours and a few very special ones can take up to a week. It does not end with cooking every dish, the dishing up and decorating of each is very special as well. Great attention to detail is given to each dish and the garnishing of it with beautiful and special ingredients, almost certainly dished up in exquisite handmade Iranian dishware. One of the most important components is of course the Persian rice cooked to absolute perfection in a rice cooker and the cherry on top is the crispy layer at the bottom (called tadik) that is the pride and joy of every Persian cook. You will be forgiven for thinking that you have stepped into an elaborate medieval banquet when you enter the Iranian dining rooms, the sheer variety and volume of the dishes can be overwhelming! But the more food there is, the greater their happiness to host you.

Indulging in the main course is not the end or beginning of your night with Persians. When you arrive the starters are as many as the main course. Seasonal fruits of all kinds and fresh herbal salads are a must at any Persian party, as is the yoghurt flavoured with different ingredients, some with cucumber and garlic, others with peppers and garlic and so the varieties continue. There is lots of singing and dancing before the main course and most definitely an Iranian instrument (like their drums “daf”) will be played to classic and modern Persian songs. Iranians are happy to have friends and family over and the rejoicing with song and dance is almost as important as the feasting on the main course. You will be pulled onto the “dance floor” and taught to strut your Persian dance moves and if you succeed your hosts will reward your efforts with loud praise and applause!

After the main course, it is time for the ever important Persian tea and of course deserts. Because of the volume of food of the main course, the deserts are not as many or varied and if you are lucky you will be served Iranian cookies and sweets that are often made with rose water, saffron and pistachio nuts, if these are available in the specific country. You are most certainly going to be treated to baklava. The serving of the tea is very important. It must be just the right colour served in a clear cup (most of the time beautifully decorated ones from Iran) and enjoyed with a small bite of something sweet, often a sugar cube or sugar crystal from Iran. You can be sure that there will be enough sweet things to indulge in if you still have a little hungry spot after the mains, which I seriously doubt! One thing is for sure, it will be an experience that you will never forget (for the right reasons!) and it will be one of the occasions that you will feel very special!

But their hospitality does not just revolve around food and dance. Persian politeness is known the world over. They do not like harshness of any kind and certainly not unkind words or behaviour. Their treatment of you will always be with the greatest of respect no matter under which circumstances. “For Iranians, kind words are always important. Maybe it is because our Persian spirit carries a lot of poetry in it. Our most important thinkers are poets, most of them very ancient, and a language full of kindness and praise is still today present in our readings.” explained Iranian artist Fereshteh Najafi in a BBC interview about "The Persian art of etiquette". The ugliness of mankind is something that Persians have tried to soften through all the centuries with their beautiful artforms. Bringing a kind element and beauty to the cold starkness of reality is probably the greatest Persian art of all!

No matter what the media says, once you meet Iranians you soon realize that many things portrait in the media about them simply aren’t true. Often in the west we have preconceived ideas about the Middle Eastern countries and people, simply because their cultures are so vastly different from ours, they are the unknown frontier to us. Yet majority of these countries are the oldest in the world with civilizations stretching back millennia. Persia should be thanked for so many inventions that we still use today and yet, history often does not reflect this fact. A great example of Persian hospitality is that of Cyrus the Great who established the first great Persian Empire in the 6th century BC. As a new powerful force the Persians had to defend their borders or yield to other kingdoms and that led to the expansion of the Persian Empire that would eventually encompass 40% of the world’s population. The Persians however did not expect all their new territories to become Persian, rather they allowed each region to rule itself and the people to worship their own deities and this led to the writing of the first human rights charter. This charter is recorded in the UN building and it is still aspired to today. It is a brilliant indication of how welcoming Persians are to others and why Cyrus the Great is still viewed as the messiah of the Hebrews and the greatest king Persia ever had.

The Persians themselves have been invaded so many times throughout their history by so many vastly different forces, that it is truly incredible that their culture and identity is still so strong today. Maybe that is exactly the reason why. Being subjected to so many different new leaders and cultures most likely makes you cherish and hold onto your own. The ingenious method of the Persians to charm their invaders to such an extent that the invaders often became preservers of the Persian culture themselves, is simply admirable and the reason we can still enjoy this rich culture. Being a major power on the Silk Road and inviting so many foreigners into their borders naturally added to the Persians’ hospitability. This is a nation of merchants and negotiators, middle men and scholars, entertainers and storytellers, craftsmen and artists who were often employed in other Empires as advisors in court because of their knowledge and neutrality.

From afar the culture may appear very conservative, but it is the desire to maintain the Persian identity that makes them so protective of it. And thank goodness for that! Because of their pride in their history we can enjoy their unbelievable hospitality! Perhaps it is having learned over time that kindness can win over any hostility and eating delicious food together can warm the coldest heart that created this beautiful and powerful hospitable culture. It is something they practice daily even with other Iranians and it is, sadly, something that we in the west will never see or know until we meet a Persian.

Photograph: (Credit: Julihana Valle)


From Russia with love...the Samovar

In honour of the hosts of the 21st FIFA World Cup we would like to pay homage to a Russian product that has changed the lives of many, especially Iranians!

When you talk about the tea culture in Iran and it is impossible to talk about it without mentioning the Samovar/Tea maker (self boiler). This handy instrument enabled civilizations to have warm drinking water throughout the day at a time when electricity was not yet in use. Samovar-like pottery was found in Shaki, Azerbaijan, estimated to be at least 3,600 years old. While it differed from modern samovars in many respects, it contained the distinguishing functional feature of an inner cylindrical tube that increased the area available for heating the water. Unlike modern samovars, the tube was not closed from below, and so the device relied on an external fire (i.e. by placing it above the flame) instead of carrying its fuel and fire internally.

The first historically recorded samovar-makers in Russia were the Lisitsyn brothers, Ivan Fyodorovich and Nazar Fyodorovich. From their childhood they were engaged in metalworking at the brass factory of their father, Fyodor Ivanovich Lisitsyn. In 1778 they made a samovar, and the same year Nazar Lisitsyn registered the first samovar-making factory in Russia. They may not have been the inventors of the samovar, but they were the first documented samovar-makers, and their various and beautiful samovar designs became very influential throughout the later history of samovar-making.These and other early producers lived in Tula, a city known for its metalworkers and arms-makers. Since the 18th century Tula has been also the main center of Russian samovar production, with tul'sky samovar being the brand mark of the city. A Russian saying equivalent to "carrying coal to Newcastle" is "to travel to Tula with one's own samovar". By the 19th century samovars were already a common feature of Russian tea culture. They were produced in large numbers and exported to Central Asia and other regions.

The samovar was an important attribute of a Russian household and particularly well-suited to tea-drinking in a communal setting over a protracted time period. The Russian expression "to have a sit by the samovar" means to have a leisurely talk while drinking tea from a samovar. In everyday use samovars were an economical permanent source of hot water in older times. Various slow-burning items could be used for fuel, such as charcoal or dry pine cones. A traditional samovar, nowadays, consists of a large metal container with a tap near the bottom and a metal pipe running vertically through the middle. The pipe is filled with solid fuel which is ignited to heat the water in the surrounding container. A small (6 to 8 inch) smoke-stack is put on the top to ensure draft. After the water boils and the fire is extinguished, the smoke-stack can be removed and a teapot placed on top to be heated by the rising hot air. The teapot is used to brew a strong concentrate of tea known as заварка (zavarka). The tea is served by diluting this concentrate with кипяток (kipyatok) (boiled water) from the main container, usually at a water-to-tea ratio of 10-to-1, although tastes vary.

In Iran, samovars have been used for at least two centuries (roughly since the era of close political and ethnic contact between Russia and Iran started and it was introduced into Iran), and electrical, oil-burning or natural gas-consuming samovars are still common. Samovar is pronounced samăvar in Persian. Iranian craftsmen used Persian art motifs in their samovar production. The Iranian city of Borujerd has been the main centre of samovar production and a few workshops still produce hand-made samovars. Borujerd's samovars are often made with German silver, in keeping with the famous Varsho-Sazi artistic style. The art samovars of Borujerd are often displayed in Iranian and Western museums as illustrations of Iranian art and handicraft.

So important is the samovar in Iranian culture that its' design is even used in Persian carpet designs, like in the border of this Gholtogh rug.


Along came a spider...

I recently bought an old book on Persian carpets called "Antique Rugs from the Near East" written by Bode/Kuhnel in 1970. On the cover of the book is a carpet that I have seen online before and that has always intrigued me.

THE RUG
It is a niche cloudband rug from Anatolia and it has the "mother goddess of weaving, the spider", on it. Upon further reading and investigation I found that the rug belonged to Heinrich Von Angeli who purchased it from Wilhelm Von Bode in 1871.

THE COLLECTOR
Von Bode (10 December 1845 – 1 March 1929) was a German art historian and curator. Born Arnold Wilhelm Bode in Calvörde, he was ennobled in 1913. He was the creator and first curator of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, now called the Bode Museum in his honor, in 1904. Bode studied law at the Universities of Göttingen and Berlin, but took an interest in art during his university years. While practicing law in Braunschweig he systematically rearranged the ducal art collections, and visited a number of museums and private collections in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy. After studies in art history in Berlin and Vienna, he received his doctorate from the University of Leipzig in 1870 based on his dissertation Frans Hals und seine Schule.

