The end of a Silk Road Era - Portuguese Domination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Qutab Minbar

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

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

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

The peasant weavers of Japan

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

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

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

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

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

Bazalel carpets

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Ikat is one of the textile trends at the moment and even though the blue and white variation is very popular in modern homes, there are so many different styles available. The Ikat design has a long history but because textiles disintegrate over time it has been impossible to determine exactly when and where it originated. Ikat textiles production is found almost the entire world over from Maritime Southeast Asia to Africa and Latin America. It is unclear who made it first or whether it was transferred to each other through trade as each culture making it appears to have developed complex dying and weaving methods indicating that it existed there for many centuries.

Ikat is known for its “blurry” design and this is a direct result of the method used in making it. Ikat is a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles using resist dyeing on the yarns prior to dyeing and weaving the fabric. The resist is formed by binding individual yarns or bundles of yarns with a tight wrapping in the desired pattern. The yarns are then dyed. The bindings may then be altered to create a new pattern and the yarns dyed again with another colour. This process may be repeated multiple times to produce elaborate, multicolored patterns. When the dyeing is finished all the bindings are removed and the yarns are woven into cloth. Lining up the dyed yarns is what causes the “blurriness” of the design and this can be reduced if finer yarns are used and the weaver is a master. Ikats with little blurriness, multiple colours and complicated patterns are more difficult to create and therefore often more expensive. However, the blurriness that is so characteristic of ikat is often prized by textile collectors.

The Medici's of Florence

We are all familiar with the powerful House of Medici that ruled Florence with an iron fist for centuries and who was a powerful patron of the arts, but not everyone knows that the Medici's wealth and influence initially started from the textile trade.

When Florence started to become a hub for trade in the 12th century influential merchants and craftsmen deemed it fit to create guilds that would regulate trade, prices and quality of products but it would also serve as protection for those who belong to it, much like trade unions today. One of the seven main guilds was that of Arte della Lana (Wool Guild). At the height of the industry the Arte della Lana directly employed 30.000 workers and indirectly about a third of Florence's population, and produced 100,000 lengths of cloth annually. The Arte della Lana saw all the processes from the raw baled wool through the final cloth, woven at numerous looms scattered in domiciles throughout the city. Like other guilds, the Arte served only to coordinate the activities of its own members, who did not generally own the means of production or directly manage the processes. Its syndics ensured that quality standards were met and contracts were honored.

Many labourers came from rural areas to work in Florence, but because they could not afford to pay membership to the guilds, they enjoyed no protection at all. These workers’ underrepresentation led to their exploitation, low wages, and lack of political clout. In addition, they were expected to pay heavy taxes which they could not afford, forcing some to abandon their homes. Apart from the seven major guilds, there were many minor guilds who did not enjoy the prosperity and economic protection of the major guilds. The inequality eventually led to the minor guilds and “un-guilded” (Ciompi) labourers to revolt. In what came to be known as the Ciompi revolt the “lower” labour class took control of the government of Florence forming the Gonfaloniere of Justice. The entire revolt lasted three years,

They managed this with the help of Salvestro de Medici who was a member of the patrician class and an adversary of the noble Guelphic faction. Salvestro was drawn as Gonfaloniere in the summer of 1378 and pursued an anti-Guelph policy, reviving laws which placed restrictions on the nobility, reducing the power of the Capitani di Parte and recalling the ammoniti (those who had been admonished). These laws encountered much opposition from the nobles, which led to their being threatened and in some cases their homes burnt in the beginning of the insurrection of the Ciompi. Salvestro de Medici was a lesser known cousin of the famous House of Medici a banking family. He was blamed for causing the rebellion of the Ciompi by his peers.

On 21 July 1378, Salvestro, along with 63 other citizens, were created knights and soon afterwards, he was given the revenue of shops on the Old Bridge by the newly appointed Gonfaloniere, a privilege later removed from Salvestro by the Ciompi themselves. Salvestro was later crucial to the counter-revolution of the major and minor guilds and ruled in effect as a dictator before his exile in 1382, at which time the Guelph faction regained power and renewed the admonitions

The Phrygian Cap

Headgear has been part of the lives of ancient civilizations for millennia and the style and type of headgear often reflected royalty, ranks, social status, profession, religion, etc. One type of headgear that has fascinated me for a long time is the Phrygian cap. It is the cap that Mithra is wearing in the bull-slaying fresco and it even made its way to the French Revolution where it was worn as a symbol of liberty and freedom. It is even worn by story book dwarves. But what is the origin of this cap that has survived through all this time?

Phrygia was a kingdom in central Anatolia from around 1200 to 700BC. They were Indo-Europeans that migrated from the Balkans and caused the fall of the mighty Hittite Empire. They worshipped the goddess Cybele who was called “Mother Mountain”. Her priesthood was made up of eunuchs who willfully castrated themselves in service of the goddess and in consolidation with the castrated Attis, her consort. “By the 4th century BC (early Hellenistic period) the Phrygian cap was associated with Phrygian Attis, the cult of which had by then become graecified. At around the same time, the cap appears in depictions of the legendary king Midas and other Phrygians in Greek vase-paintings and sculpture. Such images predate the earliest surviving literary references to the cap. The Phrygian cap came to be applied to several other non-Greek-speaking peoples , most notable of these extended senses of "Phrygian" were the Trojans and other western Anatolian peoples, who in Greek perception were synonymous with the Phrygians. Other Greek earthenware of antiquity also depict Amazons and Scythian archers with Phrygian caps.” “ As described by Herodotus, the name of the Scythian tribe of the tigrakhauda (Orthocorybantians) is a bahuvrihi compound literally translating to "people with pointed hats".

Maybe because of honouring Attis after his castration, the Phrygian cap came to resemble manhood or the phallus. Through the Indo-European tradtions it was transferred all over Europe and Asia. For example: “Originating from the Japanese Heian period, the kazaori eboshi was worn by aristocrats to indicate rank. Still worn today for ceremonial purposes, this black linen hat was used during a samurai's ceremony in attaining manhood. Phallic worship and gods are nothing new in antiquity. Every culture has had phallic worship and in some parts of the world this custom still continues. One great example of this is in Iran at the Khalid Nabi Cemetary. “In popular media the stones are often described as examples of phallic architecture and a major tourist attraction. Touristic visitors often have perceived the cylindrical shafts with the thicker top as depictions of male phalli. This gave rise to popular guesses about pre-Islamic fertility cults as background to such perceived depictions”.

Interestingly the gallbladder is also called the Phrygian cap due to its shape similarity to the hat and gallstones or removal of the gallbladder can cause erectile dysfunction in males, again indicating the link between the hat and the phallus. Our ancient forefathers were much more in touch with the human body and how to cure it, and they often wore headgear that resembled important glands, etc. as can be seen by the Egyptian gods. Thus worshippers of Cybele wearing the Phrygian caps were honouring the goddess, the gallbladder and the phallus as fertility symbols.

The Golden hats are a very specific and rare type of archaeological artifact from Bronze Age Europe. It is assumed that the Golden Hats served as religious insignia for the deities or priests of a sun cult then widespread in Central Europe. Their use as head-gear is strongly supported by the fact that the three of four examples have a cap-like widening at the bottom of the cone, and that their openings are oval (not round), with diameters and shapes roughly equivalent to those of a human skull. The four hats found so far are:

- Golden Hat of Schifferstadt, found in 1835 at Schifferstadt near Speyer, c. 1400–1300 BC.
- Avanton Gold Cone, incomplete, found at Avanton near Poitiers in 1844, c. 1000–900 BC.
- Golden Cone of Ezelsdorf-Buch, found near Ezelsdorf near Nuremberg in 1953, c. 1000–900 BC; the tallest known specimen at c. 90 cm.
- Berlin Gold Hat, found probably in Swabia or Switzerland, c. 1000–800 BC; acquired by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Berlin, in 1996.

The Papal tiara in the Middle Ages is sometimes shown as more pointed than in more recent centuries, though also shown with no point. Popular among Burgundian noblewomen in the 15th century was a type of conical headgear now called a hennin. The whirling dervishes from the 13th century wore hats similar to the hennins, and the Ottoman Janissaries wore similar headgear to show their veneration for Hadji Bektash, founder of a Sufi order. Conical hats were also popular in late medieval Vijayanagar, India.

Medieval Jewish men wore distinctive headgear as required by European Christian authorities. This included the pointed Jewish hat (or "Judenhut") already worn by Jews, a piece of clothing probably imported from the Islamic world and perhaps before that from Persia. The shape of the hat is variable. Sometimes, especially in the 13th century, it is a soft Phrygian cap, but rather more common in the early period is a hat with a round circular brim—apparently stiff—curving round to a tapering top that ends in a point. In Europe, the Jewish hat was worn in France from the 11th century, and Italy from the 12th, presumably arriving from the Islamic world. Under Jewish law, observant Jews should keep their heads covered almost all the time and the Christian authorities made this law later on, to distinguish not only who the Jews are but also the Saracens.

Apart from hats that symbolized phalli (even though it may have lost this specific meaning over time), there are also many architectural examples, such as minarets, obelisks and niches/mihrab. These symbols are present in many Persian carpets with the niche design. 

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The Lion and Sun

Hamlet’s Mill, the epic work by Hertha von Dechend, professor of the history of science at the University of Frankfurt, and Giorgio de Santillana, professor of the history and philosophy of science at M.I.T., shows the link between myth and astronomy. They describe myth and folklore as the scientific language of yore, and point out that precession was the number one topic of discussion in ancient science and was known to ancient cultures around the world. Who knows exactly how or when ancient civilizations started using the stars for guidance on earth, but it is clear that they definitely understood the science of nature affecting us just as we affect nature around us (as above so below). Looking to the stars and ruling stars systems at particular times helped the humans to make sense of their daily lives and the presiding energies on earth. They paid homage to the ruling zodiac ages by building and making representations of it on earth, perhaps not so much as worshipping it as to acknowledge it and to pay respect to its influences on them. For the ancients the processions of zodiacal signs marked important changes and signs, and many of their empires and religions were shaped according the ruling energies of the time. We all know the story of the Three Wise Men who followed the star of Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus. This was an important star to the three magi (who were among a group of top Persian scientists, mathematicians, alchemists and astrologists of their time) because it signalled the movement into a new era. As the Age of Aries changed into the Age of Pisces, this star brought with it the start of a religion that would completely change life on earth and would become the largest in the modern world. This bright star appeared at the start of the Age of Pisces and Christianity has always used the fish as its symbol.

Another zodiacal sign that have lasted for millennia and is still very popular is that of the Lion and Sun. In astrology the Sun is the ruling planet of the zodiac sign, Leo, therefore combining both in a symbol is a clear indication that the particular art was made under the influence of this star sign, possibly when it was the ruling age or when it was a Leo ruling era. Whereas Scorpio, (previously discussed) is a feminine, mysterious, seductive and deadly sign, Leo is overpoweringly masculine, powerful and regal. All empires and religions linked to this sign generally attempted to outwardly reflect these qualities. Let’s have a look at some examples of where the sign of Leo have influenced past civilizations:

The oldest anthropomorphic idol found so far is the lion headed man called the "lion man" (German: Löwenmensch, literally "lion human"). This is an ivory sculpture that is both the oldest known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world, and the oldest known uncontested example of figurative art yet discovered. Archaeologists have also interpreted the sculpture as anthropomorphic, giving human characteristics to an animal, and proposing that this could have been a representation of a lion headed deity. The figurine was determined to be about 40,000 years old by carbon dating. It was carved out of mammoth ivory using a flint stone knife. There are seven parallel, transverse, carved gouges on the left arm. It is now in the museum in Ulm, Germany. This sculpture was made around the time of the age of Leo 36720 – 34560BC.

