From farrier to banker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghorbany turns 25 in 2019!

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

The Gobelins

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

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

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

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

Amu Oghli

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

What majority do not know about this ancient village:

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

2-      King Naseredin shah of Qajar was born there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Coffee shop to Antique collector - The Lehmann Bernheimer story

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

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

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

When carpets reveal history and mystery!

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

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

Minakari and its influence on the Ming vases of China

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

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

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

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

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

Zilu Museum of Maybod, Yazd, Iran

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

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

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

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

Painter of the Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Weavers to Princes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jeziorak Vase Carpets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of a Silk Road Era - Portuguese Domination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Qutab Minbar

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

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

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

The peasant weavers of Japan

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

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

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

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

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

Bazalel carpets

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

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

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

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


Batik 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. 

NEW! Zaya OdourBLOC

Ghorbany Carpets formulated its very own odour removal spray!

This is the best solution to remove unwanted smells from your home, including small spaces, and from textiles, carpets, mats, furniture and curtains. Exclusively available at Ghorbany Carpets showrooms for R399-00 per 500ml bottle.

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".