In 1871 Bode participated in the so-called "Holbein convention" in Dresden, at which a number of prominent art historians convened to determine which of two versions of Hans Holbein the Younger's Meyer Madonna was the original work. In 1872 he took a position as an assistant curator of sculpture in the royal museums in Berlin, and became director of the department in 1883. He took over the Gemäldegalerie in 1890, and became general director of what is now the Berlin State Museums in 1905, succeeding Richard Schöne. Many of his efforts were devoted to the new Kaiser Friedrich Museum on Museum Island; his close relationship with the imperial family, his political astuteness, and his relationships with artists and collectors throughout Europe enabled to amass a major collection for the museum. In the 1890s Berlin was far behind Munich and Dresden in its art collections, but with the enthusiastic participation of Wilhelm II, Bode was able to shift the center of the German art world to the capital. He was also in charge of rebuilding the museums of Strasbourg, whose collections had been entirely destroyed in 1870 by Prussian bombardments during the Franco-Prussian War. Bode occupied this post from 1889 to 1914, establishing the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Cabinet des estampes et des dessins as well as setting the grounds of part of the current Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame's collections. Bode's writings on a wide variety of topics in art history, particularly Italian Renaissance art, were widely influential, and remain key texts in the field. His autobiography, Mein Leben, was published posthumously in 1930.

THE PAINTER
Heinrich von Angeli was born on 8 July 1840 in Sopron (Austrian Empire). He studied at the Vienna Academy in Düsseldorf before practising as a history painter in Munich 1859-62. Returning to Vienna, he became a Professor at the Academy and a fashionable portrait painter. Like many portrait painters of the era, Heinrich too used Oriental rugs in his paintings and this niche cloudband rug from Anatolia was one he used more often. He not only painted the portrait of the Crown Princess of Prussia in 187, 1874, 1877, 1880, 1882 and 1893; but also that of Queen Victoria in 1875, 1890 and 1899. He was also commissioned to paint Empress Elisabeth of Austria in which he also used this particular carpet. Bode bought back the rug from Heinrich's widow in around 1925 (Heinrich died in Vienna on 21 October 1925) and it later ended in the collection of Berlin Kaiser Friedrich Museum and later into Museum fur Islamische Kunst.

THE SUBJECT
Elisabeth of Bavaria (24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898) was Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, and many other titles through her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I. Not only was she a beautiful subject to paint, but her personal story adds just so much more drama to it all. Elisabeth was born into the royal Bavarian house of Wittelsbach. Nicknamed "Sisi", she enjoyed an informal upbringing before marrying Emperor Franz Joseph I at the age of sixteen. The marriage thrust her into the much more formal Habsburg court life, for which she was unprepared and which she found uncongenial. Early in the marriage she was at odds with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, who took over the rearing of Elisabeth's daughters, one of whom, Sophie, died in infancy. The birth of a male heir, Rudolf, improved her standing at court, but her health suffered under the strain, and she would often visit Hungary for its more relaxed environment. She came to develop a deep kinship with Hungary and helped to bring about the dual monarchy of Austria–Hungary in 1867.

The death of her only son and his mistress Mary Vetsera, in a murder–suicide at his hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889 was a blow from which Elisabeth never recovered. She withdrew from court duties and traveled widely, unaccompanied by her family. In 1890, she had a palace built on the Greek Island of Corfu that she visited often. Named Achilleion, after Homer's tragic hero Achilles, the palace featured an elaborate Greek mythological motif and served as a refuge. She was obsessively concerned with maintaining her youthful figure and beauty, which were already legendary during her life. While travelling in Geneva in 1898, she was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni. Elisabeth was the longest serving Empress of Austria at 44 years.


I never managed to find a photo of the painting of Elisabeth on the niche cloudband rug from Anatolia painted by Heinrich, but I cannot help but think just how suitable this rug with the lone goddess spider was to include in her painting.


A Collector's Fortune: Islamic Art Masterpieces of the Keir Collection now at the DMA

The Keir Collection of Islamic Art Gallery, now in the Dallas Museum of Art, is the largest public presentation in the history of one of the world's most important private collections of Islamic Art. The gallery highlights particular strengths within the collection, which encompasses one of the most important holdings of luster pottery and rock crystals in the world including the celebrated rock crystal ewer, one of only seven in the world of its caliber and the only one of its type in the United States. The gallery space displays a series of rare manuscripts and painted miniatures of exquisite beauty, including a 16th-century Indian Khamsa of Nizami manuscript, and pages from the 1330 Shahnama known as “The Demotte Shahnama.”

The Keir Collection came to the DMA on a long-term loan agreement with the trustees of the Keir Collection that was finalized in 2014, transforming the Museum into the third largest repository of Islamic art in the United States. The Collection is on show from April 18, 2017 to April 26, 2020. The Keir Collection comprises works from nearly all periods and artistic styles from the core Islamic countries around the Mediterranean, from Iran and Central Asia. Brocades and carpets, early medieval bronzes, exquisite rock crystal objects, priceless calligraphies, miniatures and elaborately adorned bookbindings all feature in the loan. One of its most striking attributes are its ceramics dating from all periods – one good reason alone for the world renown of this private collection. What is also astounding is the story of the person behind the Keir Collection, Edmund de Unger.

Who was Edmund de Unger?

"My love of Islamic art began with carpets. I first became aware of them at the age of six, when my father Richard told me not to walk on them. My father was a rather solitary person and, seeing my interest, he must have been pleased. He took me to museums, and by the age of nine I was quite a good companion to him in the salesrooms. After the war and my departure from my homeland I was once again able to continue the collecting of what my fellow Oxford undergraduates had called "moth-eaten rags". Slowly, not only the floors but also the walls of my home became covered with new acquisitions."....

Edmund Robert Anthony de Unger (Hungarian: Odon Antal Robert de Unger, b 6 August 1918, Budapest - d 25 January 2011, Ham, Surrey) was a Hungarian-born property developer and art collector. In London he built up the Keir Collection, one of the greatest post-war collections of Islamic art, bequeathed in 2008 to the Pergamon Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin. The arrangement for the museum to curate the collection came to an end in July 2012.The collection is now hosted by the Dallas Museum of Art as of May 2014 for a 15-year renewable loan. Edmund de Unger was born in Budapest into a family linked with the art world. His father was a private collector of carpets and another relative was the architect who designed the Hungarian National Museum. After going to London in 1934 to learn English, he studied economics at Kiel Institute for the World Economy, law at the University of Budapest and history at Hertford College, Oxford. Returning to Hungary before the outbreak of World War II, in 1945 he married Eva Spicht, one of 22 Jewish refugees whom he had taken in during the Battle of Budapest. After the war he restored and ran the Astoria Hotel in Budapest, until it was requisitioned by the communist regime in 1948.

In 1949 de Unger, following a series of arrests in Hungary, moved permanently to England, working first as a manservant. After further training, he entered the legal profession as a barrister. He later worked as Crown Counsel in Ghana for the Colonial Office. The period in West Africa permitted visits to Egypt, where he developed an interest in Coptic and Islamic art. On returning to England, de Unger became a property developer, which provided him with the means to build up his post-war art collection, which he named the "Keir Collection", after one of his first homes The Keir on Wimbledon Common in London. In 1965, following the death of his first wife Eva in 1959, he married Elizabeth Allen, with whom he had two sons, Richard and Glen.

The ever-increasing Keir Collection was moved in the late 1960s to his house in Ham, Surrey. The collection, which started in his youth with carpets, gradually grew to include ceramics, in particular rare items of lustreware from Mesopotamia, Persian and Moghul miniatures, medieval and Renaissance enamels, sculptures, and textiles from Italy and France (including the medieval enamels collection of Ernst and Martha Kofler-Truniger). Widely knowledgeable on the area in which he collected, de Unger founded the Islamic Art Circle in 1964 and lectured frequently on his expertise all over the world. One big mentor of him was Werner Abegg the king of textiles which I address later...


The Canal that Darius built

The modern day Suez canal in Egypt opened on 17 November 1869, brought a welcome thoroughfare connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. It offers watercraft a shorter journey between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans via the Mediterranean and Red seas by avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans, in turn reducing the journey by approximately 7,000 kilometres.

A lesser known fact is that the Suez canal of today is an ancient concept. The legendary Sesostris (likely either Pharaoh Senusret II or Senusret III of the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt) may have started work on an ancient canal joining the Nile with the Red Sea (1897 BC – 1839 BC), when an irrigation channel was constructed around 1850 BC that was navigable during the flood season, leading into a dry river valley east of the Nile River Delta named Wadi Tumelat. It was called the Canal of the Pharaos. A later canal, probably incorporating a portion of the first, was constructed under the reign of Necho II around 600BC, but the only fully functional canal was engineered and completed by Darius I of Persia 500 BC.

To celebrate this achievement, Darius erected five monuments in Wadi Tumilat, named Darius the Great's Suez Inscriptions. The monuments contains texts written in Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian and Egyptian, commemorating the opening of a canal between the Nile and the Bitter Lakes. The monument, also known as the Chalouf stele, records the construction of a forerunner of the modern Suez Canal by the Persians, a canal through Wadi Tumilat. The stated purpose of the canal was the creation of a shipping connection between the Nile and the Red Sea, between Egypt and Persia. The surviving inscriptions read:

"King Darius says: I am a Persian; setting out from Persia. I conquered Egypt. I ordered to dig this canal from the river that is called Nile and flows in Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. Therefore, when this canal had been dug as I had ordered, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, as I had intended."


The Ram's Horn

There are many Persian carpets with the ram’s horn motif on it and the symbolism behind it is fertility, power and masculinity. The importance of this symbol comes from millennia ago when the Age of Aries began around 2160BC and brought with it a whole host of new kingdoms and empires, until the Age of Pisces started around 0BC. “The Ram, who is rich with an abundance of wool and, when shorn of this, with a fresh supply, will ever cherish hopes”, writes Manilius in the first century BC.” The Sacred Ram was considered a manifestation of the Sun-god and its creative power; a symbol of the resurrected Sun. Aries heralded the end of the season of death, and was thus also a symbol of fertility, new life and creative energy. For the ancient civilizations the ram was also a never-ending source of a valuable natural raw material, wool, providing them with a means to create a source of warmth and comfort. Having and caring for these animals was seen as a huge honour and important task. There are various references of the “good shepherd” looking after his “flock” that we still use today.

