Inspiration

Tips from the Rugdealer: How to become a Persian carpet collector

Part 1: Lots of people grow up with Persian carpets in the homes of their parents and grandparents and subconsciously feel that a "house becomes a home with Persian carpets". They are naturally drawn to this art and more than likely to buy Persian carpets for their own homes. In South Africa many people end up buying Persian carpets because of marketing strategies of carpet dealers and current decorating trends. Unlike many European countries there isn't a museum in South Africa showcasing historic Persian carpets that can influence the taste and level of understanding and education of the public regarding Persian carpets.

To raise the level from owning a Persian carpet as a floor cover and enhancement of the interior of the house, to the level of collecting Persian carpets as a hobby and clever investment strategy, is a developing concept in of South Africa. In the USA and Europe collecting carpets has moved away from the traditional stigma that only the very wealthy collect Persian carpets, to the level that the top collectors are people who have passion for and knowledge of this ancient art. From architects, psychologists, lawyers and engineers to primary school teachers are among the top collectors of antique Persian carpets today. Collecting Persian carpets successfully, more than money and knowledge and passion, requires a lifestyle that, according to the RUGDEALER, can easily be achieved with high rewards in the current South African environment.

One of the surreal concepts of Earth and the human conscious is the concept of time. Many people have created incredible wealth from buying and using other people’s time. An antique Persian carpet is the captured “millions of moments” of a weaver connected to his culture, geography, history, time and space of a hundred or few hundred years ago. By collecting Persian carpets you are in actual fact collecting moments woven in time that can never be repeated and the first step of collecting Persian carpets is to fully understand this concept. By investing in that antique carpet a part of you as a human being on Earth becomes activated through that carpet and all the moments captured into it and that is hard to achieve through anything else. In this context collecting Persian carpets helps the collector to find himself in space and time and this result is priceless.


From written text to woven art

Our RUGDEALER recently discovered an ancient book (probably around 1,000 AD) about the study of astrology in Persia.

So beautifully was it illustrated that our RUGDEALER decided to recreate a page from this book. This is the result! A unique one of kind carpet bringing to life ancient text. 


The snake as symbol

Long before our fear of snakes came into being they were revered and regarded as creators and protectors of Mother Earth and humanity. The number of snake deities in ancient civilizations is vast and the artefacts representing them innumerable. All this points to our close relationship with the snake, serpent and dragon which were generally regarded as the same. They were benevolent before they became malevolent mostly with the help of Abrahamic religions.

In Eastern practices it is believed that all human beings have a “Serpent power” called our Kundalini and it represents our life force. The Kundalini is thought to be an energy released within an individual using specific meditation techniques. It is represented symbolically as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine. In many cultures around the world it is believed that disease in humans are caused by the absence of this energy in our bodies and in Iran a sick person is called “bimar” translating to “the snake is gone”. According to Carl Jung "... the concept of Kundalini has for us only one use, that is, to describe our own experiences with the unconscious ..."Jung used the Kundalini system symbolically as a means of understanding the dynamic movement between conscious and unconscious processes. Jung claimed that the symbolism of Kundalini yoga suggested that the bizarre symptomatology that patients at times presented, actually resulted from the awakening of the Kundalini. Recently, there has been a growing interest within the medical community to study the physiological effects of meditation, and some of these studies have applied the discipline of Kundalini yoga to their clinical settings.

Another word for this life force is Azoth. As the Universal Life Force, the Azoth is believed to be not only the animating energy (spiritus animatus) of the body but is also the inspiration and enthusiasm that moves the mind. In the cosmos and within each of us, the Azoth is believed to be the mysterious evolutionary force responsible for the relentless drive towards physical and spiritual perfection. Thus, the concept of the Azoth is analogous to the light of nature or mind of G-d. The symbol used for Azoth is the Caduceus. Some accounts suggest that the oldest known imagery of the caduceus have their roots in a Mesopotamian origin with the Sumerian god Ningishzida whose symbol, a staff with two snakes intertwined around it, dates back to 4000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. In later Antiquity, the caduceus provided the basis for the astrological symbol representing the planet Mercury. Thus, through its use in astrology, alchemy, and astronomy it has come to denote the planet and elemental metal of the same name. It is said the wand would wake the sleeping and send the awake to sleep. If applied to the dying, their death was gentle; if applied to the dead, they returned to life. By extension of its association with Mercury and Hermes, the caduceus is also a recognized symbol of commerce and negotiation, two realms in which balanced exchange and reciprocity are recognized as ideals. This association is ancient, and consistent from the Classical period to modern times.

The ouroboros (snake biting its own tail) is another powerful and ancient symbol of the natural flow of life on Earth, birth and death.

In Greek mythology, the Rod of Asclepius is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. The symbol has continued to be used in modern times, where it is associated with medicine and health care. The Bowl of Hygieia is one of the symbols of pharmacy. Hygieia was the Greek goddess of hygiene, and the daughter of Asclepius. Asclepius' symbol is his rod, with a snake twined around it; correspondingly, Hygieia's symbol is a cup or chalice with a snake twined around its stem and poised above it.

In the biblical Book of Numbers the Nehushtan (or Nohestan) was a bronze serpent on a pole which G-d told Moses to erect to protect the Israelites who saw it, from dying from the bites of the "fiery serpents" which God had sent to punish them for speaking against G-d and Moses.. Many bible students have made the connection between the Rod of Asclepius and the Nehustan, where the stick and serpent were put together in the biblical incident of mass healing. Ancient Mesopotamians and Semites believed that snakes were immortal because they could infinitely shed their skin and appear forever youthful, appearing in a fresh guise every time. Before the arrival of the Israelites, snake cults were well established in Canaan in the Bronze Age, for archaeologists have uncovered serpent cult objects in Bronze Age strata at several pre-Israelite cities in Canaan.

