design of the Ardabil Carpet
Detail showing the
central medallion, Ardabil Carpet
surface of the Ardabil carpet is covered by a single integrated design -
an impressive feat in view of the great size of the carpet. The basic
design is relatively simple, and its components are well-balanced.
Richness and variety are added by the use of contrasting background
colours and the subtle differences between the filler patterns.
The border is composed of four parallel bands. It surrounds a huge
rectangular field, which has a large yellow medallion in its centre. The
medallion is surrounded by a ring of pointed oval shapes, and a lamp is
shown hanging from either end. This centrepiece is matched by four
corner-pieces, which are quarters of a similar but simpler composition,
without the lamps.
The two lamps
The lamps shown hanging from the centrepiece are of different sizes. Some
people think this was done to create a perspective effect - if you sat
near the small lamp, both would appear to be the same size. Yet there is
no other evidence that this type of perspective was used in Iran in the
1530s, when the carpet was made. What is more, the lamps themselves are
shown as flat shapes rather than as three-dimensional objects.
Another view is that the difference is a deliberate flaw in the design,
reflecting the belief that perfection belongs to God alone.
The filler patterns
Each part of the design is filled with one or more types of scrollwork set
with fantastic flowers or leaves. In some there are also symmetrical
snaking forms that represent clouds.
The largest and most complex of these patterns covers the dark-blue
background of the main field. Here two sets of scrolls are laid one on top
of the other. As with the lamps, however, there is no attempt to create a
sense of depth.
The flatness of the pattern matches the flat surface it decorates. This
harmony between shape of an object and its decoration is characteristic of
Islamic art, and it is something that the founders of the V&A greatly
Comparisons with other carpet designs
Chelsea carpet from Iran is a little older than the Ardabil carpet, and it
is also very beautiful, but its design was created in a very different
way. The Ardabil carpet is covered by a single, integrated design, whereas
the pattern on the Chelsea carpet was loosely assembled from many
The main field of the Chelsea carpet has two X-shaped arrangements of
medallions with dark backgrounds. The large gap in the middle is filled
with a round fish pond flanked by two huge Chinese-style vases. Half of
this composition is repeated at each end of the main field. The rest of
the field contains many relatively small motifs: trees in flower or in
fruit, pairs of animals in combat or grazing, and sections of a fantastic
The presence of animals in the design suggests that the Chelsea carpet was
made for a secular setting. There are no animals in the design of the
Ardabil carpet, which we know was made for use in a religious building.
The large Uşak carpet from Turkey is a little older than the Ardabil
carpet. The medallions in its design are so large that they have become
the dominant element.
The design of the Ardabil carpet is more successful. The ring of pointed
ovals and the two lamps increase the size of the centrepiece, allowing it
to fill the available space. At the same time, though, the gaps within it
ensure that the centrepiece does not become so dominant that it overwhelms
the rest of the design.
The Chelsea Carpet.
Museum no. 589-1890
Uşak medallion carpet. V& A Museum Museum no. T.71-1914