The ram has always been the symbol of the Persian Empire (Achaemenid Dynasty that started in the 6th century BC during the age of Aries) and the kings and army often wore helmets with ram’s horns on. It was not only the Persians who revered this symbolism. The Hebrews’ story happens during the Age of Aries and in the Torah there are many references to the ram. Starting with Abraham receiving a ram as offering in place of his son Isaac, show the transition from the Taurian practices (the age of Taurus preceded Aries) of human sacrifice to animal sacrifices in the age of Aries. Moses rising as leader of the Hebrews and leading them to freedom also occur during the age of Aries. It starts with the Hebrews being instructed by Moses to sacrifice lambs and to smear it’s blood on the door posts ensuring that each household is spared the death of the first born son plague. Later in the desert when Moses returns with the Ten Commandments, he was enraged to see that his people built a golden calf during his absence (returning to the old Taurian religion they learnt and followed in Egypt) instead of following the new path that Moses set out for them. So enraged was Moses that he kept the Hebrews in the desert until the entire “golden calf” generations died out before leading the remainder to the Promised Land. He himself never entered either but he ensured that Judaism as the new faith of the Hebrews would be practised from then on. The image of Moses is often depicted with ram's horns attached to his head. Even to this day, as part of the practices of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, the shofar (an ancient musical horn typically made of a ram's horn) is blown in synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and at the very end of Yom Kippur, and is also blown every weekday morning in the month of Elul running up to Rosh Hashanah. The altar used for sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem had a ram’s horn on each of the four sides.

Aries was also the age of Law. The first set of comprehensive laws was written by Hammurabi, the 18th century BC Babylonian king. Known as the Hammurabi code it was the first set of laws that dealt with prosecuting the offender as well compensation for the victims, as oppose to the Taurian laws that mostly dealt with victim compensation. Four centuries later the Ten Commandments were given to Moses who became the Hebrew Lawgiver and eight centuries on, Cyrus the Great of Persia wrote the first Human Rights charter.

Besides the great influences the age of Aries brought to humanity, for the many tribes in Iran and elsewhere their flock of sheep is their wealth. Without them producing carpets, blankets, tents, clothing, milk, cheese and meat would be impossible. Hence providing the best care for their animals is one of the main daily concerns of these tribes. Using the symbol of the ram's horn in their art is a show of the importance of these animals in their lives and their wish for the carpet buyer to experience fertility and great wealth.

 


The Boughton House and the Buccleuch Sanguszko Carpet

Let your passion for rugs take you here: The Boughton House which is situated off the A43, three miles north of Kettering, through the village of Geddington, Northamptonshire ,Britain and experience ‘The English Versailles’. Discover one of Britain’s grandest and best-preserved stately homes. As well as the splendors of the House, you can also enjoy the 18th-century landscaped gardens, woodlands and a grand country park. It is open every Easter and August for guided tours and at other times of the year for special events. Groups can visit year round by appointment.

At Boughton you can also see one of Britain’s most outstanding collections of fine art, furniture, tapestries, porcelain and carpets including "the rug dealer favorite carpet ":The Buccleuch Sanguszko Carpet with Offset Medallions and Cartouches, 226 x 452 cm, wool pile on a cotton and wool foundation which belongs to the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, Boughton House, inv. no. 97-502, Richard Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott, 10th Duke of Buccleuch and 12th Duke of Queensberry, KT KBE FSA FRSE (born 14 February 1954), styled as Lord Eskdaill until 1973 and as Earl of Dalkeith from 1973 until 2007, is a Scottish landholder and peer. He is the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, as well as Chief of Clan Scott. He is the senior patrilineal descendant of James, Duke of Monmouth (9 April 1649 – 15 July 1685), the eldest illegitimate son of King Charles II and his mistress, Lucy Walter. Through Charles, he is a direct descendant of Mary, Queen of Scots. In 2013,

The Herald reported that the Duke was Scotland's largest private landowner, with some 280,000 acres (110,000 ha).The Buccleuch carpet is classified as the Sanguszko carpets, of which more than a dozen examples are known, are distinguished by figurative decoration closely tied to manuscript illustration, a bright appearance owing to abundant use of white in the pile, and certain technical peculiarities. The group owes its name to the former owner of one magnificent example of the group (currently on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. L1985.3; Survey of Persian Art, pl. 1206). Medallion designs with symmetrically arranged floral patterns predominate, but directional designs with figurative motifs are also found. Animal-combat motifs are plentiful, and animal heads often inhabit palmettos and border designs. Clusters of human figures embellish discrete compartments in the field or border; some of these figures can be directly linked to manuscript illustrations, for example, scenes from Laylī o Majnūn and images of fighting camels, a popular subject first seen in an early 10th/16th-century painting by Behzād. Technically the Sanguszko pieces resemble the so-called vase carpets with cotton warps and wefts of wool and silk, but they differ in other ways. The localization of this group is highly conjectural; Kāšān, Yazd, Kermān, and Qazvīn have all been suggested, but certain differences within the group suggest that these carpets were produced at more than one weaving center. A date late in the 16th, or perhaps even early in the 17th, century seems plausible on the basis of the figure style and the existence of Indian copies that probably date from the early 17th century.


From farrier to banker

In the upcoming Wannenens Auction in Milan on 7 June 2018, Lot 97, there is a Kerman carpet (circa 1900), size: 230x140, showcasing Hushang Shah (a prehistoric Iranian king that we discussed before). What interested me most was the cartouche on the top of the carpet mentioning that the carpet was made "By order of Jahanian". To understand my interest, I would need to take you back to the history of banking.

Banking in Iran has traces back to pre-Achaemenid times when money lending was done by temples and princes. Once Babylon became part of the Achaemenid Dynasty the Iranians learned some new banking skills from them and there are records indicating money sent from Babylon to Larsa. In Greece there were some banking laws permitting money lenders to charge interest. The Romans most probably learned banking from the Greeks and the Italians later had exchange bureaus in Lombardy and Venice, with transactions being conducted on small tables in the town squares. These tables were called banco's and thus the origin of the word "banks" came from it.

Historian Roman Girshman mentioned that during the Sassanid Era Iranian and Jews of the Empire conducted many monetary transactions with the Royal banks using documents that ordered the bank to pay a specific amount of money to the person in whose name the document was issued. These "notes" were called "cheques" and is the origin of the "cheque" as we know today. Another banking term originating in Iran is "barat" which was later exported by Syrian Christian Merchants to the west. Nasser Khosrow documented in the 11th century that there were 200 exchange bureaus in Isfahan. During Safavid times there were also many exchange bureaus in Qasvin and Isfahan with interest rates of 12% for merchants and 24% for ordinary citizens. In Safavid times the exchange bureau owners also issued a document that is similar to credit cards of today, called "bijak". The bearer of the bijak could exchange the bijak for cash at any time and anywhere in Iran. It was much safer to use than to carry actual cash. In Mongolian times the use of printed bank notes, called "chav", became compulsary in Tabriz and few other cities.

Around 140 years ago Hajj Muhammad Hossein Aminol Zarb, an exchange bureau owner, requested permission to open the first formal bank in Iran. Nasir din-Shah of Qajar, the reigning king at the time, however denied the request. Around 1880 in Yazd there were a few Zoroastrian businesses with the names Jamshidian, Yeganegi and Jehanian (the latter being the person who ordered the above mentioned carpet being auctioned), who were acting as bankers in communities in the absence of a more formal banking system. In 1894 Khosrowshah Jahan and four of his brothers: Parvis, Gudars, Rostam and Bahram - Zoroastrain landlords in Yazd - opened the Institute of Jahanian through which they conducted their general retail and also money exchange services. They had branches in Yazd, Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman, Bandar Abbas, Rafsanjan, Bombay, London and later New York. They were extremely successful and powerful and also supported the Constitutional Revolution in Qajar times. Unfortunately competition from banks outside Iran, no official government support from inside Iran, suspicious deaths of some their branch managers and some unsavory practices from competitors, caused the company to close their doors in 1911.

Another famous banking family in Iran at the same time was the Tumanian family. They were of Armenian origin. Around 1785 in the Armenian village, Vaiqan Arasbaran in Karadag county, lived a farrier (horse shoe maker) named Malik Sarkis. His horse shoes were of exceptional quality and soon he became well-known. After his death his son, Tuman, took over the father's business and with the family's fame for extraordinary workmanship reaching the city of Tabriz, Tuman realized that he could double his profits by exchanging his horse shoes for product from Tabriz that he would then sell in turn in his own and surrounding villages. When his son, Harotion Tumanian, joined the business they moved from Vaigan to Tabriz in 1840 where they purchased a house in Liliabad which was known as the Armenian suburb of Tabriz. They opened a small shop in the bazaar of Tabriz called the Tumaniants Brothers and were joined by two brothers-in-law of Harotion. After the death of Tuman, Harotion joined by his 4 sons and 4 sons-in-law expanded the business and opened branches in Urumieh, Bonab, Rasht, Ardabil, etc. They realized later on that they could also do business in Baku by exchanging wool, cotton, silk and nuts from Iran with gold and silver from Russia. This prompted them to open a branch in Moscow also run by family members. Sarkis Tumanian took the business to the next level when he ordered two ships from Sweden in 1889, that was used to transport goods exchanged between Iran and Russia. They later invested money in the oil companies for Russia and Iran and they became involved with coin production by supplying the gold and silver needed for this in Iran. In 1918 they were unofficially accepted as the semi-official bank of Iran in the absence of any official Iranian banks. Unfortunately during the Russian Revolution in 1917 they lost all their Russian assets and because of this, Iranians banking with them in Iran, fearful of losing their deposits rushed to withdraw their cash. Even though the Tumanian bank could return all the monies deposited by the people, they decided to close their doors in 1933.