The Sumerians worshipped Ningishzida.as the g-d of healing but they also have a very interesting Creation story that goes like this:

The Annunaki was highly evolved beings (reptilian in appearance) who escaped to planet Earth after war broke out in their place of origin, the Pleiades constellation. They landed on a mountain (thought to be in Turkey) and desired to seed a colony on Earth. To succeed in this quest they needed some labourers/slaves who were easily controlled and would provide all labour as needed. On Earth at the time, there were no such beings available and they set out to create their own. They also created a place of closure to keep wild animals out and the colony safe and called it “Garden of Eden”. It is only later that we connected the word “paradise” to the Garden of Eden implying a kind of Utopia, but the actual meaning of “paradise” is “garden”. The word derives from the Persian word “paradis” which meant a large forest-like enclosure that was built to house wild animals, by the Ahcaemenid and Parthian Dynasties for the enjoyment of the kings.. The two leaders of the Annunaki colony were Enlil and Enki, both highly advanced scientists who could create and clone modern humans. Enlil (called “Satan” in Sumerian language that translates to “the supreme leader” in English) was in favour of keeping these new humans as slaves and treated them no better than animals. In fact the name “Adam” (Adama in Sumerian) translates to “animal” in English. Enki (called “the serpent” in Sumerian language that translates to “the administrator” in English) was in favour of creating conscious humans that could live independently of their creators. Since the women were the gatherers of food for the human colony and also the source of human reproduction, Enki approached them in secret to transfer the knowledge of consciousness to. It is eerily similar to the serpent approaching Eve in the Garden of Eden and convincing her to eat the “fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. Instead of a fruit, in the Sumerian texts Enki showed the women how to craft tools from the trees that would make their lives as labourers easier, but could also help them in self-defence. The humans soon after ascended the mountain to where their controllers lived to fight for their freedom with tools forged from the trees, but the weaponry and advanced skills of the Annunaki led to near annihilation of the humans and they were kicked out the garden forever, completely cut off from their creators. In later translations of this text to Akkadian and other Semitic languages the story was adapted to become the Semitic creation story as we know today.

The ancient Chinese self-identified as "the descendants of the dragon" because the Chinese dragon is an imagined reptile that represents evolution from the ancestors and qi energy. The presence of dragons within Chinese culture dates back several thousands of years with the discovery of a dragon statue dating back to the fifth millennium BC from the Yangshao culture in Henan in 1987, and jade badges of rank in coiled form have been excavated from the Hongshan culture circa 4700-2900 BC.] Some of the earliest Dragon artifacts are the pig dragon carvings from the Hongshan culture. The coiled dragon or snake form played an important role in early Chinese culture. The character for "dragon" in the earliest Chinese writing has a similar coiled form, as do later jade dragon amulets from the Shang period.

In Iran there is the following legend about the queen of snakes, Shahmaran: Thousands of years ago, there were wise snakes living in the underground. Their names in Iranian are maran and they are extraordinarily intelligent and caring. They live in peace. The queen of the marans is called Shahmaran. She is all-knowing, beautiful, and leads with grace. According to legend, a young wood-seller named Cemshab is the first human to see the marans. As the story goes, he is exploring a cave full of honey with friends; but they abandon him in order to take more honey. Alone, Cemshab sees an unusually light-filled hole in the back of the cave. He pulls away the rocks and finds deep within the cave is a magnificent garden. He crawl in, and is surrounded with light, flowers, and snakes. One of the snakes is coloured milky-white, Shahmaran, she is the most beautiful. He gains her trust, staying to live for many years in the underground garden. Shahmaran tells Cemshab that he was able to find her, and only him alone because of his pure heart and his Ajna (third eye), which allows him to see past the physical world and into the other worldly realm. One day after many years, he decides he would like to see his family again. So Shahmaran helps him leave, provided that he promises not to tell anyone about the maran cave. He keeps his word for many, many years.

But one day The Sultan of the land got very sick. The Vizier (the high official of the land) says that only cure is eating meat of Shahmaran, to acquire her youth and wisdom. Word gets out that Cemshab knows where to find her. He resists, but is forced to show them the way, under the threat that his loved ones will be killed if he refuses. Betrayed, the wise Shahmaran says to Cemshab: "make me boil in an earthenware dish. Let the sultan eat my meat and make The Vizier drink my boiled water." When that happens, the Vizier dies, the Sultan keeps living.and Cemshab becomes Vizier.

The centuries old Persian poem 'Mar Nameh' (book of snakes) describes in verse a method of augury; what seeing a snake on every one of the 30 days of a month will mean and what omen it will portend, indicating the importance snakes played in Persian life. And as can be expected snake symbols are widely included in Persian carpet designs. The symbol often looks like an “S”


Ghalamkar - the Persian cloth

The latest addition to the Ghorbany Carpets antique collection is this sofreh ghalamkar (tablecloth) from the Safavid Dynasty circa mid-18th century. The name is derived from two Persian words: Ghalam (stylus/pen) kari (craftsmanship). The history of Ghalamkar fabrics date back to the Sassanid period, the fourth Iranian dynasty and the second Persian Empire (224 - 651 CE).

The fabrics were all hand painted with brush and pen. They reached their height of popularity specially during the Safavid dynasty.( Esfahan was the capital of the kingdom at the time) To meet the high demand, the Ghalamkar artists began using wooden frames and stamps that were mostly made from old peach trees. This technique drastically expedited the printing process and enabled the artists to create homogeneous patterns. ‏In the past, Ghalamkar fabrics have served multiple purposes.The Safavid Kings, nobles, and the upper class, wore Ghalamkar silk and cotton clothes ornamented with gold and silver. The fabrics were also used to decorate the interior, frequently utilized as curtains, bedspreads, and wall coverings

‏The exalted art of Ghalamkari is a symbol of longevity, love, and resilience of an ancient tradition that through many peaks and troughs, has been passed to us generation after generation, and heart to heart but It seems that after the pinnacle of popularity, this tradition has entered a stagnant stage and if not for the artists, the legacy may not have survived.

Extract: Farana


The Harpies

They are said to have been feathered, with cocks' heads, wings, and human arms, with great claws; breasts, bellies, and female parts human.....

The harpies seem originally to have been wind spirits (personifications of the destructive nature of wind). Their name means "snatchers" or "swift robbers"and they steal food from their victims while they are eating and carry evildoers (especially those who have killed their family) to the Erinyes.

When a person suddenly disappeared from the earth, it was said that he had been carried off by the harpies.Thus, they carried off the daughters of king Pandareus and gave them as servants to the Erinyes.In this form they were agents of punishment who abducted people and tortured them on their way to Tartarus. They were vicious, cruel and violent..... They are named Aello ("storm swift") and Ocypete ("the swift wing"),and Virgil added Celaeno ("the dark") as a third.Homer knew of a harpy named Podarge ("fleet-foot").Aello, is sometimes also spelled Aellopus or Nicothoe; Ocypete, sometimes also spelled Ocythoe or Ocypode....

As with many other mythical creatures they were often depicted and immortalized in art as can be seen from the pictures below.


Our Rugdealer got published!

Congratulations to our RUGDEALER whose article on the search for the identity of “the man on the carpet” got published and translated to German in the Carpet Collector magazine in Germany. We are proud of you!