Another giant leonine statue of which the exact age has not yet been determined is the Sphinx in Egypt. The riddle of the Sphinx of Gizeh, resting by the pyramids like a watchdog, has remained unsolved since the times of the pharaohs. The important point about this story is that the Sphinx was buried to its neck in sand thirty-seven centuries ago. This speaks for the very ancient origin of the Lion-Man even in that distant epoch. The ancient Egyptians called the monument 'Hu' or protector. Modern geologists project that the Sphinx is probably 9,000 years old (placing it close to the last age of Leo) but there are other Egyptologists that believe that the Sphinx was built in the preceding age of Leo making it around 40,000 years old. Until such time as the actual age is determined the first mentioned age calculation must suffice. Both of the ages refer to an age of Leo where the art of the civilizations reflected its influence. The body of the remote Ancient Egyptian God of Creation, Hu, was deliberately leonine as the superbly crafted lion was a symbol of Power and Strength. The lion was omnipotent. Even today the lion is referred to as "King of the Beasts". The face of the Creator with the distinctive Osiris Beard, and the Red Crown of the Creator, are the hallmarks of the remote Ancient Egyptians.

Ra is the ancient Egyptian sun god. By the Fifth Dynasty in the 25th and 24th centuries BC, he had become a major god in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the noon sun. In a myth about the end of Ra's rule on the earth, Ra sends Hathor as Sekhmet (a leonine goddess) to destroy mortals who conspired against him. Sekhmet later was considered to be the mother of Maahes, a deity who appeared during the New Kingdom period. He was seen as a lion prince, the son of the goddess.

Inanna was the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, combat, justice, and political power. She was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar. She was known as the "Queen of Heaven" and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult centre. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star. The rosette was another important symbol of Inanna, which continued to be used as a symbol of Ishtar. (The eight point star and eight petal rosette is a very common design in Persian carpets and art and we will discuss this in more detail in a future article). As menionted, Inanna-Ishtar was associated with lions, which the ancient Mesopotamians regarded as a symbol of power. Her associations with lions began during Sumerian times. During the Akkadian Period, Ishtar was frequently depicted as a heavily armed warrior goddess with a lion as one of her attributes.

In Hellenistic times, Aion Chronos was identified with the Old Persian time-god, Zurvan, a god that predated Mithra. The ancient Persians discerned two aspects of this supreme deity: Zurvan akarana, Infinite Time, and Zurvan daregho-chvadhata, Time of a Long Dominion. The latter was the cause of decay and death, and was sometimes even identified with Ahriman, the principle of evil in the later Persian religion, Zoroastriasm. Zurvan is depicted with a Lion head and human body holding a staff, with a snake encircling his body.

In Iran the simultaneous representation of the lion (Shir e Iran) and the Sun has often been attributed to the post-islamic era, especially from the 13th century AD. In reality, the Lion-Sun motif already appeared together during the Achaemenid era. The oldest evidence for the simultaneous representation of the Lion and the Sun in Iran date to a cylinder of King Sausetar in 1450BC. The image is that of a sun-disc resting on a base flanked by two wings, with two lions guarding at the base. The Lion was an Iranic mythological symbol of strength and virility. The same type of Lion hunter theme that is found at Persepolis is also in the arts of North Iranic peoples such as the Scythians of ancient Ukraine and south Russia. The sun is a manifestation of the ancient Iranic god Mithras, whose cult predates the Achaemenid dynasty. In a sense the manifestation of Mithras and Anahita (often depicted with a lion) go beyond mere tribal symbols – they are an expression of ancient Iranian mysticism and theology. Mithra is perhaps one of the best known Iranic gods and was later widely worshipped in the Roman Empire. He was regarded as the god who controls the order of the cosmos. In Mithraic rituals there are seven levels of initiation for initiates. The fourth level is called the Lion. The Lion wore a long scarlet cloak and was always 'of an arid and fiery nature'. His symbol was a fire-shovel. Porphyry, records: “When those who are being initiated as Lions have honey instead of water poured over their hands to cleanse them, then are the hands kept pure of all evil, all crime and contamination, as becomes an initiate. Since fire is purifying, the fitting ablution is administered to them, rejecting water as being hostile to fire. And they also cleanse his tongue of sin with honey.” The story of Samson from Judah (the lion) seems to fit the symbolism of the Mithraic level of the Lion. Firstly he battles with and kills a lion and on passing the lion’s carcass later he finds a beehive inside it. Any beekeeper will confirm that bees will never nest in a rotting carcass so the story of Samson could be symbolic. Even more interesting is the riddle Samson makes for the Philistines using his encounter with the lion, in the Old Testament:

(Book of Judges 14:14): The Riddle
And he said unto them,
Out of the eater came something to eat,
and out of the strong came something sweet.

And the answer was:
What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?"

Using lion statues as guardians is also a popular theme throughout antiquity, from guarding doors to gates to graveyards. There is a stone lion - one part of the 'Lions Gate'- sitting on a hill where a Parthian era cemetery (247C – 224AD) is said to have been located in Hamadan. When first built, this statue had a twin counterpart for which they both constituted the old gate of the city. The gates were demolished in 931CE as the Deylamids took over the city. Mardāvij unsuccessfully tried transporting one of the lions to Ray. Angered by the failure to move them, he ordered them to be demolished. One lion was completely destroyed, while the other had its arm broken and pulled to the ground. The half demolished lion lay on its side on the ground until 1949, when it was raised again, using a supplemental arm that was built into it

Located in the Eastern Wall in Jerusalem, near the gate’s crest are four figures of (some say) leopards who are mistaken for lions, two on the left and two on the right. They were placed there by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to celebrate the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517. Legend has it that Suleiman's predecessor Selim I dreamed of lions that were going to eat him because of his plans to level the city. He was spared only after promising to protect the city by building a wall around it. This led to the lion becoming the heraldic symbol of Jerusalem. However, Jerusalem already had been, from Biblical times, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, whose emblem was a lion (Genesis 49:9). According to the Hebrew Bible, the throne of King Solomon was covered with ivory, overlaid with gold and featured lions on each side of the armrests. Six steps led up to it and twelve lions stood on them, one at either end of each step. (I Kings 10:18-20.) The biblical passage claims nothing like it had ever been seen before.

The Persian lion (now known as the Asiatic lion) was once quite common throughout their historic range in Southwest, South and Central Asia and are believed to be the ones depicted by the guardian lions in Chinese culture. These incredible creatures were introduced to the Han Dynasty by envoys from Parthia and were given the name “Shi” which derives from the Persian word for lion, “Shier”. The Buddhist version of the Lion was originally introduced to Han China as the protector of dharma and these lions have been found in religious art as early as 208 BC. Gradually they were incorporated as guardians of the Chinese Imperial dharma. Lions seemed appropriately regal beasts to guard the emperor's gates and have been used as such since. There are various styles of guardian lions reflecting influences from different time periods, imperial dynasties, and regions of China. These styles vary in their artistic detail and adornment as well as in the depiction of the lions from fierce to serene. The guardian lions have incorrectly become known over time as Foo Dogs.

Lion tombstones (šir-e sangi; or bardšir, “stone lion” in Lori) are tombstone found mostly on the graves of Lor and Qašqāʾi nomads in the west, southwest, and parts of southern Persia. It is difficult to account for the history of the use of stone lions by the Baḵtiāris to mark their tombstones. They were made mostly by professional, non-Baḵtiāri stonemasons who travelled seasonally between Baḵtiāri territories. Their use had stopped by the mid-20th century, but they began to appear again in recent years. These stone lions continue to have an enduring significance today. In the absence of a written history, they represent one way in which the Baḵtiāris are able to celebrate their past. Songs and ceremonies associated with funereal traditions, such as traditional lamentations (gāgeriva), are extremely important in recording the events of the Baḵtiāri’s past that are related to these lions. Thus the stone lions evoke for the Baḵtiāris the memory of an idealized past wrought with heroics and wars, a stark contrast to their contemporary situation.

Historically and culturally speaking, the Lion and the Sun have existed as potent mythological symbols of Iran for thousands of years. While true that the background colors of Iranian flags have varied across the centuries, the Lion and Sun motifs have endured the test of time. The lion and sun motif is based largely on astronomical and astrological configurations, and the ancient zodiacal sign of the sun in the house of Leo. This symbol, which combines "ancient Iranian, Arab, Turkic and Mongol traditions", again became a popular symbol in the 12th century. According to Afsaneh Najmabadi, the lion and sun motif has had "a unique success" among icons for signifying the modern Iranian identity, in that the symbol is influenced by all significant historical cultures of Iran and brings together Zoroastrian, Shia, Jewish, Turkic and Iranian symbolism.

The male sun had always been associated with Iranian royalty: Iranian tradition recalls that Kayanids had a golden sun as their emblem. From the Greek historians of classical antiquity it is known that a crystal image of the sun adorned the royal tent of Darius III, that the Arsacid banner was adorned with the sun, and that the Sassanid standards had a red ball symbolizing the sun. The Byzantine chronicler Malalas records that the salutation of a letter from the "Persian king, the Sun of the East," was addressed to the "Roman Caesar, the Moon of the West". The Turanian king Afrasiab is recalled as saying: "I have heard from wise men that when the Moon of the Turan rises up it will be harmed by the Sun of the Iranians." The sun was always imagined as male, and in some banners a figure of a male replaces the symbol of the sun. In others, a male figure accompanies the sun. Similarly, the lion too has always had a close association with Iranian kingship. The garments and throne decorations of the Achaemenid kings were embroidered with lion motifs. The crown of the half-Persian Seleucid king Antiochus I was adorned with a lion. In the investiture inscription of Ardashir I at Naqsh-e Rustam, the breast armour of the king is decorated with lions. Further, in some Iranian dialects the word for king (shah) is pronounced as sher, homonymous with the word for lion. Islamic, Turkish, and Mongol influences also stressed the symbolic association of the lion and royalty.

In between the Sasanid dynasty and China lived an Iranian tribe called the Sogdians who became very experienced merchants because they were based on the Silk Road and many goods passed through. They were also expert craftsman and weavers and realizing the popularity of the Sasanid pearl roundel textiles, they too started producing it. Due to their relations with Europeans, they realized that the pearl roundel appeals to all religious denominations, not for religious values but for secular class values. So, they adjusted the design a little to make it more secular and commercial assuring a wider customer base. The lion (without wings) was introduced in the medallion because a lion, the king of beasts, is often used both in the East, and in the West, personifying power and prosperity. It is one of the most used symbols of force throughout thousands years. Wearing clothes with the figure of a lion was understood everywhere as a personification of supreme power and glory. We can assume that the popularity of the lion in European flags and coats of arms, came from this initiative of the Sogdians.