Most of these banking families, including the Jahanians and Tumanians, spent much of their time and fortune to order and export Persian carpets across the globe. It was not just a symbol of their wealth, influence and importance but it was also a way to ensure the continuity of this ancient and native Iranian art form as well as ensuring that this art form will continue to be used as one of the safest commodities of all time.

After the Russian Revolution many Russian banks opened branches in Iran and Britain was also given rights to open the first official Royal bank in Iran. Other banks that were active in Iran were banks from Germany and despite Reza Shah's preference to deal with Germany, the Iranians never supported it. The Ottoman Empire Bank briefly opened branches in Iran in 1923 in Tehran, Hamadan and Kermanshah. The Sepah Bank was opened in 1926 supported by the government of Iran as the banker for the pension funds of army personnel of Iran. Three years later the National Bank opened and this gave an opening for many other banks to open in Iran resulting in 27 banks operating in Iran in 1959, 10 government banks and 17 privately owned banks. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979 all banks became state-owned and new banks were formed by merging some of these banks.


Ghorbany turns 25 in 2019!

We are super excited for our upcoming birthday! Turning a quarter of a century is nothing short of a dream come true for all of us at Ghorbany Carpets! We have lots planned so watch this space!


The Gobelins

In the newly renovated Dumfries House of Prince Charles in Scotland a special room has been made to showcase tapestries specifically attached to the Gobelins Manufactory from France circa 1700. It is said that four tapestries housed in this room was presented by Louis XIV to an ancestor of the seventh Marquess of Bute, former owner of Dumfries House. The Gobelins Manufactory at that time was so successful that its main produce was chiefly for royal use. The company not only made tapestries but it also produced upholstery.

What made the Gobelin family very wealthy however, was, scarlet dye. The first head of the firm was named Jehan (d. 1476) who discovered a peculiar kind of scarlet dyestuff and he expended so much money on his establishment that it was named by the common people la folie Gobelin. To the dye-works there was added in the 16th century a manufactory of tapestry. The family's wealth increased so rapidly that in the third or fourth generation some of them forsook their trade and purchased titles of nobility. The name of the Gobelins as dyers cannot be found later than the end of the 17th century.

In 1602, Henry IV of France rented factory space from the Gobelins for his Flemish tapestry makers on the current location of the Gobelins Manufactory adjoining the Bièvre river. In 1629 the sons, Charles de Comans and Raphaël de la Planche, took over their fathers' tapestry workshops and in 1633 Charles was the head of Gobelins manufactory. Their partnership ended around 1650 and the workshops were split into two. Tapestries from this early, Flemish, period are sometimes called pre-gobelins. In 1662, the works in the Faubourg Saint Marcel, with the adjoining grounds, were purchased by Jean-Baptiste Colbert on behalf of Louis XIV and transformed into a general upholstery manufactory, the Gobelins Manufactory.

Today the manufactory consists of a set of four irregular buildings dating to the seventeenth century, plus the building on the avenue des Gobelins built by Jean-Camille Formigé in 1912 after the 1871 fire. They contain Le Brun's residence and workshops that served as foundries for most of the bronze statues in the park of Versailles, as well as looms on which tapestries are woven following seventeenth century techniques.
The Gobelins still produces some limited amount of tapestries for the decoration of French governmental institutions, with contemporary subjects.


Amu Oghli

We start our journey into the history of the Amu Oghli carpets of Mashhad in the village of Kahnamu, located in the Sahand Rural District in the Central District of Osku County, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. In the 2006 census its population was only 2,210 from 644 families.

What majority do not know about this ancient village:

1-      This village is the only major silk weaving centre in Iran that produces its own silk, since ancient times.

2-      King Naseredin shah of Qajar was born there.

3-      Mr Muhammad Kahnamuie, or better known as Amu Oghli, was born there and he was a master silk weaver of the village.

Our article revolves around fact 3, Amu Oghli. He immigrated to Mashad in Khorasan around 1835 and was one of the senior Azari people in Mashad. Out of respect everyone called him Amu Oghli (translating to ‘big cousin’) and he chose that as his new surname. He started making and selling carpets in Mashad and soon his two sons, Mr Abdul Muhamad Amu Oghli (1872-1938) and Mr Alikhan Amu Oghli (1893-1958) and lesser known godson Mr Musa Amu Oghli, joined him to establish one of the best names in the Persian carpet workshop industry. The brothers visited England to view some of the Safavid carpets available there to get inspiration for designs and they made a replica of Ardebil carpet at the V&A Museum afterwards. They also bought a book on Safavid carpets that provided more inspiration for designs and they ordered Mr Abdul Hamid Sanaat Negar (a young designer from Kerman with talent out of this world, employed by the company) to alter the designs to suit the tastes of the new era.

Mr Abdul Muhamad Amu Oghli established workshops in Mashad,Dorokhsh,Muhammad abad (his manager was Mr Khalil Khadivi) and Torghabeh. Many carpets produced in these workshops had the Amu Oghli signature on top. His brother, Mr Alikhan, had his workshops in Shandiz and Golmakan with the signature, Alikhan Amu Oghli 110, at the bottom of his carpets. His workshops were closed for 6 years between 1948-1954 and he died while he was still finishing a carpet ordered by parliament of the time. His son, Mr Changiz Amu Oghli, carried on his legacy with a different signature.

These workshops got orders from so many wealthy families in Mashad, such as Mr Kuze Kanani (super wealthy tobacco tycoon of Mashad with a design attributed to him), that it resulted in their soaring popularity and eventually the royal palaces started ordering from them as well. Reza Shah Pahlavi was in love with this family and he ordered so many master pieces from them and his son, Muhammad Reza Shah, followed suit.

The name Amu Oghli gave life to Mashadi carpets and many workshops after them cashed in on their fame and style. To understand the signatures of Amu Oghli one need to know each single style of weaving (including colour choices and fineness, eg. usually carpets from Mr Abdul Muhammad are the finest even up to 150 raj) of the father, the two sons, the one godson and the all grandchildren’s workshops (and obviously the copies made too)!


The loom that changed the world – Jacquard loom: From weaving to computers

Joseph Marie Charles (“Jacquard”) was born into a conservative Catholic family in Lyon, France on 7 July 1752. His father was a master weaver and after his death Joseph inherited his father’s business and estates. By 1800, Joseph began inventing various devices. He invented a treadle loom in 1800, a loom to weave fishing nets in 1803, and starting in 1804, the “Jacquard” loom, which would weave patterned silk automatically. However, these early inventions did not operate well and thus were unsuccessful. In 1801, Jacquard exhibited his invention at the Exposition des produits de l'industrie française in Paris, where he was awarded a bronze medal. In 1803 he was summoned to Paris and attached to the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers. A loom by Jacques de Vaucanson on display there suggested various improvements in his own, which he gradually perfected to its final state.

The Jacquard Loom is a mechanical loom that uses pasteboard cards with punched holes, each card corresponding to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are punched in the cards and the many cards that compose the design of the textile are strung together in order. It is based on earlier inventions by the Frenchmen Basile Bouchon (1725), Jean-Baptiste Falcon (1728) and Jacques Vaucanson(1740). To understand the Jacquard loom, some basic knowledge of weaving is necessary. Parallel threads (the “warp”) are stretched across a rectangular frame (the "loom"). For plain cloth, every other warp thread is raised. Another thread (the “weft thread”) is then passed (at a right angle to the warp) through the space (the “shed”) between the lower and the upper warp threads. Then the raised warp threads are lowered, the alternate warp threads are raised, and the weft thread is passed through the shed in the opposite direction. With hundreds of such cycles, the cloth is gradually created. The potential of Jacquard’s loom was immediately recognized. On April 12, 1805, Emperor Napoleon and Empress Josephine visited Lyon and viewed Jacquard’s new loom. On April 15, 1805, the emperor granted the patent for Jacquard’s loom to the city of Lyon. In return, Jacquard received a lifelong pension of 3,000 francs; furthermore, he received a royalty of 50 francs for each loom that was bought and used during the period from 1805 to 1811.

Although his invention was fiercely opposed by the silk-weavers, who feared that its introduction, owing to the saving of labour, would deprive them of their livelihood, its advantages secured its general adoption, and by 1812 there were 11,000 Jacquard looms in use in France. Initially few Jacquard looms were sold because of problems with the punched card mechanism. Only after 1815 — once Jean Antoine Breton had solved the problems with the punched card mechanism — did sales of looms increase. Jacquard died at Oullins (Rhône), 7 August 1834. Six years later, a statue was erected to him in Lyon, on the site where his 1801 exhibit loom was destroyed.

Not only did the Jacquard loom revolutionize the weaving industry, but it also created the foundation for future computer programmes. The Jacquard head used replaceable punched cards to control a sequence of operations. It is considered an important step in the history of computing hardware. The ability to change the pattern of the loom's weave by simply changing cards was an important conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming and data entry. Charles Babbage knew of Jacquard looms and planned to use cards to store programs in his Analytical Engine. In the late 19th century, Herman Hollerith took the idea of using punched cards to store information a step further when he created a punched card tabulating machine which he used to input data for the 1890 U.S. Census. A large, punched-card-based data processing industry developed in the first half of the twentieth century, dominated by the International Business Machine corporation (IBM), with its line of unit record equipment. The cards were used for data, however, with programming done by plugboards.

Some early computers, such as the 1944 IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (Harvard Mark I) received program instructions from a paper tape punched with holes, similar to Jacquard's string of cards. Later computers executed programs from higher-speed memory, though cards were commonly used to load the programs into memory. Punched cards remained in use in computing up until the mid 1980s.


From Coffee shop to Antique collector - The Lehmann Bernheimer story

Lehmann Bernheimer (27 December 1841 - 29 May 1918) He was born in Buttenhausen in Münsingen, Württemberg, the third child of Meier Bernheimer (1801-1870) and his wife Sarah, née Kahn (1803-1881). In 1887,Age 46 Bernheimer bought a small coffee house and beer garden, owned and run by an Englishman, and called the English Café. In its place was built the Bernheimer-Haus, which was opened in December 1889 by Prince Regent Luitpold.