The Article:

While browsing through the catalogue of the Major Spring Auction of Rippon Boswell & Co., scheduled for 2 June 2018, I came across a Kurdish Persian carpet from Bijar in Lot 54, dimensions 76 x 85, circa 1900 with an estimated selling price of 750 EURO. This carpet instantly grabbed my attention, not because it has the Herati design on a sky blue background typical of Bijar, but because it showcases a man with unusual clothing (considering traditional Iranian attire at the time) and his shirt looks like the modern-day rainbow flag.  He is holding a sword in his left hand but his right hand is shown in a very gentle pose with his fingers crossed. I found this quite contradictory since he is donning a horned cap typical of a warrior and he has a most glorious moustache that reminded me of legendary singer, Freddie Mercury, who is from Persian descent (so by the way). The other contradiction that I noticed was the warrior had a very flat, feminine-looking groin. I wondered who in Persia in the 1900’s would possibly be dressed this way wearing a cape, a necklace and something that looks like modern-day stockings…

To solve this mystery I decided to post this controversial piece on my Facebook page to enlist the help of my learned friends (who also have wonderful senses of humours), these were few of the guesses:

Ugljesa Stanimirovic: “Some stoned raver”

Mark Kambourian: “Fabio?”

Salih Kocak: “Rostam e zal” (a legendary warrior of ancient Persia)

Ben Banayan: “Astrix!”

Farzin Mollaian: “A french warrior” (he also posted a similar rug that he has had in his collection for the past 20 years)

After all the giggles I remembered that I have seen a similar carpet in a book called “Iranian Carpets: Art, craft and History” by E. Gans-Ruedin on page 440. There is a carpet from Kerman dated 1896 in the collection of The Carpet Museum of Iran, Tehran, dimension 195 x 131 cm with an inscription in French: “Guerrier Franc” translating to Frankish warrior. Behind the warrior on this rug lies a dead soldier. The cartouche gives the following indications: Prince Abdul Hossein commander-in-chief (Farman farma), chief warrior (Salar lashghar) date 13/13 (1896). I published this new clue to Facebook and my friend, Fawzan Shaltout, mentioned that it could by “Don Giovanni”. Other guesses were “Alexander the Great” and “Robin Hood”. I was very happy to settle for “Don Juan” because to my surprise there was a Persian character called Uruch Beg later known by his baptized name of “Don Juan” (1560 – 1604) in Spain. He was also known as Faisal Nazary, a native Iranian from the Bayat Qizilbash clan. He later moved westward, settled in Spain and converted to Roman Catholicism. Whilst in Spain he wrote an account of Iran, his involvement there with Shah Abbas first, and his journey to Spain in the Persian Embassy sent to Europe later. He was killed in 1604 during a street fight in Spain. All these clues made me believe that we are talking about none other than our Persian Don Juan.

Mystery solved, sipping my morning coffee, I received a late comment from my friend, Maher Jawat saying he doesn’t think that this is the Persian Don Juan. What?! After all that work it could be someone else?! He mentioned that in his mind this Bijar was copied off of a Kerman carpet (similar to the one I found in the book), which was woven at the time that Mr Farman Farma ordered many carpets to be woven off French lithographs. Prince Abdul Hossein (Farman Farma) 1857 -1939, was one of the most prominent Qajar princes and one of the most influential politicians of his time, in Persia. He was born in Tehran to Prince Nosrat Dowleh Firouz and was the 16th grandson of the Qajar crown prince Abbas Mirza. He was the commander in chief of the army in Azerbaijan in 1890 and the governor of Tehran in 1896 as well as Kerman and Kurdistan. His last title was prime minister of Persia in 1915. Maher also published a picture from Encyclopedia Britannica that eerily resembled the man on the carpet. Shocked by this discovery, I was back to the drawing board. Who was this mystery French warrior on the Bijar?

I decided to research who the Frankish warriors were and I came across Clovis I. He was the first king of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler and lived from 466 to 511. He is considered to be the founder of the Merovingian dynasty that ruled the Frankish kingdom for two centuries. Finding drawings of Clovis’ likeness convinced me that this is the man on the carpet. In French drawings however he is depicted as a very manly warrior, no gentle hand gestures, crossed fingers or flat groin...I can only conclude that the centuries of British and French conflicts and chilly relations resulted in each portraying the other as less masculine than the other. But at last the mystery is solved! Vive le Corvis!


The Catalyst

We all know about him, we love his words and ideas, he is the bestselling poet in America and possibly many other countries, and Hollywood is even contemplating making a movie about his life. We know him as a mystic, an enlightened person, a teacher and the creator of the swirling dervish….I am of course talking about Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī or just Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet whose writings have been widely translated into many different languages. His influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries. We all know his words and teachings, but what do we know of him? How did Rumi become this “master” of enlightenment? It all started with a catalyst called Shams Tabrizi and their story goes like this…

Rumi was born in Balkh during the time of the Persianate Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in 1207. His father was Bahā ud-Dīn Walad, a theologian, jurist and a mystic from Balkh, who was also known by the followers of Rumi as Sultan al-Ulama or "Sultan of the Scholars". The profession of the family for several generations was that of Islamic preachers of the liberal Hanafi rite, and this family tradition was continued by Rumi. When the Mongol Invasion started Walad, his entire family and followers started migrating westward and finally settled in Konya, Anatolia, on the invitation of the ruler. During this journey Rumi married Gowhar Khatun in Karaman with whom he had two sons. After her death he remarried and had another son and a daughter. Rumi was trained in Shariah and the Tariqa and after his father’s death, he inherited his father’s position as head of the madrassa (aged 25). Rumi’s public life started and he became an Islamic Jurist and gave sermons in the mosques of Konya. He was the most important member in the society and part of the elite group of aristocrats, highly respected and acclaimed. But this was all to change...

Shams Tabrizi was a powerful mystic known by many not just for his teachings, but also for his wild ways. By all accounts he was rude, obnoxious, and crude. He was a wanderer nicknamed "the Bird" (because he never stayed long anywhere, to great relief of everyone) and many thought him to be utterly mad. During the travels of Rumi and his family, Shams noticed him in one town and thought him to be a great candidate to teach and train as mystic, but Rumi was only 21 at the time and too young according to Shams, so he decided to give up the idea. Many years later Shams was still searching for a student to teach, but because of his reputation people avoided him, until "a voice" came to him one day and told him that "The one you seek is Jalal ud-Din of Konya". Shams remembered the promising candidate he met once and decided to go to Konya to find him.

