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The Toms Dragon Carpet
Shirvan region, Caucasus, late 17th or early 18th century
186 x 405 cm (6ft 1in x 13ft 4in), wool pile on a cotton foundation


Over the past thirty years The Textile Gallery has handled several of the earliest and most beautiful Caucasian 'dragon' design carpets known. One of the most appealing is the Toms dragon carpet, remarkable for its fine weave, brilliant colours and golden yellow background. The field pattern is traditional, but the border drawing is unique. Dragon carpets were made in a number of different centres in the Caucasus. The most famous examples are those generally attributed to the Karabagh region, in the southwest, which are knotted on a woollen foundation, often with extra cabling in the weft. The majority of these - most of which are on a red ground, some on brown and a few on blue - form a very distinct group both stylistically and technically, suggesting a single centre of origin.

There are also Caucasian dragon carpets with other weaves, different ranges of colour and different wool, suggesting that they come from alternative centres. Possibly the most important of these is the Toms carpet, which was made in the Shirvan region, in the east Caucasus. One related example is the famous white ground dragon carpet in the Wher Collection (Hali, vol. II, no. 1, pp. 16-18), with wool warps and cotton wefts; another, which has the same inner minor guard border as the Toms carpet, was once in the Bernheimer Collection (Bernheimer, 1959, pl. 135). Dragon carpets with beautiful yellow backgrounds are exceedingly rare, and the only published example is in Colonial Williamsburg (Yetkin, 1978, vol. 2, p. 33, fig. 152; Colonial Williamsburg, 1975, pl. 48).

The Toms carpet is attributed to the beginning of the second phase of dragon carpets, dating from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards. While it carries all the design elements featured in first phase examples from Karabagh, dating from the mid-seventeenth century or earlier, it is unlikely to be contemporaneous because these elements are not quite so precisely defined. The stylisation of the design is more akin to the Jacoby and Hamburg fragments (Yetkin, 1978, vol. 2, figs 128-9), which are also attributed to the second phase.

This important carpet was acquired in 1995 at auction, from the famous collection of Mr and Mrs Reginald Toms in Switzerland. The carpet was in remarkable condition with much of its original pile intact, but there were a number of small holes and a few small areas of wear. Finding the right restorers to work on such a tightly woven and very finely knotted carpet was not simple. A number of restorers tried test areas, but none could quite match the weave and colours. In 1999, we showed the carpet to our good friend Armand Deroyan, who told us that, given time, Woven Legends could restore the carpet perfectly, and he most generously offered to supervise the work. With patience, good friends and superb craftsmen it was thus possible to return this carpet to its full splendour.

Provenance: Toms Collection, Switzerland.
Published: Hali, 80, 1995, p. 21; Sotheby's, London, The Toms Collection, 7 June 1995, lot 68; Day, 1996, 349, pl. 352 (detail in colour).
Works cited: Bernheimer, Otto, Alte Teppiche des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts der Firma L. Bernheimer, Bernheimer, Munich, 1959; Day, Susan (ed.), Great Carpets of the World, Vendome Press, New York, 1996; Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, English and Oriental Carpets at Williamsburg, text by Mildred B. Lanier, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1975; Yetkin, Serare, Early Caucasian Carpets in Turkey, 2 vols, Oguz Press, London, 1978.

ref : 17287
Price on application.
All items offered subject to availability.