Initially the focus was on high-quality textiles, with the manufacture of luxury goods being slowly added. After a fire in 1897, the building was extended and antiques, tapestries and carpets were added.In 1918, his son Otto Bernheimer took over, but Following Kristallnacht on 9–10 November 1938, which saw the huge plate glass windows of the Bernheimer-Haus smashed,he and his family were sent to Dachau concentration camp, and the Mexican government intervened, as he was the Mexican honorary consul in Munich. Hermann Göring, a Bernheimer client, did a deal whereby they bought his niece’s Venezuelan coffee plantation which was struggling, and were allowed to emigrate there, and also had to take Göring's aunt and her Jewish husband along, and support them until they died . After the war, Otto returned, and in 1948, moved into the art trade. In 1977, Otto's grandson Konrad Bernheimer born 30 August 1950 took over (his father committed suicide in Venezuela) and renamed the business Bernheimer Fine Old Masters, as the company was specializing in Old Master paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries. In 1987, the Bernheimer-Haus was sold by Konrad to pay his co-heirs. As well as being the chairman and owner of Bernheimer Fine Old Masters, Munich, he owns Colnaghi in London, founded in 1760, and the world's oldest gallery, which he bought in 2002.


He is a board member of The European Fine Art Foundation, and chairman of its fine art division, Pictura, since 2004. The Bernheimer sale of works of art from Burg Marquarstein at Sotheby's in London in November 2015 realised £2,371,000 and his carpet collection which was sold at Christie's London, February 14, 1996 was exceptional. His daughter Blanca Bernheimer has dealt in fine art photography since 2005.


When carpets reveal history and mystery!

In the upcoming Rippon Boswell auction on Saturday 02 June 2018 at 3 p.m there is a Bachtiari Khan carpet in Lot 50, Dimensions 204 x 159 cm, Age um 1900 with Estimated Value of EUR 12,500. On 21 April 2015 a very similar rug sold at a Christies Auction, Dimention:186x138,  sold for GBP7500 ( EUR8500). Both rugs were ordered by a Bakhtiari khan called Sultan Muhammad Khan Moein Humayun (or as his other title Sardar Ashja) (born 1862 , death 1924 in Paris), whose father and uncle and many other family members were the chiefs of a Bakhtiari tribe in South West of Iran. He himself became the governor of Isfahan five times and when he got sick he went to Tehran and later France where he died.

The Baḵtīārī nomads move between a summer abode (yeylāq) in the high mountains (summit, Zardakūh 4,548 m) and a winter abode (garmsīr) in the western foothills adjoining the Ḵūzestān plain. The ecological boundary between the two zones coincides roughly with the course of the Āb-e Bāzoft. Thus the Baḵtīārī country falls into two different administrative provinces: Čahār Maḥāl, where the summer quarters lie, and Ḵūzestān, in which the winter quarters are included. The seasonal migrations (called bār) made by different sections of the tribe vary in length and can reach 300 km. The migration into the mountains takes place in springtime when the weather and the vegetation are at their best; it lasts longer (15 to 45 days) than the reverse migration (8 to 30 days). The migration routes are seldom, if ever, changed, because in this region there are only five or at best seven cols over which the Zagros ranges can be crossed; they lead to campsites (javārgāh) which are likewise almost always the same, being fixed by longstanding conventions. As is well known, these routes are extremely arduous. The nomads suffer frequent accidents and losses of livestock when they clamber over snow-covered cols and through rock-encumbered gorges and when they either swim or float on rafts held up with inflated goatskins across the Kārūn and other raging rivers at the time of the snow-melt. Despite all these difficulties, seasonal migration is necessary because of the prevalence of cold and snow in the yeylāq from October to April and heat and drought in the garmsīr from May to September, and often also the exhaustion of the pastures after several months of intensive use. Other possible ways to solve the problem have been suggested, for example to combine sheep folding with fodder crop cultivation and short-range transhumance; but for the time being, in the absence of any satisfactory alternative, nomadism remains the only feasible technique for efficient pursuit of livestock raising in this region. In Iranian mythology, the Bakhtiaris are considered to be descendants of Fereydun, a legendary hero from the Iranian national epic, Shahnameh. They are also considered to be directly descended from Cyrus the Great.


Minakari and its influence on the Ming vases of China

Minakari or enamelling is one of the most glorious arts of Iran. It is the art of painting the surface of metals such as gold, silver and copper (sometimes glass and ceramics too) by glazing colours and then firing it in a furnace. According to Orientalist scholar, Arthur Pope, minakari dates back to 1,500BC. Its practice on metal appears in 600 – 400 BC. From among samples of minakari in Ancient Persia there is a pair of earrings that was discovered in Nahavand dating from 800 – 700 BC, a gold Achaemenid Era arm band with minakari in the Victoria and Albert Museum and Sassanid plates with minakari in the Islamic Arts Museum in Berlin. Although the origins of enamel are uncertain, its history and delicate aesthetics are strongly rooted in Iran. Ancient Persians seem to have used the technique to colour and ornament metal surfaces fusing brilliant colours into them. They probably gave it the name of minakari, coming from minoos – sky, to the wonderfully blue pieces of their art. Evidence from Mesopotamia and China suggests that Persia was the chief source of cobalt ores that produced the colour blue (for less than lapis lazuli) in the ancient world until the late Middle Ages. The local artisans in Isfahan coincide with Iranian historians in that the 14th century trade along the routes of the Mongol empire took it to faraway countries, spreading the technique across Eurasia.

The origin of the blue and white decorative style is thought to lie in Persia when craftsmen in Basra sought to imitate imported white Chinese stoneware with their own tin-glazed, white pottery and added decorative motifs in blue glazes that had been developed by pre-existing Mesopotamian cultures. Although blue was always popular in Persia cobalt blue glaze became popular in Islamic pottery during the Abbasid Caliphate, during which time the cobalt was mined near Kashan, Oman, and Northern Hejaz. Such Abbasid-era "blue and white" pieces have been found in present-day Iraq dating to the 9th century A.D.

During the same period the first Chinese blue and white wares were produced in Henan province, China during the Tang Dynasty, albeit in very small quantities. It is difficult to determine who influenced who, but our bet is on the Persians influencing Chinese artisans because in Persia blue was a favourite in glazing and China green was the favourite, Persia was also the source of blue used in glazing. Whatever the answer, blue and white pottery ceased after the Tang Dynasty when the artistic emphasis of Song Dynasty pottery was on subtle glaze effects and graceful shapes. What is clear is that in the Song Dynasty which tended to uphold the esthetics of conventional Confucianism, underglaze blue was not at all popular; Confucian esthetics emphasized simplicity and the underglaze blue designs were judged to be too ornamental. Later, in China, a style of decoration based on sinuous plant forms spreading across the object was perfected and most commonly used.

It was thanks to the Mongol Yuan Dynasty that blue and white decoration (a typically Persian favourite) first became widely used in Chinese porcelain in the 14th century after the cobalt pigment for the blue began to be imported from Persia, since the Mongol rulers revered Persian arts of all kinds. During their reign mass-production of fine, translucent, blue and white porcelain started at Jingdezhen, sometimes called the porcelain capital of China. This development was due to the combination of Chinese techniques and Islamic trade. The new ware was made possible by the cobalt from Persia combined with the translucent white quality of Chinese porcelain. Cobalt blue was considered as a precious commodity, with a value about twice that of gold. Motifs also draw inspiration from Islamic decorations. A large portion of these blue-and-white wares were then shipped to Southwest-Asian markets through the Muslim traders based in Guangzhou.

With the advent of the Ming dynasty in 1368, blue and white ware was shunned for a time by the Court, especially under the Hongwu and Yongle Emperors, as being too foreign in inspiration. Blue and white porcelain however came back to prominence with the Xuande Emperor, and again developed from that time on. Some blue and white wares of the 16th century were characterized by Islamic influences, such as the ware under the Zhengde Emperor (1506–1521), which sometimes bore Persian and Arabic script, due to the influence of Muslim eunuchs serving at his court.


Zilu Museum of Maybod, Yazd, Iran

Meybod is the capital of Meybod County, Yazd Province, Iran. It is a major desert city that dates back to the Sassanid era and one of the oldest castles in Iran, Narin Ghaleh, is located there.

Another old and important site in the city is the Shah Abbasi Caravanserai that now houses the Zilu Museum. The Zilu Museum is dedicated to the hand-looming of prayer rugs. It is the first and only museum of its kind. Some fine examples date back to the 16th century although this craft dates back to the Sassanid dynasty. It is possible to see how they are made in the workshops occupying some of the former caravanserai lodgings. The cotton kilims are double-sided and many feature the cypress tree. Only a dozen zilu masters still work at this ancient craft.

Zilu is more appropriate for hot regions, especially on the borders of the desert, as it is made entirely of cotton. It seems, however, that Zilu weaving is at a more developed stage than Kilim. Zilu mainly uses geometric patterns, and sometimes the designs take the form of inscribed tablets.

Contrary to other Iranian carpet types, Zilu has a limited variety of colours. The colours which are used, like those in other regions, were locally produced. Generally, Zilu is categorized into three types based on colour and function. White and blue ones are mainly used in mosques and holy places. The red and blue ones are used inside houses, while green and red ones are of the highest quality.