On a day in 1244 Shams (clothed in black from head to toe), arrived in the famous inn of Sugar Merchants of Konya. He introduced himself as a travelling merchant looking for “something which he could only find in Konya”. Soon he found the promising candidate, Rumi (now in his late 30's), reading next to a large stack of books, approached him and asked, "What are you doing?" Rumi (thinking that Shams was a homeless, nosy and uneducated wanderer) scoffingly replied, " This is knowledge that cannot be understood by the unlearned”. On hearing this, Shams threw the stack of books into a nearby pool of water. Rumi hastily rescued the books and to his surprise they were all dry. Rumi then asked Shams, "What is this?" To which Shams replied, "Mowlana, this is knowledge that cannot be understood by the learned”. And with that Rumi was hooked and this meeting pretty much sealed the fate of Shams. From that moment on the two were inseparable, master and student, best friends, close companions, soul mates, seekers of enlightenment.

Rumi was an aristocrat and member of high society. Shams was a wanderer and wild man. Their relationship was not accepted by society and was hugely frowned upon. After moving into Rumi’s house Shams received various death threats and decided to leave shortly after. Rumi fell into a deep depression after losing his friend, and everyone in his family and the society were worried about him and his health. At this time Rumi was more famous and important than the emir, so the town and his family decided to bring Shams back. Someone spotted him in Damascus and once they told Rumi of this, he immediately sent a caravan laden with gifts for his master as well as his oldest son, to beg Shams to return.

Return Shams did. This time Rumi got clever. He arranged for a marriage between his only daughter, Kimia, and Shams to legalize their relationship and to create endless opportunity for them to spend as much time together as they wished. It was an outrage then and it would have been an outrage now, for his daughter was 12 (which was not an unusual age to be married back in the 13th century) but Shams was far older, just over 60, and not a refined aristocrat. Soon his family and the entire town regretted their participation in the return of Shams, this only escalated when Kirmia died a few months after her wedding. There is no historic records to show how she died, but there is enough records to show that everyone pointed fingers at Shams. The family of Rumi and the entire town were blaming him for her untimely death and they decided to get rid of him, once and for all. One night when Shams and Rumi were having their usual private sessions, there was a knock on the door. Shams went to open it and disappeared without a trace.

Rumi again fell into a deep depression, thinking that his mentor and friend, again left without saying goodbye. He offered rewards for finding Shams, he sent search parties everywhere, but Shams was never to be seen again. The official story is that Shams ran away to Khoy where he died shortly after. His tomb is still there and has been nominated as a World Cultural Heritage Center by UNESCO.

The “other” story is that Rumi’s youngest son, of his first marriage, was very close to his half-sister Kimia, and when she died he arranged for the honour-killing of Shams. Not only for causing the death of his sister, but also for bringing disrepute to his father’s image and legacy. The whole town was in on the conspiracy and Shams’ body was never found. No one ever revealed the truth to Rumi.

Whatever the truth, Rumi never recovered from the loss of his close companion, master, friend and soulmate. After waiting 40 days for the return of Shams or any news of him, Rumi put on a black cloak that he wore for the rest of his life and he completely gave up all his positions held in society. Like so many artists before and after Rumi the sheer excruciating, soul destroying agony of losing such an important person became the catalyst of transforming Rumi into the poet he became. Out of the depths of his despair and utter heartbreak, poured nearly 70,000 verses of poetry collected in two epic books, the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi and Masnavi.

In honour of Rumi, The Mewlewī Sufi order was founded in 1273 by his followers after his death. In 1284 Rumi's younger and only surviving son, Sultan Walad, was installed as grand master of the order. The leadership of the order has been kept within Rumi's family in Konya uninterruptedly since then.


Seven hundred years of Oriental carpets by Kurt Erdmann, 1970

Our Rugdealer recently added the Seven hundred years of Oriental carpets written by Kurt Erdmann in 1970, to the Ghorbany Carpets LIbrary. This book is of significant importance for anyone interested in the history of Oriental carpets. The writer, Kurt Erdmann is also an important figure in the Oriental carpet world and has spent his entire academic life in identifying and classifying them.

Born in Hamburg, Mr Erdmann studied German Literature but soon developed a deeper interest in European art history. In 1927 he was invited by Friedrich Sarre to join the work on his publication, together with Hermann Trenkwald, about ancient oriental carpets. Erdmann's scientific interest remained with oriental rugs throughout his entire career.

He was the first to describe the "four social layers" of carpet production (nomadic, village, town and court manufacture). He recognized the traditions of village and nomad carpet designs as a distinct artistic tradition on its own, and described the process of stylization by which, over time, elaborate manufactory designs and patterns were integrated into the village and nomadic weaving traditions. Until Erdmann published his studies, art historians influenced by the nineteenth century "Vienna School" around Alois Riegl used to understand the process of pattern migration from court and town to village and nomad as a degeneration. Consequently, art historians focused more on the elaborate manufactory rug designs, which they saw as the most authentic. Erdmann was among the first to draw attention to the village, tribal, and nomadic rugs as a distinct and genuine form of artistic expression.

Erdmann also established the structural analysis as a means to determine the historical framework of rug weaving traditions within the Islamic world. While oriental rugs and Sasanian art were his two main fields of interest, Erdmann also worked on a variety of other subjects, including Achaemenid art, and Turkish roadside inn architecture.

He was a professor at the universities of Berlin, Hamburg, Bonn, Cairo, and Istanbul (1951-1957) and as Head of the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, a department of the State Museums of Berlin, today the Pergamon Museum from 1958 until 1964/ He was also a member of the German Archaeological Institute.

Excerpts: widipedia


Jaipur Safavid Garden Carpet

THE CARPET COLLECTION of Albert Hall Jaipur Museum includes this 'Persian Garden Carpet' (pictured here is the first photo of the entire carpet assembled by our RUGDEALER, Shervin Ghorbany), and it is the best and earliest of all such Persian Garden Carpets existing in the world. It was purchased in the time of Mirza Raja Jai Singh I in 1632 A.D. The theme is 'Char- Bagh' / four gardens, showing a tank at the center with animals catching fish from all sides and garden plots in five colours. It's place of origin is believed to be Karman (?) in Persia, a great carpet making center in the early part of the 17th century.

The carpet depicts a formal Persian garden, divided by streams into four main garden sections. These are further subdivided into two or more sections with smaller garden plots. There is a pavilion that has a blue dome and richly decorated interior with a throne, from which the Emperor could enjoy a view of the splendid garden. The garden and orchards within are supplied with water from the central tank, with two big ponds on either side of it by the main channel. The channel motif appears to have been inspired by the system introduced by Shah Abbas the Great (1526-1628) in and around his capital. It was known as the 'Isfahan Channel System'.