The lion and sun symbol appears in the 12th century, most notably on the coinage of Kaykhusraw II, who was Sultan of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm from 1237 to 1246. These were "probably to exemplify the ruler's power." In Safavid times, the lion and sun stood for two pillars of the society, state and religion. It is clear that, although various alams and banners were employed by the Safavids during their rule, especially the earlier Safavid kings. By the time of Shah Abbas, the lion and sun symbol had become one of the most popular emblems of Persia. For the Safavids, the Shah had two roles: king and holy man. This double meaning was associated with the genealogy of Iranian kings. Two males were key people in this paternity: Jamshid (mythical founder of an ancient Persian kingdom), and Ali (Shi'te first Imam). Jamshid was affiliated with the sun and Ali was affiliated with the lion (Zul-faqar). Since Ottoman sultans, the new sovereigns of 'Rûm', had adopted the moon crescent as their dynastic and ultimately national emblem, the Safavids of Persia, needed to have their own dynastic and national emblem. Therefore, Safavids chose the lion and sun motif. Besides, the Jamshid, the sun had two other important meanings for the Safavids. The sense of time was organized around the solar system which was distinct from the Arab-Islamic lunar system, as it still is today. Astrological meaning and the sense of cosmos was mediated through that. Through the zodiac the sun was linked to Leo which was the most auspicious house of the sun. Therefore, for the Safavids, the sign of lion and sun condensed the double meaning of the Shah—king and holy man (Jamshid and Ali)—through the auspicious zodiac sign of the sun in the house of Leo and brought the cosmic-earthy pair (king and Imam) together.

The royal seal of Nadir Shah in 1746 was the lion and sun motif. In this seal, the sun bears the word Al-Molkollah (Arabic: The earth of God). Two swords of Karim Khan Zand have gold-inlaid inscriptions which refer to the: "... celestial lion ... pointing to the astrological relationship to the Zodiac sign of Leo ..." Another record of this motif is the Lion and Sun symbol on a tombstone of a Zand soldier.

Lion rugs (gabba-ye širi), is a group of Persian rugs with the image of the lion as the main motif. Although in the past lion rugs were made in most parts of Iran, the majority of the existing lion rugs are the work of Baḵtiāri and Qashqāʾi tribes in southwest Iran and were woven during the 19th and 20th centuries. According to the pertinent literature, however, lion rugs have been known to Iranians since at least the 12th century. Anwari (ca. 1126-ca. 1189) in a poem compares the lion rug of a palace with the constellation Leo in honor and in glory, and in another poem he emphasizes that the lion of the celestial palace cannot compete with the lion of a (royal) carpet. The oldest dated lion rug, however, goes back to 1796. This rug was made for a khan (tribal chieftain). It is possible that many of the existing lion rugs were made for khans, as there is an old tradition of spreading lion rugs in royal courts. The khans followed that tradition and spread lion rugs in their tents as a sign of power.


An untrampled Scorpion bothers no one

Throughout the history of mankind we looked to the skies and stars for signs of the favour of the gods. We made twelve constellations each marking a certain time and we attributed certain characteristics to it based on our earthly experience during the different constellations. According to astrologers each constellation/zodiac sign rules for around 2,160 years and if one studies different religions and empires that rose or fell during certain zodiac sign ages, the influence of the particular sign becomes quite evident. The monuments/temples/etc. that mostly survived and are thus most noticeable today are those built during the ages of the Lion, the Bull and the Ram. Wars, extinction of tribes, changes in climate all played their part in destroying evidence of many other older moments in times when other ages were ruling.

One of these is the age of Scorpio. According to the calculation of ages the last Age of Scorpio was around 16,759 to 14,773 BCE. There hasn’t been that much discovered by archaeologist in terms of civilizations during this age yet, but judging from finds during more recent times Scorpio appears to be the only sign that has three symbols linked to it: the snake, the bird and the scorpion. It could be that the bird and snake were later replaced with other animals (eg. as a dog, lion, hawk, rabbit), because when one views the scene of Mithra slaying the bull, “he” is aided by a dog, a snake and a scorpion. Battles between different gods were often used in art and this particular depiction could indicate that Mithraism was created during the age of Scorpio and was now fighting for survival with the religion of the Sumerians, with god Marduk represented by a bull. No one knows exactly how old Mithraism is, but is widely recognized as the world’s oldest monotheistic religion and was practiced by Persians for millenia. In the popular scene of Mithra slaying the bull the scorpion is depicted seizing the genitals of the bull. The significance of this is that each of the zodiacal signs represents a body part and the scorpion represents the genitals making it a symbol for fertility. Astrological thought played a very important part in this religion and the use of the scorpion in Mithraic reliefs proves this. Because of all the connections of scorpions with fertility it is speculated that Mithra was in fact a goddess and that would make the Scorpio connection more appropriate since Scorpio was feminine. Even in Ancient Egypt the Goddess Serket heralded the coming sandstorms and hordes of scorpions as her constellation rose in the east. Her symbol was also the scorpion, the snake and the bird. The Scorpion at this time was regarded as benevolent and protective.

Besides the ages of each constellation, each star sign also spends about 180 years (called an era) in each age and its influence becomes visible during those times. A great example of this was the time Scorpio spent in the Age of Gemini 6480 to 4320 BC.

In 2000 flash floods along the Halil River swept the topsoil off thousands of previously unknown tombs, in Iran. This set in motion a most exciting excavation process in Jiroft that is still ongoing. The discovery of this city, established 5,000BC, pushed Iran to the no. 1 spot in the world as the country with the oldest known civilization, moving the Sumerians down to second spot. It is thought that there are remains of 11 civilizations that inhabited the vast space during different periods. One of the most exiting finds were tens of thousands of vases, cups, boxes and goblets made from chlorite. The Jiroft artisans crafted pieces with strange and enigmatic iconography. One of the fascinating pieces of art is the scorpion man pictured here.

A civilization that thrived at a similar time as those of Jiroft is in Tepe Gawra. The name is Kurdish meaning "Great Mound" and it is an ancient Mesopotamian settlement located in the Mosul region of northwest Iraq, hat was occupied between 5000 and 1500 BC. There many items, especially seals, were found with scorpions on them.

Another exciting find in Iran is a beautifully formed mythological creature, made of tan frit, has a woman’s head, the raised wings of an eagle, the forelegs of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. The scorpion’s tail bends around and attaches to the top of her crown forming a handle. She wears a double strand, bead necklace. This was probably a protective genie, perhaps an Assyrian representation of Scorpion People. In Mesopotamian mythology, the Scorpion People were powerful servants of the sun god Utu (Shamash). They had a human head, arms and torso but were bird-like below the waist (sometimes with human legs,and sometimes bird) and a scorpion’s tail. The people of Mesopotamia invoked the Scorpion People as figures of powerful protection against evil and the forces of chaos. In The Epic of Gilgamesh written in the 18th Century BC the Scorpion couple, Scorpion Man and Scorpion Woman, guard the great Gate of the Mountain where the sun rises and are described as `terrifying’. The scorpion men opened the doors for Shamash as he traveled out each day, and closed the doors after him when he returned to the underworld at night. The scorpion men must have had the ability to see far beyond the horizon as they could also warn travelers of coming dangers. According to myths written in the Akkadian language the Aqrabuamelu had heads that could touch the sky. They could terrorize people and their glance resulted in death. The existence of these fascinating beings dates back to the beginning of time. Myths and legends tell the Aqrabuamelu were first created by the Tiamat in order to wage war against the younger gods for the betrayal of her mate Apsu. Apsu was the name for the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld (Kur) and the earth (Ma) above. In Ancient Mesopotamia the scorpion was also the symbol of the goddess of fertility, Ishtar, who presided over the sacred marriage.

Around the time the era of Scorpio arrived in the Age of Taurus 4320 to 2160 BC, a king ruled in Egypt that used the symbol of the Scorpio as his royal inscription. Discovered in 1995 by J.C Darnell and D Darnell at Gebel Tjauti (south-east of Abydos) the “Scorpion Tableau” depicts a victory procession lead by King Scorpion (whose name is written as a hawk above a scorpion) suggesting that Scorpion defeated the ruler of Naqada and unified Upper Egypt as a prelude to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by Narmer. What we have written down on this ancient tableau are unprecedented details about the mystery king, whose achievements were considered stuff of mythology and legend, but are now proven to have been critical in the founding of the ancient Egyptian Civilization. Halfway between history and legend is the figure of a pharaoh that lived on Earth before the unification of Ancient Egypt, and whose symbol was a scorpion under the protection of a falcon (Horus, and symbol of royalty as protected by the god). This monarch, the oldest known to date, has been popularly called the Scorpion King. It is estimated that this ancient ruler must have lived between 3,200 and 3,300 BC, when upper and lower Egypt were unified, and when the era of Scorpio started during the Age of Taurus. What makes the discovery even more fascinating is the fact that until recently it was thought that the first kings, who were represented as half men and half animals, were mere mythological figures, but the discovery of Horus-Scorpio has confirmed that they were people of flesh and blood. Scorpion’s tomb is known by archaeologists for its possible evidence of ancient wine consumption. Furthermore, archaeologists believe now the conquests of the Scorpion King started the Egyptian hieroglyphic system by starting a need to keep records in writing.

At this time a Pre-Harappan people occupied Rehman Dheri, situated near Dera Ismail Khan in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. This is one of the oldest urbanised centres found to date in South Asia. Dated about 3300 BC seals with the scorpion on was also found at the site.

Once we move into the Age of Aries, 2160BC to 0BC, the image of the Scorpion changes from benevolent to malevolent. It was also during the age of Aries that the new Persian religion, Zoroastriasm, started and in this religion scorpions represent evil and all things dark. Combining the new attributes given to Scorpio and the war-loving Aries, the Second Assyrian Empire (900 to 720 BC) that was established during this time, employed especially brutal expressions of torture to convince the cities that they were besieging to surrender. They became the most hated people in antiquity. Hebrew prophets began railing against the evilness they saw and in the process they began to lay the foundations of a new more universal Hebrew religion. It is interesting to note that just as the era of Scorpio in Aries ended, the ruling king Sanherib’s consort took the scorpion as her royal mark, possibly because it was the symbol of the fertility goddess Ishtar.

In Persia, however, the Scorpion was used in royal art for centuries thereafter. Numerous Sasanian coins have been found as far away as China and other material remains include small objects such as the animal seals. These seals date from about the fifth century C.E. and contain a rabbit, a bird, a scorpion and a stag carved in various kinds of stone.

The next time Scorpio made its appearance was in the Age of Pisces, 1260 to 1440AD. This era brought death to Medieval European culture. Several deadly epidemics raged, the biggest being the Black Death that ravaged Europe for over 50 years and killed over one fourth of the population. The Church became greedy and turned towards making money, selling mainly funerary and mortuary services and relics and the papacy split into three separate Popes reigning at the same time over Plutonian power issues. The Spanish Inquisition begins to use torture to seek confessions. It is also the time of the Longest war in history, the Hundred Years War. Called the "Age of Dislocations and Disasters", the lives of most people were harsh and depressing during this Era. Heavy taxation during this period led to several peasant revolts, of which many were in wool producing areas. This is also the period of a Mini Ice Age. Giotto begins a trend in art that would lead to a more humanistic focus in the Renaissance. Roger Bacon established the scientific method of direct observation rather than the old reliance on Papal authority when seeking to know nature.

It is also during this era that the Aztec Empire was at its height of power. Like the Assyrians, the Aztecs also believed in scorpion men guarding a gate. According to Aztec legend such beings were called Tzitzimime, spirits of defeated gods cast out of the sky after they destroyed the sacred grove of fruit trees. A pair of blue anthropomorphic creatures, one with arms and tail of a scorpion, decorate the pillars in the "Star-Chamber" at the Cacaxtla archeological site southeast of Mexico City.