Painter of the Shah

For the Dutch East India Company trade with Persia was the “diamond cherry on top”. The Persian appetite for anything the VOC (Dutch East India Company (1602–1800) imported to Persia, was insatiable, more so than any other trading post. For decades the shah had been attempting to invigorate what he rightly perceived as the underdeveloped trade potential of Persia. He already sold silk to several European partners, who transported it mainly overland to Aleppo, on a caravan route that was not only insecure but also crossed the Ottoman Empire, with which Persia was often at war. With the arrival of the Dutch and their seaborne empire, brilliant new opportunities presented themselves. Soon the company had inland way stations in Shiraz and Lar, supporting the nine-hundred-kilometer land route between Isfahan and the port factory at Gamron, renamed Bandar ‘Abbas (Port ‘Abbas) in honor of the shah after he and the English East India Company drove out the Portuguese in 1615. From there the armed merchant fleet of the Dutch East India Company had access to all the harbors of the world sea. The benefits of trade with Persia to the Dutch East India Company and its personnel were phenomenal.

And yet, for all their value to the Safavid Empire, their fate lay in the hands of a painter. Jan Lucasz Van Hasselt (b. before 1600, d. after 1653) was a Flemish painter who probably arrived in Isfahan in 1617 and was soon taken into the service of the Shah, who gave him the title of ustad naqqash (master painter). The painter made portraits in Constantinople and Cairo, and sketches of antiquities and in Isfahan he drew the elephants in the Shah’s menagerie. In 1621 the Carmelites report that a Flemish painter was present at an audience given to them by Shah ‘Abbas I. It is said that the shah paid him a princely annual salary of one thousand zecchini, a Venetian gold coin. To the Dutch East India Company, the fact that this valuable contact person at the Safavid court was a painter was more of a potential embarrassment than anything else. In the numerous references to Van Hasselt in the VOC papers he is often called “painter to the king.” However, the importance of Jan van Hasselt for the establishment of VOC operations in Persia cannot be overstated. When a Dutch envoy arrived in Persia without papers of authorization it was Van Hasselt who convinced the Shah to allow them entry and to show them the same courtesy that he did for Portuguese and English envoys. Van Hasselt’s prestige with the Dutch was enhanced considerably in 1625 when the shah included him in an embassy to the Dutch Republic led by the court factor Musa Beg. Shah ‘Abbas attached Van Hasselt to the mission in order to recruit more Dutch painters for the Persian court. Van Hasselt however saw himself more as an ambassador than merely an artist recruiter. So sensitive was the VOC about Van Hasselt that they did not import paintings to Persia in case the paintings are either better or worse than his own and might cause potential damage to trade relations with the wealthy Persians, amongst other reasons.

Maybe it was too many years spent as the shah’s favourite or years spent over-estimating his own importance in Persia, but Van Hasselt would finally be the cause of his own “demise”. In the spring of 1630 he had sailed to Holland with a return fleet commanded by Van den Broecke. He carried with him a letter to the States General from Shah ‘Abbas, who however had died in January 1629. Presenting his credentials in The Hague, Van Hasselt claimed that they were respected by the new shah, Safi, as well. He presented his mission “not as a simple legation but as a veritable embassy, and Van Hasselt himself as the resident representing the shah in the Netherlands.” He entered into negotiations with the States General concerning new rights for traders of “the Persian nation,” a designation that covered himself as well as native Persians. On February 7, 1631, the States General actually passed a resolution providing these rights. That resolution was unique in the history of the Dutch Republic: In 1631 van Hasselt in fact managed to conclude a treaty with the States General on behalf of the shah, according to which Iranian merchants in Holland received the same rights as Dutch merchants in Iran ... This remarkable document [was] the only treaty ever concluded between the Dutch Republic and an Asian power to include bilateral rights. The treaty was, however, never put into effect. It cut into the turf of the Dutch East India Company, which refused to credit the new arrangements and which from the head office in Amsterdam followed Van Hasselt’s doings with antagonistic suspicion.

And then came the crunch. In October 1631 new letters arrived from Shah Safi, addressed to the stadtholder and the States General and making no mention whatsoever of Van Hasselt. All credit lost, the painter who probably played the most important diplomatic and commercial role of any Dutch artist of the seventeenth century, a role in which he has been compared to Peter Paul Rubens, met his Waterloo. After the departure and disgrace of Jan Lucasz. van Hasselt, the Safavid court took on three other Dutch artists as painter to the shah. But they, like Van Hasselt, came to an unfortunate end in typical VOC circumstances: one through disease, one through dissipation, and one through corruption. There are no known paintings of Van Hasselt that have survived.

Excerpts from Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia - by Amsterdam University Press

The cover image of the paper is a Persian miniature that speaks most eloquently of the interest of Persian artists in Europe. It is a posthumous portrait by Mu’in Musawwir of his master Riza-y ‘Abassi, shown as he was making a miniature of a European.


From Weavers to Princes

In today’s time we are unfamiliar with the power weavers or those involved in the wool industry once had. Not only did they form the backbone of societies, they were often very influential and powerful people. As mentioned in one of our earlier articles, the powerful De Medici’s started as wool traders before becoming one of the most influential families in Europe. The family who succeeded them was the Fuggers. They are a German family that was a historically prominent group of European bankers, members of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century mercantile patriciate of Augsburg, international mercantile bankers, and venture capitalists. Alongside the Welser family, the family controlled much of the European economy in the sixteenth century and accumulated enormous wealth. The Fuggers held a near monopoly on the European copper market and were most prominent from 1536 to 1806.

Before the Dutch Revolt, Antwerp had played an important role as a distribution centre in northern Europe. After 1591, however, the Portuguese used an international syndicate of the German Fuggers and Welsers, and Spanish and Italian firms, that used Hamburg as the northern staple port to distribute their goods, thereby cutting Dutch merchants out of the trade. By then the Fuggers were already the powerful family that replaced the De Medici family. The Fuggers took over many of the Medicis' assets and their political power and influence. They were closely affiliated with the House of Habsburg whose rise to world power they financed. This naturally made them an attractive trading partner to the Portuguese.

Before their prominence, however, the founding father of the family dynasty, Johann Fugger, was a weaver at Graben, near the Swabian Free city of Augsburg. His son, also called Johann (or Hans) settled in Augsburg and the first reference to the Fugger family there is his arrival recorded in the tax register of 1367. His eldest son, Andreas Fugger, was a merchant in the weaving trade, and was nicknamed "Fugger the Rich” after buying land and other properties. The Fugger family itemized and inventoried a large number of Oriental rugs, an unusual undertaking at the time. In 1386 another son, Hans Fugger was elected to the directorate of the weaver's guild, thus granting him a seat in the city's Grand Council. Hans Fugger's younger son, Jakob the Elder, founded another branch of the family. This branch progressed more steadily and they became known as the "Fuggers of the Lily" after their chosen arms of a flowering lily on a gold and blue background. Jakob was a master weaver, a merchant, and an alderman. In 1466 Jakob Fugger the Elder moved from the weaver's guild into the merchant's guild. He came to rank as the seventh-richest taxpayer in the city's tax register. Jakob's eldest son, Ulrich, took over the business on his father's death, and in 1473 he provided new suits of clothes to Frederick, his son Maximilian I, and his suite on their journey to Trier to meet Charles the Bold of Burgundy and the betrothal of the young prince to Charles's daughter Maria. Thus began a very profitable relationship between the Fugger family and the Habsburgs.

When the Fuggers made their first loan to the Archduke Sigismund in 1487, they took as security an interest in silver and copper mines in the Tirol. This was the beginning of an extensive family involvement in mining and precious metals. The Fuggers also participated in mining operations in Silesia, and owned copper mines in Hungary. Their trade in spices, wool, and silk extended to almost all parts of Europe.

Ulrich's youngest brother Jakob Fugger, born in 1459, was to become the most famous member of the dynasty. In 1498 he married Sibylla Artzt, Grand Burgheress to Augsburg, the daughter of an eminent Grand Burgher of Augsburg. They had no children, but this marriage gave Jakob the opportunity to elevate to Grand Burgher of Augsburg and later allowed him to pursue a seat on the city council (Stadtrat) of Augsburg. He was elevated to the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire in May 1511, created Imperial Count in 1514, and in 1519 led a consortium of German and Italian businessmen that loaned Charles V 850,000 florins (about 95,625 oz(t) of gold) to procure his election as Holy Roman Emperor over Francis I of France. The Fuggers' contribution was 543,000 florins.

In 1494, the Fuggers established their first public company. Jakob's aim was to establish a copper monopoly by opening foundries in Hohenkirchen and Fuggerau (named for the family, in Carinthia) and by expanding the sales organization in Europe, especially the Antwerp agency. Jakob leased the copper mines in Neusohl (Besztercebánya, today Banská Bystrica, Slovakia) in 1495, eventually making them the greatest mining centre of the time. Jakob died in 1525. He is considered to be one of the richest persons of all time and today he is well known as Jakob Fugger "the rich". Before his death, Jakob deposited 15,000 florins as an endowment for some almshouses. In 1514, he bought up part of Augsburg and in 1516 came to an agreement with the city that he would build and provide a number of almshouses for needy citizens. By 1523, 52 houses had been built, and the Fuggerei had come into existence. It is still used today.

The Fuggerei is the world's oldest social housing complex. The rent was and is still one Rheinischer Gulden per year (equivalent to 0.88 euros), as well as three daily prayers for the current owners of the Fuggerei The conditions to live there remain the same as they were 480 years ago: one must have lived at least two years in Augsburg, be of the Catholic faith and have become indigent without debt. The five gates are still locked every day at 10 PM. The Fuggerei is supported by a charitable trust established in 1520 which Jakob Fugger funded with an initial deposit of 10,000 guilders. The Fugger family foundation (charitable trust) is currently headed by countess Maria-Elisabeth von Thun und Hohenstein, née countess Fugger von Kirchberg, who lives at Kirchberg Castle.