The central tank as picturised, shows fish, duck, turtles and some fabulous Chinese animals. Ferocious beasts appear to break the serenity and peace of the garden when a stag-kylon is cought in the jaw of a lion-kylon. Other ferocious animals include a Chinese monster and a fabulous dragon devouring a fish. As every animal is preying upon another the fish too turn aggressive biting stags and birds. Avenues and orchards of flowering and fruit laden trees adorn the channels and plots, full of birds on the ground, in the air and in nests. 

While the ground colour of the avenues and much of the carpet is red, the groups of square garden plots around the central tank are in five colours. The group of four garden plots at the top and bottom are in four colours. The chequework of varied coloured plots is a unique feature of the carpet and contribute to its incomparable magnificence. The warps are of cotton knotted fourfold, while the weft threads are brown wool and silk knotted twofold. The carpet is 28'4”x12'4” in size. Text is cited from the museum site itself.


The Sangesari Tribe of Iran

In the Semnan province of Iran there is a town called Mehdi Shahr, previously called Sangesar, that is the main centre of the Sangesari tribes. Usually from September to March they settle in this centre before travelling their normal routes during the other part of the year. They are the most important tribe of the Alborz Mountain area and have the longest nomadic path duration of all nomadic tribes of the Iranian plateau, that stretches up to 1,500 km in length. Bernard Hockard, head Iranoligist in Europe, believes that the Sangesari tribe’s nomadic route is the longest in the world. He also commented that their Summer camps are the most elegant that he has ever encountered.

Majority of their traveling occurs during Spring and Summer and their tents are made specifically to withstand the hot sun. These tents are black because they are made from goat hair and surprisingly it is called “goot/ goat” in Farsi. One of the most amazing facts about these tents is their correspondence to ancient Iranian architecture. Inside the tents there is a dedicated space for family (andarooni), guests (birooni) and also the kitchen. These spaces are separated by woven walls that is unique to the Sangesari tribe.

The women’s clothing is also very special. It is one of the main duties of women to make clothes from wool and silk for domestic use. Variety of these clothes and fabric, compared to other nomadic tribes, are by far more elaborate. Some of these fabrics and their uses are as follows:

- ‘sargira’: this is usually very fine woolen fabrics used by women to completely cover themselves, similar to the modern day chador.
- ‘kajin shevi’: this is the finest silk fabric made by the women to wear as a shirt.
- ‘ferakh serval’: these are multi layered skirts usually decorated with a large floral design.
- ‘makene ‘: this is a needle point fabric unique to the Sangesari women to cover their hair.

Other woven products of the Sangesari tribes are changum (woven earrings for ladies) and also pallas (heavy duty, colourful floor coverings). Apart from all their unique fabrics, the Sangesari tribal members are also master weavers of carpets and kilims, that shows a possible heritage from the Tati tribe of Iran.

In my opinion these peoples are the oldest surviving Persian-speaking nomadic people of Iran with roots in the Parni/Aparni tribe of pre-historical times that lived south-east of the Caspian Sea. It is also believed that their original homeland may have been Southern Russia from where they immigrated with other tribes. The Parni were one of three tribes of the Dahae/Dahan confederation. The other two tribes were the Xanthii and Pissuri.

Majority of the Tati woven products were mistakenly categorized as Kurdish, Shahsavan or even Baluchi, depending on which of these tribes were in their vicinity at a particular time. My biggest hope is that we can one day clearly distinguish the Tati weaving from the other tribes, especially considering that the Tati’s are spread out from east-Caucuses to Khorasan and are therefore also influenced by tribes in each area.

An interesting fact is that one of the sheep breeds in Iran is called Sangesari. The ratio of meat compared to the entire weight of the sheep is the highest in the entire world, making up 60% of the animal. This lamb meat is regarded as the most delicious and tender in Iran. The Sangesari tribe use the milk of sheep and goats to produce 32 different dairy products. Some of them, like ‘varhun’ (a dense buttery fat) and ‘arisheh’ (a thick fried cheese similar to haloumi cheese) is unique to this tribe. They also make a local kind of chocolate called ‘chico’ that makes wonderful gifts for guests visiting them. Dr Farhadi from Iran believes that the dairy production of this tribe is so well developed that many modern dairy factories cannot compete and could learn from the Sangesari.

One of the oldest celebrations of the Sangesari, showing their pure Persian origin, is ‘Aniran/Neroon’ which means ‘Everlasting light’. It happens in the middle of September and lasts for nearly one week. One of the traditions in this celebration is hanging pomegranates (anar) onto the horns of sheep and then encouraging the sheep to run around in the fields so that they can break open the pomegranates, which translates to a sign of fertility and prosperity for the next year. On the last night each family do a stock take of the animals they own and record the number.

The Sangesari tribe has their own calendar that is very similar to the calendar that was used in Ancient Iran during the Sassanid era. This calendar and the terminology used in it is also very similar to old Khorasan and Khwarezm languages that is indicative of the possible common ancestry of the Sangesari and Sogdian tribes. 
- Translated and edited by Shervin Ghorbany 


Meeting the king

For centuries the only contact Iranians had with the west happened through merchants, predominantly rug dealers, who travelled from east to west and on return to the east told stories of the west to friends and family. The difference in culture between the two sides and the observations made, often made for comical tales. One such tale is that of the first visit of an ambassador of Iran to Britain.

Mr Mirzah Abul Hasan Khan Shirazi was the ambassador of the Qajar Dynasty of Iran and the first to visit Britain. His uncle, Ibrahim Shirazi, was the main character who helped the Qajar Dynasty to take over power from the Zand Dynasty and was the Prime Minister for the first two Qajar kings. Historically they were landlords and a wealthy family of Shiraz. This helped Mr Shirazi to be chosen as the ambassador of Persia.

The Persian delegation to Britain was tiny, only eight members made the trip: Mr Shirazi as ambassador, a chef - since the Persians were very concerned about the quality of the food they might have to eat in Britain, two servants, a secretary and three heavily armed guards - since the Persians were worried about their safety when travelling in an unknown country. Mr Shirazi kept account of all events as was required by the king of Iran, in his journal. The trip lasted from 1807 to 1816. Persians always chose an auspicious day as the day of departure for such a long journey and for Mr Shirazi’s convoy it took a good 20 days before such a day arrived (with the king’s permission of course), where all celestial signs confirmed that the journey would be favourable if they left on the particular day.