The physical scorpion has always played a dual role for many civilizations through time. It was and is either seen as good or as evil. Many civilizations regarded the scorpion as either as a symbol of a goddess of protection or demons from hell. Based on the particular belief system there are either remedies, charms & spells to keep scorpions away and to treat the poisonous sting of the scorpion; or the scorpion symbol is used as tattoos, embroidered on clothing or worn as talismans to invoke the protection of the scorpion onto the bearer. In other cases societies view the scorpion as both good and evil depending on the situation. Dervishes from all over the world use stories of scorpions to teach about the nature of all things. One such story is of a sage who was once sitting at a river bank when he was stung by a scorpion. Asked why he did not kill the poisonous insect, he replied: “It is the nature of the scorpion to bite, it is my nature not to do any evil and not to kill.” It goes without saying that the sage remained unhurt.

The scorpion symbol is also widely used in carpet designs, mostly noticeable in tribal weavings, such as rugs woven by the Berbers of Morocco and kilims from various regions. The symbols used in the weaving of carpets always carry with it a special prayer that the buyer will enjoy protection, good luck and blessings in their home, and thus including the scorpion symbol embodies the hope that no scorpion will enter the space where the carpet is placed. The Karabagh Horadiz (Goradis) rugs from Azerbaijan probably has the most graphic and clear design of the scorpion symbol in Persian carpets and definitely one of our favourites.


Raphael's tapestries

Known as the Italian painter and architect during the Renaissance, he formed part of the traditional trinity of great masters of that period, together with Leonardo and Michaelangelo. Besides his very important paintings, one of his most important works, now known as the Raphael Cartoons, are seven large cartoons (the only surviving pieces of a ten piece set) commissioned by the Medici Pope, Leo X, in 1515. The cartoons were the blueprints for tapestries that were woven by Belgian weavers, including Pieter van Aelst who also made the Abraham tapestries for Henry VIII.

"The cartoons are painted in a glue distemper medium on many sheets of paper glued together (as can be seen in the full-size illustrations); they are now mounted on a canvas backing. They are all slightly over 3 m tall, and from 3 to 5 m wide; the figures are therefore over-lifesize. Although some colours have faded, they are in general in very good condition. The tapestries are mirror-images of the cartoons, as they were worked from behind; Raphael's consciousness of this in his designs appears to be intermittent. Raphael's workshop would have assisted in their completion; they were finished with great care, and actually show a much more subtle range of colouring than was capable of being reproduced in a tapestry."

"Raphael knew that the final product of his work would be produced by craftsmen rendering his design in another medium; his efforts are therefore entirely concentrated on strong compositions and broad effects, rather than felicitous handling or detail. It was partly this that made the designs so effective in reduced print versions. The Raphael of the cartoons was revered by The Carracci, but the great period of their influence began with Nicolas Poussin, who borrowed heavily from them and "indeed exaggerated Raphael's style; or rather concentrated it, for he was working on a much smaller scale". Thereafter they remained the touchstone of one approach to history painting until at least the early 19th century – the Raphael whose influence the Pre-Raphaelites wanted to reject was perhaps above all the Raphael of the cartoons."

"The Raphael Cartoons represent scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul. The programme emphasised a number of points relevant to contemporary controversies in the period just before the Protestant Reformation, but especially the entrusting of the Church to Saint Peter, the founder of the Papacy."

In 1623 the cartoons were bought by the Prince of Wales and has since then moved to various different palaces. They belong to the British Royal Collection but since 1865 is on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


The Power of an Image - The Story of Henry VIII and his painter

King Henry VIII of England is loved and hated for the legacy he left during his reign and he is probably enjoyed most for the Tudor style architecture and art that thrived under his patronage. He loved life and lived it laviously up until the time he got injured during a jousting tournament that turned him into the tyrant that history remembers him for; executing one wife after another, breaking away from the Catholic Church and cementing his image as the divine ruler chosen to lead when he created his own Church of England.

Up until the birth of his son with Jane Seymour, king Henry VIII was in a most vulnerable position. It was always important to him to be seen as a brave, valiant, worthy and strong leader and he would finally find the perfect way to do just that when he made Hans Holbein the Younger his court portrait artist. During Jane's pregnancy king Henry VIII ordered Hans Holbein to paint his portrait (the original included Jane Seymour and Henry VIII's parents) and gave Holbein artistic license. "The painting has frequently been described as a work of propaganda designed to enhance Henry's majesty. It deliberately skews Henry VIII's figure to make him more imposing." Considering that Henry VIII at the time was morbidly obese, Holbein added gigantic shoulder pads to allow him to lengthen Henry's legs to make his image aesthetically more pleasing. At the time it was improper and unheard of for a king to be painted faced forward (and the original surviving cartoon of Holbein preserved in the National Portrait Gallery in London shows Henry looking side ways), but again king Henry VIII ordered that the image be adjusted as such, and this change made the image ever the more imposing.

Hans Holbein was a german artist and printmaker who travelled to England in search of work. It was Anne Boleyn who employed him and through her king Henry VIII became acquainted with him and hired him as the royal painter. Hans Holbein was well known for the excellent portraits he painted and was even commissioned by king Henry VIII, after Jane Seymours' death, to travel to Europe to paint princesses for him to choose from as his next wife. One famously said that she would love to become England's queen....if she had two heads! Holbein also became very well known centuries later when the style of Persian carpets he used in his paintings were named "Holbein carpets" in the absence of knowing the actual origin of the carpets.

Henry VIII was so pleased with the portrait that he encouraged other artists to copy it and many nobles commissioned their own copies of it to show their loyalty to the king. Sadly the original was destroyed in 1698 in a fire that consumed Whitehall Palace but thanks to all the copies, the portrait survives and today it is the only image anyone ever connects to king Henry VIII.

In proper Holbein style a carpet was added under foot to add to the opulence!

The Silk Weavers from Lucca

For centuries Venice was the trading city of trading cities with many exotic and exquisite items trading hands inside her borders. One of these items was of course textiles and few other European places could boast about their imported textiles, and later locally produced textiles, like Venice. In fact Venice managed to outshine her competition from Milan, Prato and Florence with her locally produced high-quality woven woollen cloth, velvets, damasks, brocades, silk fabrics and other fabrics with gold and silver yarns, for centuries.

Trade in textiles in Venice started in the 8th Century AD but in those days it was fairly simply woven cloth. As time went by and trade relations with the Byzantium strengthened, so did the wealth and the weaving industry in Venice evolve to accommodate growing tastes in more elaborate items. When Venice ruled the Adriatic seas, as the only maritime Republic, spices, ivory and silk fabrics arrived at her shores of which she also held the exclusive rights to sell to other European countries. In the beginning Venice was only interested in trading with fine fabrics, but later became interested in the weaving of raw silk itself. Patterns were simple at first, but due to intercultural influences the Venetian weavers were taught fundamental processes in silk weaving that would change the industry in Venice for the better. The Polo’s also introduced exotic fabrics from the East, during the 13th century, with elaborate patterns that allowed Venetians to simulate it into their designs. One extremely popular design was that of the pomegranate. All those who could afford a silk brocade with for example a pomegranate pattern was the church, nobles and monarchs who sought to own these luxurious textiles. This particular motif can be traced throughout history, but it reached great popularity in Italy during the 14th to 16th centuries, both within ecclesiastic and noble spheres. The pomegranate design was and is a very popular design in Iran and is often included in Persian carpet patterns, etc. The fruit is seen as having fertility and immortality significance and was thus used in many creations in Iran.

Another region that produced magnificent silk fabrics from the 8th century AD was Lucca. This city became very prosperous through its trade in silk fabrics during the Middle Ages and was well known for its merchants and luxury artisans. It was the centre of Jewish life, led by the Kalonymos family that kept commercial links with the Byzantine Empire and the Middle East. Because Lucca had no direct access to the sea, it forged an agreement with Genoa to become its trading post (ensuring great wealth for the Genovese) and in exchange Genovese ships were to bring back to Italy the raw silk purchased by Lucca's merchants from the Levant.

Weavers in “Lucca made notable improvements in the technology of silk-throwing devices and promoted the sericulture in the immediate countryside. Lucca soon specialized in high quality silk fabrics such as drappi auroserici (fabrics made of a mixture of silk with gold or silver threads). The motifs used in their fabric design broadened from the 12th to the end of the 14th century, incorporating Muslim, Byzantine, even Chinese motifs. The styles continued to evolve, steadily losing their rigidity and becoming richer and more dynamic. Assymetry was introduced bringing with it a sense of movement. From 1375 a more specific Italian style that featured Italian flowers, vine leaves and naturalist themes apperead such as back-to-back animals, eagles, various birds and animals (fox, lions, wolves...), palmettes, romanesque scenes, hunting scenes, flowers, leaves, vine shoots. The series of political disputes that began in Lucca in 1314 served as a prime impulse for the growth of the silk industry in Italy. For more than a century thereafter, a great many Lucchese artisans and entrepreneurs emigrated to the other cities of the peninsula that had already developed the silk craft, helping to strengthen those industries and introducing the organization and technical skills that had guaranteed the thirteenth-century predominance of Lucca in this field. “

Venice invited the artisans from Lucca (predominantly Jewish) with open arms and ensured that they enjoyed a great many benefits that were not given to them elsewhere in exchange of course for their know how in the silk weaving field. Workshops were set up for their exclusive use and many stringent regulations were put in place to ensure that these artisans were given only the finest and best quality raw materials and that none of their secrets were leaked to neighbouring competing regions. With Genoa (also a big silk weaving region) as its maritime and trading enemy, Venice ensured with this move that the Genovese lost one of its’ main trading partners, i.e the merchants and artisans of Lucca. This move would also ensure Venice’s position as the greatest producer of the finest and most luxurious textiles in Europe for centuries to come. It even led to it becoming the fashion capital during the Renaissance. The Lucchese weavers were responsible for taking Venice’s simple silk fabric production and changing it to produce much more elaborately woven fabrics with the intricate and complicated designs that Venice became known for.

Photograph: On this partly preserved profane coat in the St Petri collection, dating from the late 15th or early 16th century, the pomegranate pattern is present just as on the portrait above. The more than thirty fragments were reconstructed by textile conservator Margaretha Nockert in the early 1980s in order, to demonstrate the probable shape of the coat the garment is regarded to have been very loose fitting (300 cm in circumference) with long wide sleeves and reaching down to the feet. The largest fragment is 47 cm wide and 103 cm long. (Photo: Lars Andersson, The IK Foundation, London)


Mamluk Carpets Revisited

This year we are celebrating 135 years of confusion of the series on carpets currently known as “Mamluk” carpets. For the past 135 years of attempts to correctly classify these handwoven carpets there have been many articles, books and studies on this subject, that not only attempted to establish its’ origin but also created many sub-names for them; such as Chessboard, Para-Mamluk, Cairene, East Mediterranean, Simonetti, Compartment and Damascus and no doubt within the next 50 years many more names will be attributed to this style of carpets.

The purpose of this article is not to go into the technical aspects of making these carpets since there are many scholarly articles on the differences of carpets in this category, such as differences in the wool and cotton warps, whether they are symmetrically or a-symmetrically knotted, the analysis of the red dyes used in making them, the discussions on the development of the design and also the number of knots per square inch and the age and the exact date of making these carpets. For me the simplicity is the main tool to study these carpets and to simplify the facts, the history and the studies about them can lead us to a simple answer on this subject. When I look at the Chehel Sotun “Mamluk carpet (pictured here), which was found in the Chehel Sotun palace in Esfahan and later moved to the Tehran Museum of Carpets, the carpet has three main layers.