Anselm Maria Fugger von Babenhausen (1766–1821) was the first Fugger to be created Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803. The present head of this branch is Prince Hubertus Fugger von Babenhausen who owns Jakob the Rich's former business seat, the Fuggerhäuser in Augsburg, as well as nearby Wellenburg Castle and the castle at Babenhausen, Bavaria (purchased by Anton Fugger in 1539 and today housing a museum on the family history); he is also co-owner of a small private bank, the Fürst Fugger Privatbank, in Augsburg


The Jeziorak Vase Carpets

It came to Sotheby's as The 'Jeziorak' 'vase' carpet, Persia, probably Kirman, and sold for 302,500 GBP in an auction on 3 July 2013. Its size is approximately 270x175cm; and it is dated around the 17th century.

This carpet according my records has cotton warps and a combination of wool, cotton and silk wefts with a wool pile .I see it as a master piece from Joshaghan (Jowshaqan) and according to all accounts was kept in theJeziorak church in Poland with no clear history as to how it got there. At a later date it came into the hands of Dr Albert Figdor (1843-1927) who was a son of a Viennese merchant Ferdinand Figdor (1805-1876) who was the uncle of violinist Joseph Joachim. He was an important Austro Hungarian private collector and Viennese banker at the turn of the century and he might have had this carpet in his collection until 1908, since this carpet has been mentioned in a book by Sarre, Altorientalische Teppiche, where it was called the Figdor 'vase’).Figdor wanted to donate his collection to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which opened in 1891, but that did not materialize due to an export ban.

This magnificent carpet appears again later in the collection of Hans Henrik Ágost Gábor, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon et Impérfalva (13 April 1921 – 26 April 2002), a noted industrialist and art collector who was a Dutch-born Swiss citizen with a Hungarian title, a legal resident of Monaco for tax purposes, with a declared second residency in the United Kingdom, but in actuality a long-time resident of Spain, and son of a German father and a Hungarian and English American mother (related to Daniel M. Frost and John Kerry).His fifth and last wife, Carmen "Tita" Cervera, is a former Miss Spain. Upon his father's death, Thyssen-Bornemisza inherited TBG (Thyssen-Bornemisza Group) Holdings N.V., a business empire that included oil, Bremer Vulkan (naval construction) and large parts of Rotterdam harbor, as well as a major art collection with hundreds of paintings of European masters from between the 14th and the 19th century. It is likely that his father, Heinrich Thyssen bought the Figdor Vase carpet at an auction to add to the collection.

Heinrich Thyssen, who had completed a doctorate in Philosophy at the University of London, married Baroness Margit Bornemisza de Kászon, daughter of a Hungarian nobleman, in 1905, and became the first Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza,the couple settled Schloss Rohoncz in present-day Hungary, but in 1919 they moved to Amsterdam. It was there that they set up the headquarters of their business and where, in 1921, their son Hans Heinrich was born. In spite of the difficulties of the post-war era, Heinrich continued adding to his collection with mainly old masters, and by the year of his death in 1947 had collected an impressive 525 works. In 1930 his collection was exhibited to the public for the first time in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. The exhibition was a great success and a milestone for art historians of the time. It encouraged the Baron to continue collecting, also widening his interest to include furniture, tapestries, Persian carpets, jewellery and other works of art.

To house his ever-growing collection and to protect it from the turbulent politics of interwar Europe, in 1932 Heinrich bought Villa Favorita in Lugano from Prince Leopold of Prussia. He lived in the villa from then on and had a gallery built in its gardens. He wanted to exhibit his collection to the public and made sure the gallery provided the optimum conditions for his works. The gallery opened in 1936, but closed again just a few years later with the outbreak of World War II. It reopened again in 1949, the same year in which Heinrich died and the youngest of his children, Hans Heinrich, took charge of the collection....including this carpet....On his father death, the collection was divided between the four children of the first Baron Thyssen. Hans Heinrich, the youngest and just 26 years old at the time, was the only child who decided to follow in the footsteps of his father. He was also in charge of the family business. Hans Heinrich worked hard to reunite many of the works that had been scattered by the inheritance.

Hans Heinrich organised a full programme of worldwide exhibitions in the 1960s bringing selections of works to cities in Germany, Japan, Belgium, France, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. He also organised two exhibitions in Madrid. Hans Heinrich received a number of offers from governments and organisations from all around the world such as the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles and the British, German and Spanish governments. In 1988 the Spanish government put forward the idea of the Villahermosa Palace in Madrid, (diagonally opposite the Prado Museum) to house the collection. This solution guaranteed that the collection would stay together and be kept in the best conditions. It was also an excellent location for a museum. With the support of his Spanish wife, Carmen Cervera, the Baron decided on Spain. So in 1988 a nine-year loan agreement was signed, handing over the most important works of the collection to Madrid, and a small part to the Monasterio de Pedralbes in Barcelona. In exchange, the Spanish Government provided the building and set up a Foundation that guaranteed sufficient funds to manage the collection appropriately.

This carpet was still was in Lugano in 1978 and moved to Madrid according to the Hali Magazine issue October 1992, until its reappearance at Sotheby’s. 


The end of a Silk Road Era - Portuguese Domination

Persia and the Roman Empire were forever at war over territory. Even after the change over to the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanids the feuds continued causing mass casualties on both sides. The recurring bubonic plague ravaged even more lives across the region and made both empires vulnerable to invasions from others. Whilst these mighty Empires warred with each other neither noticed the threatening force that would change the history on earth forever. The Byzantine and Persian Empires would never be the same again.

Islam started during the 7th century and unified Arab tribes under one banner for the first time. Within a decade after the prophet’s death, the Muslims conquered Mesopotamia, Byzantine Syria, Byzantine Egypt, large parts of Persia, and established the Rashidun Caliphate. They were determined to expand and spread Islam to all four corners of the earth. Their expansion would finally be stopped by Pelagius' victory at Covadonga which many hail as the start of the Reconquista, the Christians’ push back to regain their land from the Muslim Moors.

The origin of the Kingdom of Portugal lay in the reconquista. After establishing itself as a separate kingdom in 1139, Portugal completed its reconquest of Moorish territory by reaching Algarve in 1249, but its independence continued to be threatened by neighbouring Castile until the signing of the Treaty of Ayllón in 1411. Free from threats to its existence and unchallenged by the wars fought by other European states, Portuguese attention turned overseas and towards a military expedition to the Muslim lands of North Africa. There were several probable motives for their first attack on the Marinid Sultanate (in present-day Morocco). It offered the opportunity to continue the Christian crusade against Islam; to the military class it promised glory on the battlefield and the spoils of war and finally, it was also a chance to expand Portuguese trade and to address Portugal's economic decline. In 1415 an attack was made on Ceuta, a strategically located North African Muslim enclave along the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the terminal ports of the trans-Saharan gold and slave trades. The conquest was a military success, and marked one of the first steps in Portuguese expansion beyond the Iberian Peninsula, but it proved costly to defend against the Muslim forces that soon besieged it. The Portuguese were unable to use it as a base for further expansion into the hinterland and the trans-Saharan caravans merely shifted their routes to bypass Ceuta and/or used alternative Muslim ports.

Although Ceuta proved to be a disappointment for the Portuguese, the decision was taken to hold it while exploring along the Atlantic African coast. The centuries of contact with Muslims taught the Portuguese navigation techniques and sciences that enabled the creation of Portuguese nautical innovations such as the Caravel - the principal Portuguese ship during their voyages of exploration in the Age of Discovery. At the time, Europeans did not know what lay beyond Cape Bojador on the African coast. King Henry of Portugal wished to know how far the Muslim territories in Africa extended, and whether it was possible to reach Asia by sea, both to reach the source of the lucrative spice trade and perhaps to join forces with the fabled Christian kingdom of Prester John that was rumoured to exist somewhere in the "Indies".

What started out as a reconquest (and flexing a bit of muscle) and a curiosity of what lies beyond the horizon, set in motion events that would make Portugal one of the strongest naval forces to sail the seas. Fast forward a few decades and Vasco da Gama reaches India in 1498 but he failed in his mission to secure trading rights from the Zamorin in Calicut, who were in favour of the established merchants who reached Calicut via the Silk Road. The settled traders in the kingdom, amongst whom were Arabs, opposed the new comers and asked the Zamorin not to allow them easy passage into the spice trade, however, due to Portuguese perseverance the Portuguese State of India was founded six years after the discovery of a sea route between Portugal and the Indian Subcontinent to serve as the governing body of a string of Portuguese fortresses and colonies overseas. This spelled the beginning of the end for the Silk Road/Spice Route trading partners and it did not sit well with them…

In 1509, a major conflict during the Portuguese naval expansion in the Indian Ocean would pit the Portuguese Empire against a powerful alliance. Portugal’s hunger for hegemony over the trade in spices would be met with great resistance. The focal point of the conflict was the city of Diu. The city was an important trade centre, with a vital strategic position on the Indian subcontinent. Against Portugal’s naval expansion a powerful Coalition was formed in Northwest India. This coalition was aided by the Sultanate of Gujarat, the powerful Mamluks Sultanate, the Calicut Zamorin, the Ottoman Empire, and even Venice. The profitable spice trade in the Red Sea was precious to each member of the Coalition. Portugal’s ambitious politics were seen as a considerable threat to the income of each country. The Portuguese victory was critical: the great muslim alliance were soundly defeated, easing the Portuguese strategy of controlling the Indian Ocean to route trade down the Cape of Good Hope, circumventing the traditional spice route controlled by the Arabs and the Venetians through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. After the battle, Portugal rapidly captured key ports in the Indian Ocean like Goa, Ceylon, Malacca and Ormuz, crippling the Mamluk Sultanate and the Gujarat Sultanate, greatly assisting the growth of the Portuguese Empire and establishing its trade dominance for almost a century. The Battle of Diu was a battle of annihilation and one of the most important of world naval history, for it marks the beginning of European dominance over Asian seas that would last until World War Two.