When they reached British soil they slept in the best hotel of Plymouth. The foreign affairs ministry of Britain made sure that the management of the hotel understood that the ambassador of Iran is a very important man and that he should be treated like a king. The poor manager assumed that because the visitors came from the Middle East they would be very cold in Britain, so he put multiple blankets and heaters in the rooms to emulate the scorching Middle Eastern heat. Mr Shirazi mentions in his journals that it was so hot in the hotel that he couldn’t sleep and instead walked around his room and the hotel with a whole host of hotel staff following him around (in case he needed anything).

The following day the Persian party of eight travelled to London by coach  The Persian guards were heavily armed since they didn't know what dangers might befall them in this unknown land. What they were blissfully unaware of was the frightening spectacle they were to onlookers who observed the foreigners travelling through their country with such weaponry. Mr Shirazi wrote how impressed he was with the speed of the British coaches but his amazement soon turned to dismay when on their arrival in London there were no Londoners lining the streets to greet them. This was one of the elaborate customs in Iran, the entire population of the capital would come out to meet any foreign king or dignitaries on their arrival. Mr Shirazi interpreted the lack of such a spectacle as a "cold welcoming" by Britain of Iran and as much as the British reps tried to explain that it is not British custom and thus the lack of Londoners welcoming the ambassador is not a sign of disrespect, the ambassador was convinced that this is indicative of Britain giving Iran the cold shoulder. He repeatedly told the British rep that he himself is not upset by the cold welcoming of the Londoners, but he would not know how to explain this to the Persian king without causing trouble in the relations of the two countries.The British Foreign Affairs provided the best hotel to the Persian delegation and even though they received the best service, the ambassador never stopped complaining about the cold welcoming in Britain that he received. After two days of arrival, Mr Shirazi became anxious to take the letter of the Persian king to the king of Britain, since any delay would show even more disrespect and he may be beheaded for this on his return to Iran if he records this in his journals. As luck would have it, the king of Britain was ill at the exact time of the visit and that is what caused the delay in meeting the Persian delegation. After a few more days, the ill king of Britain made an effort to meet with the Persians.

Mr Shirazi thought that the British king George III would be exactly like the kings of Persia with the same customs, for example the king of Persia is not easy to meet in his palace. When a person is lucky enough to get the opportunity to meet the king, he should walk very cautiously towards the king and constantly bow to the king, at a certain point he needs to remove his shoes and await permission to approach the king whilst the king is sitting on his throne. If he is lucky enough to be granted this permission by the king only then would he be allowed to move closer. If any foreign ambassador visits Iran, they would never be granted permission to give their king’s letters directly to the king as they would deal with the prime minister instead.

So when the ambassador of Iran entered the room in the palace that he was shown to, he assumed that the old man waiting in the middle of the room was the butler to the king, who would tell him when to remove his shoes and direct him to the king’s throne room where he would await permission to approach the king to hand him the letter of the king of Iran. Imagine his shock when the British rep told him that the “old butler” is in fact the king of Britain. How amazed he was to be granted such close unsupervised contact with the king so easily. After this trip, he returned to Iran and luckily did not lose his head. Instead he became the foreign minister of Iran some years later. 


Arthur Upham Pope and the Survey of Persian Art

Ghorbany Carpets recently added the “Survey of Persian Art” written by the esteemed Iranian Art connoisseur, Mr Arthur Upham Pope, to our Library collection. Anyone who loves and studies Persian carpets eventually find their way to this extraordinary person who dedicated his life to studying and documenting Persian carpets.

Arthur Upham Pope was born in Rhode Island in 1881. He graduated from Worcester Academy in 1899 and Brown University in 1904. He taught there for two years and received a master's degree in 1906. He pursued further graduate work at Cornell University and Harvard University and again taught at Brown until 1911, when he was hired by the philosophy department at the University of California, Berkeley. He soon gave up teaching philosophy and pursued his passion for Persian art, which had begun with an early interest in Oriental rugs. He had organized his first museum exhibition of Middle Eastern carpets while still an undergraduate at Brown. Following a divorce from his first wife (who later became the author Bertha Damon), in 1920 Pope married his former student Phyllis Ackerman (1893-1977), who had completed a doctorate in philosophy at Berkeley in 1917 and shared his interest in textile arts. They had collaborated on an exhibition of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst collection in 1916 at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, and they continued to be partners in many projects for the rest of their lives, each crediting the other with greater expertise.

By the early 1920s, Pope and Ackerman had developed a great deal of expertise as historians of Persian and related art, and they became advisors to major collectors and museums on the acquisition of Islamic art and artifacts. Pope's museum clients included the Metropolitan Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also advised wealthy individual collectors including Calouste Gulbenkian, William Randolph Hearst, George Hewitt Myers, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

In 1923, Pope was appointed director of the not-yet-opened California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Ackerman was named assistant director, and the two traveled in Europe to develop a collection for the new museum. Before long, however, their relationship with Alma Spreckels, patron of the museum, deteriorated and they resigned. Pope remained interested in museum planning, publishing an article on "Museum fatigue" in 1924 and writing and lecturing about a new museum plan for San Francisco.[4] He was a consultant to the planning process for an art museum and opera house in the Civic Center of San Francisco in the mid-1920s. In 1924 Pope and Ackerman bought the house in San Mateo, California they called "Scholars' Cottage" from its architect and first occupant, Ernest Coxhead. They sold it in 1943 and it later became a state and national historic landmark.

Pope made his first trip to Iran in the spring of 1925. He gave a speech urging Iranians to appreciate the architecture of their past and to use it as inspiration for modern buildings. Reza Shah Pahlavi, then prime minister and later Shah of Iran, heard the speech, met Pope, and began taking a personal interest in Persian architectural restoration and revival. He authorized Pope to enter key mosques to study and photograph their architecture and became a lifelong supporter of Pope's pursuits in the field.
In 1926, Pope helped design the Persian pavilion and organized an exhibition of Persian art for the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia. That year he also organized the first international congress on Persian art; he would lead four more of these congresses over the next 40 years. By 1927, he and Phyllis returned to San Francisco and pursued additional design projects, including an ornate Persian-palace-style interior for the penthouse of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and the interior of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, where they made extensive use of Middle Eastern kilims as well as Native American artifacts.