At the bottom of the main field of the carpet we have an octagon surrounded by some Cyprus trees and vases. In my opinion this design has roots in Persian architecture. Although we can trace its origin back to pre-Islamic Iranian Dynasties, I will focus on the ruling dynasties in Iran at the time of these carpets. For example, Timur (founder of the Timurid Khanate) had a palace in his birth city, Kesh (modern Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan), which was build in the shape of an octagon. He also built a mosque for his beloved wife, Bibi Khanoom, in Samarkand in 1375 which was shaped like an octagon and in addition had 8 minarets as well as an eight-point star on top of the roof. Many architectural scholars in Iran consider that building as Shirazi origin in design.

In the time of the Timurids there were two confederations of Turkmen tribes that were influential in the arts and architecture of Iran, they were the Aq Qoyunlu and Qara Qoyunlu and both tribes at some stage ruled large parts of Iran with Tabriz as their capital, towards the end of the Timurid era. There was a palace in Tabriz named Hasht Behest (which translates to "8 heavens"), that was built in 1483 by Sultan Yaqub, the son of Sultan Uzun Hasan (the ruler of the Aq Qoyunlu Dynasty). When the Venetian diplomat, Giosafat Barbaro, visited this palace he mentioned it in his writings as well as the fact that the main building was built in the shape of an octagon with an entrance at each angle and that it stood in the centre of a massive garden surrounded by Cyprus trees, flowers and shrubs and it also had a magnificent water feature. Later when the Safavids became the rulers of Iran, they copied this Hasht Behest palace design of the Aq Qoyunlu in their capital, Esfahan. If one studies that palace of the Safavids it gives us an idea of what the original palace in Tabriz looked like since it was destroyed entirely at some point in time. Another palace built by the Aq Qoyunlu in Tabriz is a called Shah Guli, which again was an octagon-shaped palace in the centre of a lake surrounded by Cyprus trees. Therefor, the bottom layer of these carpets represents a birds eye view of all the palaces and mosques built in this particular design in Iran.

In the second layer of these carpets we find two minbar on either side. A minbar is an elevated platform that serves as a staircased podium. These minbars were used by the kings and religious leaders to address the crowds inside the palaces and this part of the carpet represents these minbars as seen when one enters the palace. In order to connect these Mamluk carpets to Egypt, scholars connect the creation of the minbar with Sultan Qaitbay who was the Circassian ruler of the Burji Mamluks of Cairo in the 15th century; however, there are many minbars built in Iran in eras preceding this such as the ones in Esfahan, Sushtar and Nadushan where all of the minbars are hundreds of years older than those in Egypt. Even in Persepolis (the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Dynasty 500BC), the area where visitors to the palace were welcomed also contains a minbar shaped staircase. All the geometric decorative designs on the minbars are generally attributed to the Islamic interlace designs or Coptic textile designs, which can be seen in Egyptian inlaid arts and crafts, but again none of these are strangers to Iranian history of design, especially with the great example in the Goharshad Mosque that was built by order of Empress Goharshad, (the wife of Shah Rukh of the Timurid Dynasty in Mashhad) in 1418, and the architect was Ghavameddin Shirazi. Even older than that is the Ghasnavid Mosque in Esfahan with similar examples of the interlace designs. Up to today the Shirazi people are masters of working with wood carving and painted glass in the most mathematical and geometrical manner.

The third and top section of these carpets represent the Mihrab, which is the arch and the hanging candle lamps that one finds in the holiest part in a place of worship. The design of this Mihrab has roots in Mithraism which is one of the most ancient religions of the world that started in Iran, and with many sacred Mithraic worship sites surviving in Iran, its design was transferred to Islamic mosques centuries later.

Therefore, to understand these carpets one needs to understand the movement of the imagery. The movement of the carpets in this series is to first view the palace or place of worship from a bird’s eye view, then to enter the space seeing the minbars at ground level and then entering the holiest space of the palace or mosque and again uplifting one's eyes towards heaven. Although majority of Mamluk carpets have been linked to the Mamluk kingdoms of Egypt and around, especially the second Mamluk era of the Burji with Circassians as rulers, I have however not seen any objection to the claim that the design and weave of these carpets originated in Iran especially with two main cities as the origin, one being Tabriz (as capital of the Aq Qoyunlu and Qara Qoyunlu and origin of the older series of the Mamluk carpets with symmetrical knot, finer weave and the red dyed wool common in the Northwest of Iran like the Chehel Sotun carpet in this picture) and the other being Shiraz, (as the place of possible workshops to get orders to make carpets for the palaces of Egypt and Anatolia with these particular designs, there have been many Circassian migrants from 350 years ago to Shiraz and surrounds - especially Dezh Kord and Eastern Cherkes - with the latter named such to remind them of their Circassian home land. Cherkes is Circassian in Farsi. Shiraz and surrounds are in my opinion responsible for the later Mamluk series of carpets with corser weave, a-symmetrical knots and the red dyed wool common in Southwest Iran).

The fact that the geo-political relationship of Aq Qoyunlu and the Circassians and Kipchack rulers of the Mamluks in Egypt and Eastern Anatolia, especially Dyar Bekr and Damascus, are well documented (for example, many Aq Qoyunlu rulers married Circassian princesses and this tradition continued during the Safavid Dynasty and many Safavid rulers had Circassian mothers. Also, when a royal family member was exiled from Iran, they were sent to Egypt under Circassian Burji Mamluk rule), does not create any objection to the fact that these Mamluk carpets are in fact from Iranian origin and were later transferred to the Mamluk areas.

Maybe C Clarke - the curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London - was not wrong when he named the first two Mamluk carpets discovered, Iranian carpets (most probably from Southwest Iran), for my investigation led me to the same conclusion.

Safavid silk productions in hand of a Circassian

Yusuf Āghā (fl. 17th century – d. 1632) was a Safavid gholam and courtier of Circassian origin, who yielded great influence and power during the reign of king Abbas I (r. 1588–1629).

As Yusuf was an eunuch, he was given the title of Āghā, which was common amongst eunuchs who served at the court.He enjoyed great prestige in the harem of king Abbas I. Apart from being the "master of the hunt" (mīr shekār-bāshi) which he was appointed as in 1629, he was also the master of the gholams of the royal harem, as well as the representative of the interests of the Armenian community of Isfahan,and was in fact the most powerful person in the Safavid harem until the reign of king Safi I (r. 1629–1642), when he and his family were purged. As Yusuf Agha was the supervisor of the Armenian community in the capital, he has been linked to the great rise of the Armenians in the Safavid bureaucratic and mercantile organ. His position made him the center point of the Safavid silk production and cultivation, as not only was he the representative of the merchants who traded it, but his own relative, Qazaq Khan Cherkes, was the governor of Shirvan at the time, while one of his intimates, Manuchihr Khan administered Gaskar in Gilan – chief production centers of Safavid silk. Being the "master of the hunt", he acted as the liaison (or, contact) between the court and the Armenians,Circassians, and Georgians of the capital, and presented their grievances and requests to the king. As the Armenians had grown to a powerful and rich faction within the empire by that time, they were willing to fund those causes lavishly which they deemed as important. Yusuf Agha himself was one of those who highly benefited from this, as when he was executed in 1632 under Safi's reign, the exorbitant sum of 450,000 tomans was found in his possession, maybe the richest man of Empire of his time.

Teresia Sampsonia

Teresia was born in 1589 into a noble Orthodox Christian (Greek or Georgian Orthodoxy) Circassian family in the Safavid Empire, ruled at the time by king (shah) Abbas the Great. She was named Sampsonia by birth. The daughter of Ismail Khan, a brother-in-law of the king, she grew up in Isfahan in the Iranian royal court as an accomplished horsewoman who enjoyed embroidery and painting. On 2 February 1608, with the approval of her aunt and Abbas, Teresia married Robert Shirley in Iran. Shirley was an English adventurer who was sent to the Safavids after a Persian embassy was sent to Europe to forge an alliance against the neighbouring Ottoman Empire, rivals of the Safavids.

She accompanied Shirley on his diplomatic missions to England and other royal houses in Europe for king Abbas. On their first trip together, Teresia and Shirley visited the Grand Duke of Muscovy, Pope Paul V in Rome and the King of Poland. There, Teresia remained in a convent in Kraków for some time, while her husband went on to visit Prague, where Emperor Rudolph II (r. 1576–1612) bestowed him with the titl of Count Palatine. Rejoined, they arrived in Rome around November 1608 and met Ali Qoli Beg (the king's ambassador, with whom they had an audience with the pope) before leaving for Savoy, France, Flanders and Spain, where they remained for fourteen months.

Teresia and Shirley then left for Holland and England. Their only child, a son named Henry, was born in the autumn of 1611 at the Shirley home in Sussex. His godparents were the Prince of Wales, for whom he was named, and Queen Anne. On their way back to Safavid Iran in 1613, they decided to turn young Henry over either to the care of the queen, or Robert's own family in Sussex. On Teresia's last mission with her husband they visited Rome in 1622, where Anthony van Dyck (then 23-year old) painted their portraits. They then went to Poland, and visited England in 1623 for the last time. Returning to Qazvin (at that time the capital) from the last mission with Shirley, he and Teresia were rewarded by the king with valuable gifts. Shirley and the envoy, however, became seriously ill with fever shortly after their arrival and he died shortly after. Some nobles in Iran were very envious of the king's treatment of Teresia and her husband and after his death, they started plundering her wealth and accused her of converting to Christianity from Islam, and not actually being born a Christian. In those days these were fatal accusations, but Teresia convinced her judges that she was, is and always will be a devout Christian.

After three years in Safavid Iran since returning from her last trip with her husband, Teresia was granted permission to leave her country of birth forever. She lived in Constantinople for three years, receiving a certificate from the commissary general of the Dominicans in the East on 21 June 1634 attesting to her pious conduct. Around that time, she decided to retire to a convent in Rome which was attached to the Carmelite Santa Maria della Scala church. On 27 December 1634 she arrived in Rome and was received kindly by Pope Urban VIII, who entrusted her to the Carmelites. Teresia bought a house next to the church; in 1658 she had Robert's remains transported from Isfahan to Rome, where he was reburied in the convent. In the Carmelite convent, she devoted herself to charity and religion until her death at age 79 in 1688. Teresia was buried at the convent, where she had lived for forty years. She had her headstone inscribed, "Teresia Sampsonia Amazonites Samphuffi Circassiae Principes Filia" (translated by David W. Davies as "Teresia Sampsonia, native of the region of the Amazons, daughter of Samphuffus, prince of Circassia").

During her five journeys between Persia and Europe, she was noted by contemporary writers, artists and European royal houses. According to travel writer Thomas Herbert, Robert Shirley "was the greatest Traveller of his time"; Herbert also admired the "undaunted Lady Teresia", whose "faith was ever Christian, her parents so noble and her country of origin Circassia".