At the same time Afonso de Albuquerque attacked Hormuz Island to establish the Fortress of Ormuz. This conquest gave the Portuguese full control of the trade between India and Europe passing through the Persian Gulf. They would hold this position until 1622. The presence and influence of the Portuguese in Hormuz is reflected in the Admiral Carpets that were woven during this time in Khorasan, Iran. Even though there are no surviving written records to confirm this, the carpets all have boats on them with European figures dressed in Portuguese attire of the time (see the photographs of one such surviving carpet of the 17th century now housed in the Osterreichisches Museum, Vienna), giving the impression that it was woven for the Portuguese and they were indeed exported to Goa and Portugal.

The Portuguese ruling the Spice route and trade caused huge problems for many countries who used the established Silk and Spice routes for centuries and whose economies depended on it. It wouldn’t be long before these countries would plan an attack to regain their positions in the area and again Diu became the area of concentration of forces. Since 1517, the Ottomans had attempted to combine forces with Gujarat in order to fight the Portuguese away from the Red Sea and in the area of India. Diu in Gujarat (now a state in western India), was with Surat, one of the main points of supply of spices to Ottoman Egypt at that time. However, Portuguese intervention thwarted that trade by controlling the traffic in the Red Sea. In 1530, the Venetians could not obtain any supply of spices through Egypt. The Portuguese had attempted to capture Diu by force in February 1531, unsuccessfully. Thereafter, the Portuguese waged war on Gujarat, devastating its shores and several cities like Surat.

Soon after however, the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, who was under threat from the Mughal emperor Humayun made an agreement with the Portuguese, granting them Diu in exchange for Portuguese assistance against the Mughals and protection should the realm fall. Once the threat from Humayun was removed, Bahadur tried to negotiate the withdrawal of the Portuguese, but on 13 February 1537 he died drowning during the negotiations on board of a Portuguese ship in unclear circumstances, both sides blaming the other for the tragedy. It is believed that the Portuguese came to know about Bahadur Shah’s negotiations with the Ottomans on the side, to expel the Portuguese and they assassinated him for this betrayal. The Persian miniature pictured here portrays this assassination of Bahadur Shah. After the failed siege, the Ottomans returned to Aden, where they fortified the city with 100 pieces of artillery. The cannon of Hadim Suleiman Pasha founded by Mohammed ibn Hamza in 1530-31 for an Ottoman invasion of India, pictured here was taken in the capture of Aden in 1839 by the British and is still visible today at the Tower of London.


The Qutab Minbar

Persian culture was brought into India by various Persianised Turkic and Afghan dynasties. Where the Arab invasions in Byzantine areas changed everything to Arab culture, the opposite happened in Persia. Persians incorporated their new rulers and religion into all areas of their society and the Arab rulers became Persianate. Later on South Asian society was enriched by the influx of Persian-speaking and Islamic scholars, historians, architects, musicians, and other specialists of high Persianate culture who fled the Mongol devastation. The sultans of Delhi, who were of Turko-Afghan origin (eg. Mamluks), modeled their lifestyles after the Persian upper classes. They patronized Persian literature and music, but became especially notable for their architecture, because their builders drew from Irano-Islamic architecture, combining it with Indian traditions to produce a profusion of mosques, palaces, and tombs unmatched in any other Islamic country.

One of the great examples of Persianate architecture in India constructed during the Mamluk era is the Qutab Minar built by Qutab Ud-Din-Aibak, first Mamluk ruler of India and founder of the Delhi Sultanate, who started construction around 1192. The Qutab Minar is a minaret that forms a part of the Qutab complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of Delhi, India. Aibak's successor and son-in-law Iltutmish completed a further three storeys. In 1369, a lightning strike destroyed the top storey. Firoz Shah Tughlaq replaced the damaged storey, and added one more.Sher Shah suri also added an entrance to this tower while he was ruling and Humayun was in exile.

The tower's style is basically Iranian and adapted to local artistic conventions by the incorporation of "looped bells and garlands and lotus borders into the carving". Aibak also started Qutab Minar along the patterns of Iranian minarets but built by Hindus artisans. Numerous inscriptions in Parso-Arabic and Nagari characters in different sections of the Qutab Minar reveal the history of its construction, and the later restorations and repairs by Firoz Shah Tughluq (1351–89) and Sikandar Lodi (1489–1517).


The peasant weavers of Japan

Japan is well known for its exquisite fine silk textiles and many, such as the kimonos, are highly collectible, but a new wave of conservation of the peasant weaving techniques started. Collecting antique Japanese peasant textiles is the new craze!

Peasants in Japan did not have silks to weave with because this very expensive medium was solely reserved for the Emperor and the wealthy. Instead the peasants used what was available, hemp and linen mostly before the import of cotton, and ensured that they wove their textiles well so that it could be passed down to future generations. Of course textiles disentegrate over time so the Japanese peasantry found very innovative methods to use all the old textiles to make new garments, bedding and other household textiles.

The first of these methods we want to discuss is Boro. The word means something tattered or repaired in Japanese and the method is basic patchwork. As garments or blankets got holes from wear and tear, it would be patched with a new piece of material. After some time and many generations of use, a most interesting patched item would be created with pieces of materials spanning many decades (sometimes a century) patched onto it. Today these antique Boro textiles are highly collectible and sought after and many textile producers copy the look.

The next method is called Sakiori which translates to tear up (saki) and weave (ori). This is exactly what sakiori is. Old textiles would be torn into long strips with the long strips then used as wefts to produce a new textile to make garments or other items from. There is a revival in Japan to use this method and in so doing recycling old materials.

The last method we want to discuss is Sashiko. Sashiko embroidery was used to strengthen the homespun clothes of olden times. Worn out clothes were pieced together to make new garments by using simple running stitches. These clothes increased their strength with this durable embroidery. Nowadays sashiko is mostly used for decorative purposes on textiles and very popular.


Bazalel carpets

Boris Schatz (Hebrew: בוריס שץ‬; 23 December 1866 – 23 March 1932) was a Lithuanian Jewish artist and sculptor who settled in Palestine. Schatz, who became known as the "father of Israeli art," founded the Bezalel School in Jerusalem. After Schatz died, part of his art collection, including a famous self portrait by Dutch Master Jozef Israels, given to him by the artist, eventually became the nucleus of the Israel Museum.

Bezalel opened on Ethiopia Street in Jerusalem in 1906. The school's stated goals were "to train the people of Jerusalem in crafts, develop original Jewish art and support Jewish artists, and to find visual expression for the much yearned-for national and spiritual independence that seeks to create a synthesis between European artistic traditions and the Jewish design traditions of the East and West, and to integrate it with the local culture of the Land of Israel.” In 1908, the school moved to a permanent home on what became Shmuel Hanagid Street, which allowed more departments to be opened and the scope of activities expanded.

Of the three buildings Schatz purchased from a wealthy Arab. one was his personal residence and the other two housed the art school and a national art museum. The school was established based on the Russian concept of an arts and crafts school and workshop. Bezalel's motto was "Art is the bud, craft is the fruit."The school offered instruction in painting and sculpture alongside crafts such as carpet making, metalworking and woodcarving.This school was the source of many handmade carpets woven by immigrants which are so sought after today .

In the wake of financial difficulties, the school closed in 1929 and some of weavers joined another workshop in Marbediah in Jerusalem which their carpets are also sought after .Schatz died while fundraising on behalf of the school in the United States. His body was brought back to Jerusalem and buried on the Mount of Olives. Bezalel reopened in 1935 as the New Bezalel School for Arts and Crafts.


Batik

Batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to a whole cloth. Batik is made either by drawing dots and lines on the resist with a spouted tool called a canting or by printing the resist with a copper stamp called a cap. The applied wax resists dyes and therefore allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water, and repeating if multiple colours are desired.

Wax resist dyeing of fabric is an ancient art form. It already existed in Egypt in the 4th century BC, where it was used to wrap mummies; linen was soaked in wax, and scratched using a stylus. In Asia, the technique was practised in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), and in India and Japan during the Nara Period (645-794 AD). In Africa it was originally practised by the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, Soninke and Wolof in Senegal. These African version however, uses cassava starch or rice paste, or mud as a resist instead of beeswax.

Batik made in Java has a long history of acculturation, with diverse patterns influenced by a variety of cultures, and is the most developed in terms of pattern, technique and the quality of workmanship. In October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.


Songket

Songket is a fabric that belongs to the brocade family of textiles of the Malay world (today Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Southern Thailand). It is hand-woven in silk or cotton and intricately patterned with gold or silver threads. The metallic threads stand out against the background cloth to create a shimmering effect. In the weaving process the metallic threads are inserted in between the silk or cotton weft threads in a technique called supplementary weft weaving technique.

The historical records of use of gold thread in Indonesia is somewhat unclear. In Indonesian tradition songket is associated with Srivijaya, a wealthy 7th to 13th century maritime trading empire based on Sumatra. However, according to Kelantan tradition this weaving technique came from the north, somewhere in the Cambodia-Siam region and expanded south into Pattani, and finally reach the Malay court of Kelantan and Terengganu as early as the 16th century. The weaving of songket continues as a small cottage industry on the outskirts of Kota Bharu and Terengganu where weavers believe that songket weaving technique was introduced to Malaysia from India through Sumatra's Palembang and Jambi where it probably originated during the time of Srivijaya (7th to 11th century). It is, however, most likely that songket weaving was brought to Peninsular Malaysia through intermarriages between royal families. This was a common occurrence in the 15th century for sealing strategic alliances. Production was located in politically significant kingdoms because of the high cost of materials; the gold thread used was originally wound with real gold leaf.
Songket is traditionally held as an exquisite, luxurious and prestigious traditional fabrics.

They were only worn in special occasion, religious festival and traditional social functions. It has become a required garment for brides and grooms in their wedding; such as the traditional wedding costumes of Palembang, Minangkabau and Bali; although several efforts has been made to promote songket as a popular fabrics for fashion both locally and abroad.