In 1928, Pope founded the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology, which was incorporated in New York City in 1930 and later became the Asia Institute. He enlisted other scholars to teach and conduct research under the auspices of the institute, and he led numerous trips to Iran from 1929 to 1939 to photograph art and architecture and participate in archeological excavations. The six-volume Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present was published by Oxford Press in 1938-39, and Pope and his colleagues arranged for several exhibitions of Persian art in the U.S. and Europe to coincide with the publication.

In 1964, during a state visit to Iran, Pope and Ackerman were formally invited to move the Asia Institute to Shiraz, Iran, where it would be affiliated with Pahlavi University and housed in the Narenjestan. They accepted the offer and in 1966 moved to Iran, where they would spend the rest of their lives. Their remains lie in a mausoleum on the bank of the Zayandeh River in Isfahan close to Khaju Bridge.

The Asia Institute became a part of Pahlavi University and gradually declined, especially after the Islamic revolution in 1979. Eventually, the Bulletin of the Asia Institute was revived in Michigan in 1987. In 2010 the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the museums Pope advised, presented an exhibition, "Arthur Pope and a New Survey of Persian Art", curated by Yuka Kadoi. In conjunction with the exhibition the museum held a symposium in which international scholars of Persian art discussed the life, achievements and influence of Arthur Upham Pope.

Although Arthur Pope was a controversial figure in those days, his contribution to the cataloguing and determining of origins of Oriental rugs have greatly assisted current day Persian carpet enthusiasts to further their own studies in this art and to add pieces of great value to their collections.

Excerpt: Wikipedia


The last of the Qajars

Iran has had its fair share of regime changes and challenges of territory and throne often resulting in short lived dynasties, but every now again a new Persian dynasty would form that would stand the test of time and withstand threatening forces and assassination attempts. The first such empire of course is the Achaemenid Dynasty formed by Cyrus the Great in 500BC, Next we have the Parthian Dynasty who took Persia back from the Greeks in 247BC. Following them were the Sassanid Dynasty that ruled from 224AD until the Arab Invasion in 651AD. The next great Persian Empire started with the Safavid Dynasty that ruled Persia from 1501AD until 1736AD. After the decline of the Sassanids the Afsharid and Zand Dynasties each had a short lived rule over vast territories of Iran, but it would be the Qajars that would again form a long lasting dynasty in Persia in 1789AD. They would also be the last to do so.

 

The Qajars ceased the throne of Persia in 1785 and the first decades of their rule was bloody and brutal. After the dynasty crushed any resistance and regained control of all areas of Persia as it was at the time of the Safavids (and more), their rule became more settled and peaceful. There are a lot of art legacies from the Qajar times, from portraits to architecture that is exquisite and awe inspiring, yet the economy of Iran started to decline in the late 19th century and the people became restless. They pushed for reforms and wider freedoms across all classes but the shah of the time, Mohammad Ali Shah, would not agree. After he was successfully exiled to Russia his 11 year old son, Ahmad Shah, was placed on the throne.

Due to his young age his uncle acted as his guardian and adviser during his rule as king. Unfortunately for the young king, the world was in turmoil and with a threatening Russian force invading Persia and lack of cohesive decision making, the power of the Qajar kingdom diminished over time. Persia started losing ground and this gave rise to military intervention from the Persian Army to regain the strength of the country. In 1923 Ahmad Shah Qajar traveled to Europe on an "extended holiday" and was successfully overthrown in a bloodless coup by Colonel Reza Khan, later known as Reza Shah Pahlavi, whose line would be the last line of kings of Persia before the revolution in 1979. This marked the end of the last longlasting Persian Dynasty, Qajar, in 1925 after ruling Persia for 136 years.

The boy king died in exile in France in 1930 due to ill health. His wish was always to return to Persia and continue his reign until his last day, but he never recovered from the sadness of being exiled from his beloved Iran. This carpet of his image was woven in Kashan over 100 years ago at the time of the reign of Ahmad Shah Qajar - Ghorbany Carpets Private Collection.


The Safavid garments

The clothing worn by all the great empires of the East was always elaborate and highly fashionable, long before the Europeans caught up with them. The woven textiles of Persia generally followed designs of Persian carpets and vice versa and to own one of the jackets, vests and copes made by the masterful hands of weavers was certainly high on the list of the powerful, not only to showcase their elite status but also to pay homage to the excellent makers of it. Most of the surviving examples were woven during the Safavid Dynasty of Iran who were tremendous patrons of the arts. Many incredible pieces were woven under their rule. In this article we have a look at four distinct garments that were woven during this artistic era.

A COPE FIT FOR A PRIEST
In the V&A Museum is this most interesting cope woven in the 17th century in Isfahan, Iran. This is a spectacular example of the art made for a Christian community living under Muslim rule in the Middle East. Known as a shurjar, it may have been made for an Armenian church in Isfahan, which had a large Armenian population.

Armenian priests wore this vestment to celebrate Mass. Its semi-circular form is similar to the western cope. The Crucifixion would have been at the priest’s back, and the figures of Mary and the Archangel Gabriel formed an Annunciation scene on his chest.

This shurjar was woven as a carpet with a very fine silk pile. It is now fragmentary as a previous owner began to cut it up, probably to provide carpet samples. It is made from knotted silk with floral and figurative designs executed in ochre, pink, green, deep blue, pale blue, and white, on a rich red ground. The entire surface is covered with Iranian scrollwork motifs, of blooming flowers and leaves. Within this pattern are figurative scenes of the Crucifixion and the Annunciation to Mary. The cope bears two Annunciation scenes, one at either side of the opening at the front of the cope. On the back, and, at the centre, the cope bears a depiction of the Crucifixion.

THE JINBAORI WAR VEST
This jinbaori vest was made to wear over armor. It was reportedly owned by Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi and has been preserved through time by Kodai-ji Temple, established in memory of Hideyoshi by his widow, Kita-no-Mandokoro.

This vest was woven of silk using tapestry techniques. The textile may originally have been a carpet made in Kashan in Persia. The design of a lion attacking his prey is a traditional motif in Persian carpets. Such carpets were imported into Japan by Portuguese ships in the Momoyama Period. Placing textiles on the floor, however, was incongruous with the Japanese life style, so the Japanese rarely used them as carpets.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the high-spirited Momoyama-Period military ruler, tried to maintain an atmosphere of luxury even within his military camps by turning exotic textiles such as Persian carpets into jinbaori vests.

CHRISTINA’S JACKET
This garment may have been included in the rich gifts sent by Shah Ṣafī to the Russian court in the 1630s. It is a short, fitted coat (nīm-tana) fastened at the side and ornamented with human designs in velvet on a ground of gilded silver brocade; it was presented by Tsar Michael I to Queen Christina of Sweden in 1644 and is now in the Royal Armory in Stockholm, Sweden.