The Flemish: weaving, wool, the stock exchange and cricket

Flemish artists are well-known throughout history and even though Flemish artists thrived in many areas, our article today will be limited to their influence in the weaving industry.  ‘Flanders prospered as craftsmen in its towns and built up a Europe-wide trade and reputation in fine woollen and linen cloth. Flax was grown around Ypres, the centre for weaving it into linen; the waters of the river Lys were suitable for retting flax. Draining coastal marshes created additional sheep pastures, but increasing amounts of fine long fibred wool had to be imported from England’ because ‘English wool was special, strong and the outside fibres were long, making them easy to spin. The innermost fibres were soft and dense and offered warm insulation.’ This type of wool allowed the Flemish weavers to produce beautifully fine cloths, etc. ‘Flanders cloth was sold in international fairs at Bruges, Paris and Cologne. The wool trade provided over half the English king's tax revenues, collected at ports like Sandwich before it was shipped to Antwerp, Bruges or St-Omer.’

‘With the reawakening of town life in Bruges in the twelfth century, a wool market, a woollens weaving industry, and the market for cloth; all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's wool-producing districts. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the English wool trade was primarily with Flanders and was dominated by Flemish merchants. English contacts brought Normandy grain and Gascon wines. In 1277, the first merchant fleet from Genoa appeared in the port of Bruges, first of the merchant colony that made Bruges the main link to the trade of the Mediterranean. This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant, but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the banking of Bruges. The Bourse opened in 1309 (most likely the first stock exchange in the world) and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century.'

‘During the late Middle Ages Flanders' trading towns (notably Ghent, Bruges and Ypres) made it one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of Northern Italy. Ghent, Bruges, Ypres and the Franc of Bruges formed the Four Members, a form of parliament which exercised considerable power in Flanders.’ ‘Kings of France tried to sieze direct control over these riches on their borders. From their stronghold in Montreiul, they forced Flanders to give up lands in the Artois region, and then beat an Anglo-Flemish alliance at Bouvines (near Lille) in 1214 - a battle which symbolises the French claim to Nord-Pas de Calais. Fighting continued, with bloody confrontations and bitter anti-French feelings lasted for centuries, and made sure that both Flanders and Hainault allied with England through much of the Hundred Years' War,’ and also forced many Flemish weavers to flee Flanders for England and elsewhere. Edward III, ‘who recognised the national value of the cloth trade, was determined to promote it. He issued regulations forbidding the export of wool and the import of foreign cloth. Flemish weavers, already discontented with conditions in Flanders, were encouraged to bring their skills to England. Flemish workers were allowed to set up their own Guild and measures were introduced to protect them.’

Their tremendous weaving skills aren’t the only contribution the Flemish made to England though. ‘While it is true that England is the home of cricket, what is less well known is that the sport originally found its way to England from Flanders. It was first brought over by Flemish weavers in the late middle ages. You may be wondering who found this out? Well, an Australian scientist discovered it from a poem published in 1533 by John Skelton, called 'The image of Ipocrisie'. Paul Campbell from the Australian National University noticed that Skelton points the finger to the Flemish immigrants who crossed the Channel, and has called them the 'kings of cricket'. At the time, the Flemish weavers apparently used their herding staffs as bats. The sport has obviously evolved since then, but the foundations were already laid back then. Moreover, cricket is a Flemish word. This was established by the German academic Heiner Gillmeister. He and Paul Campbell worked together to further investigate the origins of cricket. The word originates from the expression 'met de krik ketsen', meaning 'chase with a curved stick'. You can see the link here with the herding staffs of the Flemish weavers. Cricket apparently existed in Flanders as early as the 12th Century, a long time before finding its way to England. In addition, the spread of the sport throughout England followed the same routes as were taken by the Flemish weavers themselves.‘

Picture: The Unicorn in Captivity - Flemish tapestry at the MET - Circa 1495 - 1505


Museo Poldi Pezzoli

The Museo Poldi Pezzoli is an art museum in Milan, Italy, that opened its doors on 26 April 1881. What makes this museum truly special is that it is one of the first "house museums" created. The owner, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, "had Giuseppe Balzaretto build a new block to his house, twin to his seventeenth-century family mansion in 'the Garden lane' (now Via Manzoni), between 1850 and 1853,. His repeated stays in Paris allowed him to visit the new Musée des Thermes et de l'Hotel de Cluny, created by Alexandre du Sommerard. A pioneer of the romantic museum design: a collection not only made up of paintings and statues, but with precious furniture and decorative art, also chosen to evoke an artificial atmosphere of home. The resounding success of this new interpretation of the past and concept of museum gave the idea to Poldi Pezzoli of building a house-museum, which would be among the first and most current examples at European level of the house-museum in historic style, and one that was greatly admired by his contemporaries."

"Gian Giacomo and his collection had a big political role, he was a nationalist at a time when there was no Italian nation. His love for the Italian Risorgimento's ideals is shown by his active participation the rebellion of the Five Days which sparked the First Italian War of Independence With the other Milanese nobles he bought an artillery command for the Lombard army and subsidized the Piedmontese army. In 1848 he also obtained an official role, although not prominent: he was sent to Venice as Special Commissioner of the Provisional Government of Lombardy in the Venetian provinces.

This obvious opposition to the Austrian rule forced him, after the Italian defeat in August 1848, to go in exile in Lugano. His name appeared in the list of citizens to whom the Marshal Josef Radetzky gave a heavy fine. The exile in Switzerland was a fundamental experience for his intellectual and political growth. He was able to obtained a passport in 1849 and went on a trip all around Europe. He went first in France and then in other Italian States, residing for a long time in Florence. He was finally forced to return home in Milan and had to pay a fine of 600,000 Austrian liras to regain possession of his property.

Milan during that time was dominated by Austrian censorship and Giacomo Poldi was from now on only able to play a smaller political role. He opposed the Austrian by blatantly showing his patriotism and instead reserved all his efforts to create an ancient Italian art collection joining the ranks of the great art patrons. With the creation of the house museum Poldi pezzoli he also contributed to the promotion of the Italian art as form of rebellion towards Austria."

Gian Giacomo's intention by creating the Museo Poldi Pezzoli was always to leave its heritage to the people of Milan, as stated in his last will and testament "The museum would consists of his home and personal art collection, preserved "for public use and benefit in perpetuity with the standards the Pinacoteca di Brera ".

"Poldi Pezzoli began a process of publicizing his collections. In 1872 he became a member of the Executive Committee of The Ancient Art Exhibition held at the Brera Academy, an exhibition that featured a selection of private Milanese collections in which an entire room was devoted to the presentation of masterpieces from his collection.

Two years later, the city organized an Historical exhibition of industrial art, the aim was also to initiate a civic museum dedicated to the congenerical arts. The expertise gained from Poldi Pezzoli in collecting art was ratified by his appointment as commissioner officer of four sections: weapons, glass, ivory and bronze. Using this occasion he exposed half of his collections, nearly a thousand objects.

He suddenly died of a heart attack on April 6, 1879 in his palace in Milan. He was buried in Bellagio, in a neo-Gothic style mausoleum romantically isolated that Charles Maciacchini had built for him. April 26, 1881, the museum opened to the public in accordance with his instructions, on the occasion of the Milan National Exhibition."

Pictured here is one of the extraordinary Persian carpets in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli - "Tappeto delle Tigri"


The Esterhazy Collection

When you visit the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, Hungary, one of the expansive collections on view is that of the Esterhazy family. The family became prominent in the Habsburg Empire from the early 16th Century and through clever allegiances and loyalties, managed to build up such enormous wealth that they were larger landowners than the empire itself and their income sometimes exceeded that of the emperor. They were lovers of art and music, being the main patrons of composer Joseph Haydn in the 18th century, they built up an incredible treasury of art.

Owing to financial trouble, Nikolaus III sold the family art collection "on generous terms" to the Austro-Hungarian state in 1870. The collection is, as a result, on public view today in the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest.

Pictured here is an exquisite tapestry from Tabriz, Iran, produced in the 16th century with atlas silk base, gilded leather and silk taft, that formed part of the bulk sale of the Esterhazy collection on view at the Museum of Applied Arts.


Preserving like Iranians

Many know the story of king Solomon and the two mothers who fought over a baby. It was the love of the real mother, who would rather lose her baby to the imposter mother than see him killed, that revealed to king Solomon who the real mother was. The Persians in a very similar fashion have managed to preserve their many treasures.

If you befriend an Iranian it becomes clear very early on that they are a nation that value their long history very much. They go out of their way to preserve it like the biggest treasure that has ever existed, from culture to customs to rituals to verbal and written history. It may be that they inherited this custom because of king Cyrus and the incredible legacy he left behind of the greatest empire the world has ever seen and the abundance and prosperity his reign brought not only to the Persian but all who lived in her borders. The Persian preservation tactics started very early on after the fall of the Achaemenid Dynasty with the invasion by Alexander the Great. They intermarried with the Greeks and eventually integrated these newcomers into Persian life. After Alexander the Parthian and Sassanid Dynasties, both Persian, went out of their way to not only “reinstate” lost Persian arts, crafts and customs, but to build on it and develop it so much so that when the Arab Conquests of Persia started, it was one of the wealthiest empires in the world. Because of the religious angle of the Arab Conquest the newcomers wanted to eradicate all symbols of non-believers and so the Persians had to intervene to ensure that their ancient history will remain untouched. When the head of the Arab army ordered the destruction of the temple of their beloved king Cyrus, they convinced him that it was in fact a temple for the mother of king Solomon and because the Arabs were familiar with him through the holy Quran, the temple was regarded as sacred and remained untouched. By that time the extraordinary weaving skills of the Persians were world renowned and they needed to protect this art form as well. In order to do so they convinced the Arab newcomers that the woven carpets were in fact the “sofreh of Mortezah Alli”. Imam Ali was the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and thus widely revered as one of the holiest Imams in Islam. The sofreh is a long wide carpet runner that is used by people to congregate on in order to converse and dine together. Thus naming Persian carpets so the Persians managed to preserve the weaving of Persian carpets as a protected and blessed art form and thanks to their efforts we can all still enjoy the fruits of it today!

There are many more examples of Persians “renaming” or “repurposing” their ancient sacred sites (especially those of the Mithraic and Zoroastrian origins in small and faraway villages thousands of years old) after converting to Islam and naming it after important Imams and Imamzadehs (children of Imams) to ensure their survival. None more so than the Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad that is in fact a very important and ancient Mithraic ritual site. Another practice that became widespread in order to ensure preservation was that of “vaghf” that is the act of bequeathing property and possessions to the religious orders which make it untouchable.

There is a saying that the invaders of Persia never changed her, but she changed them. They became Persianite and often ensured that Persian customs were upheld and even exported to their new territories, such as the Mamluks in India and the Seljuks. The success of the survival of the Persians was in getting to know the newcomers, their beliefs and customs, and to convince them that they were not really any different at all and that if the preservation of important treasures would be guaranteed by name changing, then that was a small sacrifice they were willing to make.. Even to this day the Iranian communities outside of Iran is well known for remaining full blown Persian in all they do, no matter where they are or whom they befriend.

Dikran Kelekian

Known as the "dean of antiquities" Dikran Kelekian, the son of an Armenian banker, entered the antique business in Istanbul in 1892. He was widely renowned for his expertise in Islamic, and particularly Persian pottery, and was actively involved in the sale of medieval Islamic ceramics following the finds in Rayy in the late 1880s - early 1890s, as well as the excavations begun in Raqqa in 1896 and Sultanabad and Varamin in 1905.

