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On silk foundation, composite from pieces of the same rug with two large main parts describing the majority of the field and related borders, on silk warps, partly full pile with areas of uneven wear and corrosion, some small repairs, touches of related tinting, sides and ends secured
4ft.8in. x 3ft.4in. (142cm. x 102cm.)

Price Realized £37,250 ($57,514)

Sale Information
Christies SALE 7988 —
4 October 2011
London, King Street

Lot Notes
This unique rug appears to be a rare 17th century Cairene weaving. It is similar to the few 16th century Ottoman Cairene prayer rugs known to have survived from the 16th century, but differs in certain aspects.

The form and decoration of the hanging lamp show the classic Ottoman quatre fleurs seen in a condensed version filling the lamp here, just as they are found for example in the Cairene prayer rug now in the al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait (Eberhart Herrmann, Seltene Orientteppiche IV, Munich, 1982, no.1, pp.58-59). The use of white cotton for details in the pile, the very soft fleecy S-spun Z plied, the palette and the use of silk for the foundation are all points in common between the two rugs. The silk may well have been imported; it is Z-spun and S plied. There are however a few features that preclude a 16th century Cairene attribution for this rug. The drawing differs, and there are elements of the design that are unknown in 16th century Ottoman art, notably the lower golden yellow border.

In 1674 the inventory of the Yeni Cami in Istanbul recorded that there were many multiple prayer rugs there which had been commissioned from Egypt (Arménag Bey Sakisian, 'L'inventaire des tapis de la mosquée Yeni-Djami de Stamboul', Syria, 1931, pp.368-373; quoted by Louise Mackie in Richard Ettinghausen et al, Prayer Rugs, exhibition catalogue, Washington D.C., 1974, no.VI, p.42). Some of these had as many as 132 mihrabs while others had only ten. Multiple prayer rugs (safs) with 132 niches must be placed in a 12 x 11 arrangement, or maybe 6 x 22. Either of these would have been a massive carpet implying a very large-scale operation with huge looms on which the carpets would have been woven. Despite this, virtually no examples have survived from this production. Before the appearance of the present rug the only examples that have been linked with this 17th century Egyptian production are two fragmentary safs in the Field Museum of Natural History (Ettinghausen op.cit no.VI, pp.42-3).

The Chicago saf clearly draws all its design elements directly from Ottoman prayer rug design. The present example however does not. It is considerably more inventive in detail. The main border, with its powerful indigo ground and in and out palmette design has a certain Persianate feel to it. This is even more the case with the golden yellow lower border with its alternating plant forms appearing almost like winged animals. Even here there is a careful variation in the drawing where the inverted ones are very angular while the upward pointing ones are far more curved. The element of a palmette issuing curving serrated leaves which arch out to either side above the palmette is one that can be seen for example on the Aberconway Polonaise carpet (Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl.1252). This again indicates a 17th century date for our prayer rug, and an eclectic selection of sources for the design.

The present rug clearly relates to the Chicago safs; it is however considerably finer woven, with more colours, better materials, and more complex designs. It too appears to have been woven as a part of a multiple prayer rug, but the quality of the materials would indicate that it is unlikely to have been a part of a massive commission such as the Yeni Cami, but rather a commission possibly for a special area of a mosque, or else for a private foundation mosque.

A C14 test performed at the Rafter Laboratory New Zealand on warp samples from this rug, ref NZA 36952, job no.106849 is consistent with the proposed dating.