What is interesting is that this was a jacket worn by males, so why would the tsar give this to the Swedish queen? Queen Christina became ruler of Sweden after the death of her father, king Gustav II Adolph. Christina is remembered as one of the most educated women of the 17th century. She was fond of books, manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures. With her interest in religion, philosophy, mathematics and alchemy, she attracted many scientists to Stockholm, wanting the city to become the "Athens of the North”. She caused a scandal when she decided not to marry and in 1654 when she abdicated her throne and converted to Roman Catholicism. She changed her name from Kristina Augusta Wasa, adopting the name Christina Alexandra.

Before Gustav Adolf left for Germany to defend Protestantism in the Thirty Years' War, he secured his daughter's right to inherit the throne, in case he never returned, and gave orders to Axel Gustafsson Banér, his marshal, that Christina should receive an education of the type normally only afforded to boys.

Already at the age of nine Christina was impressed by the Catholic religion and the merits of celibacy. She read a biography on the virgin queen Elizabeth I of England with interest. Christina understood that it was expected of her to provide an heir to the Swedish throne (her first cousin Charles was infatuated with her, and they became secretly engaged before he left in 1642 to serve in the Swedish army in Germany for three years). Christina revealed in her autobiography that she felt "an insurmountable distaste for marriage" and "for all the things that females talked about and did." As she was chiefly occupied with her studies, she slept three to four hours a night, forgot to comb her hair, donned her clothes in a hurry and wore men's shoes for the sake of convenience. Her unruly hair became her trademark.

Relations between Russia were very tense for many decades but there were no wars or hostilities during the time of Christina’s reign. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that Tsar Michael would gift this precious jacket to Queen Christina, first as diplomatic offering and secondly as a nod to Christina’s preference for masculine clothing.

THE PERSICHER LEIBROCK

In the MAK Museum in Vienna is this exquisite ceremonial jacket dating from the Safavid Era in Iran is another great example of the extraordinary workmanship employed at the time to produce textiles that became the desire of the entire world. Not much else is known about this garment apart from the approximate era, size and materials used.

Object name: Embroidered ceremonial Safavid jacket
Title: Persischer Leibrock
Execution: anonymous, Iran (Persia), about 1600
Material: cotton <textile> (Grund), silk (Stickerei), linen (Futter)
Technique: embroidered (ganzflächig), tabby (plain weave) (Grundgewebe), printed textile material (Futter)
Measurements: 
height: 117 cm
width: 207 cm


The Persian Carpet - A. Cecil Edwards

Mr Edwards were born in Constantinople in 1881 into a family who owned a carpet manufacturing business in Turkey. The company bought and produced Persian carpets for export to the United Kingdom.

 As an OCM employee, Edwards moved to Hamadan, north-western, in 1911, where he built and managed his own carpet production for the company. He and his wife were fascinated by Persian culture. In 1923, they left Iran, traveled to Pakistan for a few months, and finally went to London. There Edwards took over the management of the OCM and expanded its business activities in the United States. He also oversaw the outsourcing of carpet production to India in order to reduce production costs. During the Second World War the family moved to Oxford and then returned to London.

His masterwork was The Persian Carpet (1953), published posthumously and repeatedly reissued. The monograph is still one of the standard works on the Persian carpet. It describes in detail the production, colors, patterns and the stylistic development of the Persian knotted carpet in the different provinces of Iran, as well as the history of the regions, their carpet production, number of looms and production figures since the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, and gives an outlook on the future of the carpet industry under the influence of the European market. It was positively reviewed in The Burlington Magazine who praised it for its up to date and detailed treatment of the weavers then working in Persia.

In August 2017 the book was still described in The Times as "an invaluable aid to carpet dealers".


Antoine Sevruguin

Antoine Sevruguin was a Persian photographer during the late 19th century into the early 20th century, when the Qajar Dynasty was ruling Iran, who took portrait and landscape photographs all over Iran. His work contributes as greatly to the historical documentation of Iran and its people today, as it did during his lifetime.

His portraits were of typical ethnic groups and their occupation, in Iran. They informed the European viewer, unfamiliar with Persian culture, about the looks of regional dress, handcraft, religion and professions. Photographing regional costumes was an accepted method of ethnological research in the nineteenth century. Many European ethnological museums bought Sevruguin's portraiture to complement their scientific collection. Museums collected pictures of merchants in the bazaar, members of a zurkhana (a wrestling school), dervishes, gatherings of crowds to see the taziyeh theatre, people engaged in shiite rituals and more. Sevruguin was a photographer who had no boundaries in portraying people of all sorts of social classes and ethnic backgrounds. He portrayed members of the Persian royal family as well as beggars, fellow countrymen of Iran or Westerners, farmers working fields, women weavers at work, army officers, religious officials, Zoroastrians, Armenians, Lurs, Georgians, Kurds, Shasavan, Assyrians, and Gilak.

In 1908 the world was denied the rich collection of Sevruguin’s images when Cossacks of Muhammad bombed his store in suppression of Zahiru’d-Dawla, the constitutionalist Governor of Rasht. His house, along with the whole street was burned. Up to that point Antoin had seven thousand plus photographs. Only two thousand were salvaged.

Later, In an attempt to modernize Persia, Reza Shah Pahlavi (reigned from 1925–1941) confiscated his remaining traditional images. After his death from a kidney infection Sevruguin’s images resurfaced. His daughter, Mary, reclaimed a portion of the photos, 696 of his negatives survive today.

Due to the attempted modernization of Iran and its people some of the traditional and cultural customs and clothing were lost, but thanks to Sevruguin's photos we can remember what life was like during the Qajar Dynasty.


The Good Doctor

Abu Ali Sina (known in the West as Avicenna) placed his hand on the patient’s pulse, and mentioned the names of the different districts and continued until he reached the name of a quarter at the mention of which, as he uttered it, the patient’s pulse gave a strange flutter. Then Abu Ali repeated the names of different streets of that district and different houses till he reached the name of a house at the mention of which the patient’s pulse gave the same flutter. Finally, he uttered the name of different households of that house until he reached a name at the mention of which that strange flutter resumed. Thereupon he said: This man is in love with such-and-such a girl, in such-and-such a house, in such-and-such a street, in such-and-such a quarter: the girl’s face is the patient’s cure” ....This is how the Iranians used the pulse rate in ancient times long before western knowledge....It might surprise you that till 400 years ago the only texts in western medical universities were of Abu Ali ibn Sina ....


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.