In 1900, Kelekian apparently served as a member of the jury for the Universal Exposition in Paris, and in 1903 he lent a number of his works to the Exposition of Muslim Arts at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, which was also in Paris. The following year, he participated in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, mounting a large display of his wares and accompanying the display with an illustrated catalogue. Already by this time Kelekian seems to have been recognized by the shah of Iran for his efforts to promote Persian art and culture, and he had added the honorific title of Khan between his first and last names. Eventually, Kelekian became an American citizen, adding another country of allegiance to those of his heritage (Armenia), his birth (Turkey), and his professional interest and recognition (Iran).

One author sketched his character like so: "He is a creature so curiously compounded that, under his grim and sometimes awesome visage, he combines, in one person, the qualities of a Persian satrap and a properly accredited archangel, of Genghis Khan and the Chevalier Bayard, of Thor, the God of Thunder and Saint Francis of Assisi."

Among the most celebrated in his collection is the Egyptian bowl of the Fatimid dynasty (969-1171), reputedly found in Luxor, which depicts a Coptic monk holding a large lamp (bottom left illustration). To his right, there is an ankh, the Egyptian hieroglyphic sign for life, a symbol appropriated by the Copts. This bowl is the only complete work of its type with a Christian subject. Another major work in the collection is the early thirteenth-century dish with a polo on a piebald horse, dated 1207 which is decorated with verses of love poetry in Persian that bear no relation to the subject of the painting. Executed in the area of Kashan, Persia, renowned for its elaborately patterned tiles, this dish epitomises the high quality of Kelekian collection.


The Bacri Brothers

Bacri Frères was a Parisian art and antiquities gallery at 141, boulevard Haussmann. Heirs to 18th century ‘connoisseur’ collectors the Bacri brothers were prominent art dealers of the mid-20th century. Their collection reflects both the individual taste of the private collector and the professional competence of the antique dealer. But the legacy of the Bacri Brothers started centuries before that in 1782 when Joseph Cohen Bacri along with three of his brothers Jacob, Mardochée, and Salomon, founded a trading company named Salomon Cohen Bacri and Brothers in Algiers.

The company branches were spearheaded by Joseph in Algiers, Salomon in Livorno (Leghorn) and later on in Marseilles by Joseph. The Algiers branch shipped raw materials (feathers, wax, coral, leather, wool, grain) as well as great quantities of gold and silver to Livorno. In 1797 Nephtali Busnach joined and the company became the House of Bacri & Busnach and held the monopoly in Algeria for shipping grain to Europe. In the late Ottoman period Jewish merchants served as corsairs between European Christian countries and their Muslim counterparts in Northern Africa and so enabled them to do commerce with each other indirectly, much like the Radhanites of a millennia or so before then. This granted the merchants great political and diplimatic leverage in all countries that they were doing business with and it was no different for the House of Bacri & Busnach. What is more is that Nephtali Busnach had a great relationship with the newly appointed dey of Algeria, Mustafa b. Ibrahim, who even appointed him as his khaznadji or treasurer, a position that would later cause unhappiness in both the Jewish and Muslim quarters.

In 1798, Napoleon I invaded Egypt. To feed his troops, he bought grain from Bacri Busnach in Algeria, but he never paid them back. The dey, on advice of the Bacri Busnach, granted a loan to the French Directory at this time of 5,000,000 Francs and this debt would later be transferred to Bacri Busnach..The French government still could not afford to buy grain for the French populace, so in addition they borrowed money from Bacri Busnach to the amount of 8,000,000 Francs. A few years later in 1805 Algeria faced a grain crises and the dey’s leadership made him quite unpopular with his subjects. Tensions fuelled and the dey was assassinated for retaining his close relationship with Bacri Busnach (the monopoly holders of grain exports in Algeria) and this in turn spiralled into anti-Jewish riots. In the same year Busnach was also assassinated by a Turkish Janissary who the day before he had refused to hire. During this period of unrest the Bacri’s and their staff took refuge in the British consulate.

Following Napoleon's downfall, the next French government under Louis XVIII ignored the previous regime's debts, as did the successive regime under Charles X. In 1827, Hussein Dey, the new Ottoman governor of Algiers, called in the loans of Bacri & Busnach, but they claimed that they could not meet their obligations to the Dey until they themselves were repaid by the French. While trying to resolve the matter, the Dey met with French consul Pierre Deval. However, Deval refused to discuss the matter, remarking that His Most Christian Majesty could not deign to correspond with the Dey. Finally losing his temper, the Dey struck Deval with his fly whisk. News of the traded insults flew around the Mediterranean, causing international embarrassment for the French government and prompting the Dey to explain repeatedly that he was only responding to the agravating individual responsible for continued tensions between France and Algiers and that he meant no disrespect to King Charles or the French government in general. In retalliation for the perceived slight, France broke off diplomatic communication with Algiers and blockaded her port. The Dey then ordered several French trading posts destroyed at Bône (Annaba) and La Calle on the Algerian coast. Unable to permit the insults to go unanswered, the government of French King Charles X launched an all-out assault on Algiers in 1830 and the rest is history.

The Bacri family returned to Livorno and France after the invasion to continue their business and finally ended up creating the antique and antiquities dynasty that would collect many valuable antiques, including the Bacri-Clark Sickle leaf carpet that sold for near $34,000,000. On 30 March 2017 Sotheby's France concluded another sale of the collection of Jacques Bacri, one of the greatest art dealers of the mid-20th century. The auction reached a total of almost €4 million with 71% of the lots sold above their high estimate. These excellent results eloquently rewarded Jacques Bacri's refined and erudite taste in many fields: from paintings and drawings, to decorative arts and sculptures. The exceptional quality of the works was confirmed by enthusiastic bidding from both French and international collectors.

Photograph: Portrait of Jacques Bacri by Studio Harcourt

Extracts, sources and references:

The Kurds of Reshvan

The purpose of this article is to prove that I don't know, but I would love to know the Reshvan people. They are very special and being unknown makes it just more interesting to get to know more about them, just like Persian carpets in general. My journey into studying the Reshvan people started recently when I saw a carpet woven by them, published by Simon Ferenc Toth together with some interesting comments by Deniz Coskun.

Deep inside my subconscious there is a connection to the Reshvan Kurds that I translate as links from my ancestors or the legacy of these people that I admire. To study the Kurdish people one should consider a few facts. If one considers time and the fact that it is not linear but cyclical, you may find that events are influenced sometimes by the past, sometimes by the present and sometimes by the future. This is how I experience the study of the Kurds as well. They are one of the most ancient tribes that can trace their lineage to Noah and maybe even before him, to the more recent Mesopotamians, Ebliates, Mitanni's and the Medians of Iran, and yet, because they are wide spread in Syria, Anatolia, Caucasus, Iraq and Iran, they are named differently in different eras and areas.

Through their migrations they absorbed many cultures in all the different areas and the local cultures absorbed their customs too. This makes it hard to identify the true core of the Kurds and makes studying them challenging and more interesting. Just like the wind cannot be caught, neither can the true essence of the Kurds today. Needless to say that the political influences of the governing countries that they lived in and their relationship with them, also influences the way that history records the Kurds in each separate era and each separate area, for example, a specific clan of Kurds could be the heroes of one country during a specific era or the biggest enemies of the same country during a different era. Therefore studying them needs a collateral study of many documents and histories of all of the countries where the Kurds lived/lives as well as writings about them by neutral parties, such as ancient travelers Evliya Celebi or Bedlisi,

The name "Reshvan" by itself has its own mysteries. In Turkey they are known as Reshvan but in Iran they are called Rashvand or Rishvand or even Rashvanlou, which is related to Rash or Rish translating to "black" in Kurdish. Some scholars link it to the black goat-hair that they use to make their tents or the dark complex of their skin, but I suggest it comes from the Aramaic word "rosh" meaning "head" which somehow should be related to "being the head/rulers of the Kurds".

To further study this tribe you need to acknowledge two unknown versions of the spelling of their name as well. One is "Redwan" which, in my opinion, was a capitol city of a sanjak in east Anatolia, named Khalidi at the time. A sanjak was an administrative division of the Ottoman Empire that was governed by sanjak beys that was sometimes subdivided into timars and kandiluks (area of responsibility of a judge). Sometimes these sanjaks were unofficial and more like a geo-political regions, and in my opinion, Redwan was the Khalidi sanjak in east Diyarbakir. The most interesting thing is that near Qasvin in Iran there are traces of Reshvan people that called themselves Khalidi and my aunt's husband had that surname. The sanjaks in Arabic speaking countries, like Syria and Iraq, is more like a Liwa who, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, were used in Arabic countries formerly under Ottoman rule. To understand the Reshvan people we need to consider the Rizvan of Gaza or the Damascus Liwa who in the 16th and 17th centuries were ruled by the Rizvan/Ridvan Dynasty. This Dynasty was founded by Kara Shahin Moustafa who served as governor of a number of provinces and districts, including Gaza, during his career. His son continued the dynasty after him and was also the sanjablar of Yemen. During the son's reign the sanjak of Nablos and Jerusalem were also attached to the Gaza sanjak. Towards the 17th century he had the Mamluk-era Qasr al-Basha in Gaza enlarged and transformed into the family's fortress and governor's palace. He also served as Amir al-Hajj and was eventually appointed as the governor of Damascus in 1601.

According to Bedlisi the Reshvan people were part of a bigger tribe called Chamashgazak who lived east of Diyarbakr and south of Erzenjan, of whom 40,000 families moved to Iran and settled around Varamin and Qazvin and even later in Khorasan. Some historians relates the Chamashgazak, that is now a province in Turkey (East Anatolia), to Jamshidganzak which means "the castle of Jamshid" (who was an ancient Iranian king). Some claim that the territory of the Chamashgazak tribe was so vast that the territory was called Kurdistan for the first time in history. Another interesting fact about this tribe is that nearly 1,000 years ago they were ruled by Malik Shah, who created his dynasty in Tuncheli in eastern Anatolia, and this is the reason that some historians connect the Reshvan to the Malikshahi tribe. When Malik Shah ruled the area with justice and kindness, other tribes joined the Reshvans to create one of the largest confederations of the era with 40 tribes under his flagship and his area of control was so vast that it even included the Ilam province in west Iran, that still has a city today called Malikshahi. This Malikshahi tribe has a long history of interaction in Iranian affairs, for example, they were one of the biggest lines of defense of the Iranian army against the Mongolian armies. Or when the Uzbeks threatened the northeast borders of Iran they were asked by the Safavid king to relocate to Khorasan to protect the borders.

There are records of the existence of the Malikshahi tribe or Reshvan in Iraq, especially in the Baban province with the main city Shahrzoor. In summary, studying the Reshvan cannot be achieved easily by studying just one era or area. One of the most interesting parts of this study for me is their connection to the Marwanids dynasty in Diyarbakr that in that time was so vast that it covered northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey and Armenia, and all these territories more or less represent the area of the Mitanni dynasty.

Studying the religion and the ancient rituals of the Reshvan people is another interesting topic that we will discuss in another post. The photo in this article is courtesy of Simon Ferenc Toth and the carpet is the latest acquisition by Ghorbany Carpets, circa 1850.

Red carpet treatment - a history

At the time of the powerful empires, it was expected of a ruler to put his wealth on display when dignitaries came to visit. We all know about the elaborate palaces with gold, silver and precious stones gilded into pillars, roofs and walls, etc. Even the clothing worn in court and the food ate at banquets had to be of the best quality. Everything was elaborate to confirm an empire’s wealth and power.

To make an even greater statement carpets and even textiles were laid out in the streets for miles, in the famous “red carpet’” treatment to convey hospitality. Streets in cities and walkways in palaces were covered in thousands of brocaded textiles and costly carpets. In the most renowned red carpet treatment, textiles and carpets were used as a political statement to symbolize the greater glory of Islam over Christianity. This was staged in Baghdad in 917 at the Abbasid court by Caliph al-Muktadir for ambassadors from Byzantium. Twenty-two thousand pieces covered the corridors and courts from the Official Gate to the Caliph, but this did not include "the fine rugs...spread over other carpets, and these were not to be trodden with the feet."

Photograph of Tehran rolling out the red carpet during President Eisenhower's visit in the 1950's.


Tantalizing Tiraz

It is not just handwoven carpets that were highly valued and sought after in the ancient world, but textiles too played a very big role. The Tiraz is an Islamic textile/armband/band with Kufic inscriptions embroidered on it given as garments of honor to those worthy of it. It played an immensely important role in the Islamic Umayyid courts (and after) and also in dimplomatic relations with other empires and regions. The word itself is derived from Persian meaning embroidery or inscription adopted by the Arab invaders during the Islamic conquests of Persia. The word ‘Tiraz’ is used for the textile as well the factory that produced it.

“Textiles, and especially silk, were very important in Islamic life. The prophet Muhammad himself was a cloth merchant, with agents in Egypt, North Syria, and South Arabia; he paid as much as fifty gold dinars (over $200) for one red cloak; he wore silk garments and had figured hangings and curtains in his house. Within a few years of his death the textile industry was so important that special royal weaving factories (tiraz) were, like the coinage, a prerogative of the caliphate. The special fabrics, also called tiraz, were inscribed with the name of the caliph, the place and date, and all the official formula. Thus it is no surprise that the earliest known Islamic silk was made in the factory in Ifriqiyya (now Tunis), that the main design is the pre-Islamic all-over roundel pattern, with a border combining the Sasanian pearl band and the heart-shaped petals of the Hellenistic Dura flower, and that in beautiful, severely proportioned Kufic letters it bears the words. "

In early Islamic times the easiest way to distinguish Muslims from Non-Muslims were done through dress code. The Arabic Muslims wore certain clothing and non-Muslims wore different attire. The Jews and Christians (People of the Book and thus protected under Islamic law) also wore different attire than those who practice pagan religions. During the Umayyid era Persian style coats and kaftans became very popular for the Arabs, even though it was banned to be worn by certain classes, and towards the end of the Umayyid era Persian clothing was completely integrated into official wear. From the earlier Sassanid and Byzantine textile motifs, the tiraz was later adapted to include the Kufc inscriptions. “Tiraz garments were produced in state-owned factories. At the caliphal and emiral palaces, there were tailors who worked away from the center, in tiraz factories. Officials controlled by the 'master of the tiraz' were empowered to enroll tailors, in return for a decent wage, to work for the state in these factories Tiraz garments were presented by rulers as robes of honor at formal ceremonies. Fragments of linen tiraz have been found in Fatimid Egyptian tombs where they were used as shrouds to the body. Blessings attained through the earlier khil'a ceremony, as well as the Quranic inscriptions written on them, made them especially suited for funerary purposes. Tiraz usually covered the eyes of the dead person and wrapped around the head, attesting the religious significance of the tiraz inscriptions.”

They were also given as gifts and even as gifts, the quality of Tiraz determined the importance of the recipient to the court. “In 1618, the Transylvanian ambassador Thomas Borsos wrote, "We went to say farewell to the [Ottoman] Sultan, but were not received in great honour. We were given very poor kaftans and were not offered food." In contrast, Borsos observed that a Persian ambassador was given "a very beautiful kaftan, the kind worn by the Sultan himself," and members of his delegation also received about sixty "good kaftans." In his text, Borsos identified three qualities: "very poor kaftans," "very beautiful kaftan, the kind worn by the Sultan himself," and "good kaftans." Such evaluations reveal that ambassador Borsos understood the overt symbolism conveyed by the quality of robes of honor bestowed as imperial gifts. Presumably both the quality and quantity were defined by a government document, as occurred in Iran. There, a hierarchy of robes of honor, composed of cloth of gold for the highest rank and plain silk fabrics for the lowest, plus the ordering procedure, was recorded in a court administration manuel in about 1725.”

References and extracts: 

Bardini Museum - Florence

The museum is situated in a fine building refurbished by Stefano Bardini at the end of the 18th century and donated by its owner to the Muicipal Administration of Florence in 1922. Bardini was a famous art dealer who collected objects of different periods and of high quality. Even the building itself is remakrable for its use of doors, windows and mouldings of old fragments originally belonging to ruined churches and villas. The ceilings are magnificent examples of Venetian and Tuscan woodwork ranging from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

The collection comprises sculptures, paintings, furniture pieces, ceramic pieces, tapestries but also fragments of the old centre of Florence, salvaged before its destruction. All these items are displayed on the ground and the first floors according to a layout that fully reflects the character of a typically private collection, with the touch of a rather suggestive setting. In addition to Roman sacrophagi, capitals, Roman and Gothic relief work, there are also other remarkable examples like the work of the Della Robbia brothers (15th and 16th century), works attributed to Donatello and to Nino or Giovanni Pisano, in addition to the famous "Charity" by Tino di Camaino (c. 1280-1337).

The most outstanding painting of the collection is perhaps St. Michael Archangel by Antonio Del Pollaiolo (1431-1498), although there are many other precious works among the collections of weapons, 15th century polychrome stuccoes and wooden sculpture. The collection of old musical instruments is also worth a visit.

The second floor of the building exhibits the Corsi collection that comprises some works from the 12th to the 19th centuries, donated by Mrs. Carobbi, the widow of Corsi, in 1938.

After long and accurate restorations work aimed at re-establishing the configuration which its founder, the antiquarian Stefano Bardini, had originally given the exhibition. Stefano Bardini trained as a painter, became famous as a restorer and put together a collection of artwork with the love and passion for the Renaissance. Thanks to him, the keenness for Renaissance architectural decorations, for stucco sculptures and terracotta sculptures was rediscovered.

The original decorations of the rooms of the present-day 
Museum, which was actually the antiques showroom in Bardini’s times, can now be enjoyed. On account of its uniqueness, the blue color employed was imitated by many, including Jacquemart-Andrè in Paris and Isabella Stewart in Boston.


Further reading:

Persian carpets and Story telling

Naqqali (which is a dramatic performance) has long played an important role in Iranian society, from the courts to the villages. The performer - the Naqqal or Pir/Morshed recounts stories in verse or prose accompanied by gestures and movements, and sometimes instrumental music and painted scrolls, Pardeh (sometimes even carpets). Both entertainers and bearers of Persian literature (mostly Shahnameh of Ferdowsi) and culture, Naqqals need to be acquainted with local cultural expressions, languages and dialects and traditional music.

Naqqali requires considerable talent, a retentive memory and the ability to improvise with skill to captivate an audience and usually these performances take place in tea houses, Heritage sites like Caravansaries or in streets on special occasions. Persian carpets are the visual stories of a culture, tribe, village, city, the family history of the weaver or current feelings of the weaver. In the same expressive way as the Naqqali transforms the lyrics and music and acting, carpets do this through patterns, colours and feelings.

What make this subject interesting is that the human brain is not a logic processor but rather a story processor. That is why the only books that is well kept during the history of man, and as widespread as the whole world, are the books about stories and the power of the stories in it, like for instance the bible or the shahnameh of Ferdowshi. These masters or storytellers have found a medium to connect to the reader's subconscious. This is similar to the hidden stories on any Persian carpet. The purpose of the carpets and their stories is not to tell you how to see them or how to think. They are not about the answers, but they give you questions to think upon rather. In this case, the weaver, like the story masters, are not filled with answers but they want to take you to deeper questions, that activates the subconscious of the listener or observer in such a way that it will transform the carpet into their own ideas and experiences. Since the carpet is an emotionally charged object it can release hormones in the brain, like dopamine, which makes the observer calmer and their ability to remember increases. Since the observer is making memories of the patterns and colours of any rug, it will lead to information processing which activates most of the brain, like the sensory cortex and frontol cortex, which make the brain of the observer healthier and the quality increases in the balance of the brain, when they encounter similar patterns and colours in the other carpets of the same group.

They said if you want to change the world, you need to change yourself and that starts with changing the stories of yourself. In this case, the carpets telling the stories are constantly changing our world.

Coco de mer

Water that's poured inside will sink the boat While water underneath keeps it afloat. Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure King Solomon preferred the title 'Poor': That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there Floats on the waves because it's full of air, When you've the air of dervishood inside You'll float above the world and there abide...

Nut and tree of the coco de mer, a rare species of palm tree native to the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is subject of various legends and lore. Coco de mer is endemic to the Seychelles islands of Praslin and Curieuse. Before the Seychelles were discovered and settled, nuts of this species were sometimes carried by the ocean currents to distant shores, such as those of the Maldives, where the tree was unknown. These floating nuts did not germinate. The exceptional size and suggestive form of the nut, the circumstances of its discovery, and some unusual qualities of the trees have given rise to several legends.

Malay seamen had seen coco de mer nuts "falling upwards" from the sea bed, and so they had reasoned that these nuts must grow on underwater trees, in a forest at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. According to Antonio Pigafetta and Georg Eberhard Rumphius, Malay people believed that the tree was also the home of the huge bird or bird-like creature Garuda (or Rukh of the Arabs). African priests believed that the Garuda was capable of hunting elephants and tigers. The African priests also believe that sometimes the coco de mer trees rose up above the ocean surface, and when this happened, the waves that the trees created did not allow any ship nearby to sail away and the helpless sailors were eaten by the Garuda.

The coco de mer palm has separate male and female trees, unlike the coconut palm. And, unlike the more familiar fruit of the coconut tree, the coco de mer fruit is not adapted to disperse naturally by floating on the ocean water. When a coco de mer fruit falls into the sea, it cannot float because of its great weight and density; instead it sinks to the bottom. However, after the fruit has been on the sea bed for a considerable period of time, the husk drops off, the internal parts of the nut decay, and the gases that form inside the nut cause the bare nut to rise up to the surface. At that time the nut can float, but is no longer fertile, thus when the ocean currents cause the nut to wash up on a distant beach, for example in the Maldives, a tree cannot, and does not, grow from the nut. The name coco de mer is French, and means "coconut of the sea".
In the Maldives, any coco de mer nuts that were found in the ocean or on the beaches were supposed to be given to the king, and keeping a nut for yourself or selling it could have resulted in the death penalty. However, Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor was able to purchase one of these nuts for 4,000 gold florins. The Dutch Admiral Wolfert Hermanssen also received a nut as a gift for his services, from the Sultan of Bantam in 1602, for fighting the Portuguese and protecting the capital of Bantam. However, the nut that the admiral was given was missing the top part; apparently the Sultan had ordered the top of the nut to be cut off, in order not to upset the noble admiral’s modesty.João de Barros believed that coco de mer possessed amazing healing powers, superior even to those of "the precious stone Bezoar". In one of his books, Dr. Berthold Carl Seemann mentioned that many believed the nuts to be an antidote to all poisons.

The Dervish or Sufies of Iran make Kashkul or beggar bowl out of the half of the seed and carry it on their shoulders everyday and people on the streets used to give them gifts while they sing poems about Imam Ali and the Dervish put the gifts inside the Kashkul,later some poets/writers called their books Kashkul since there was not any specific order in their writings and their books consist of many different poems or writings on different subjects like different gifts inside the Kashkuls.