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Mamluk Prayer rug, c 1500

Holding Museum: Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany
Museum Inventory Number: KGM 1888,30
Dimensions: Length 162 cm, width 120 cm
Material(s) / Technique(s): Knotted wool, dye in various shades and colours.
Date of the object: Around hegira 900 / AD 1500
Period / Dynasty: Mamluk
Provenance: Egypt.

Description: This carpet demonstrates through its design that it belongs to the group of prayer rugs. The inner area is adorned with a red-coloured arch-shaped mihrab (prayer niche). Placed in front of the niche is a basin, seen from above, from which emerges a small tree with green leaves, rendered in a semi-abstract design with fine lines. A small yellow jug with a handle and short spout has been incorporated into the centre of the tree. This jug may relate to Sura 5 verse 8 of the Qur’an, which mentions obligation of ablutions to be undertaken before prayer. Green-coloured, eight-pointed plaited stars can be seen in the corners of the mihrab arch. Above the mihrab is a rectangular space filled with palms and cypresses. Two borders frame the inner area. The thinner border is filled by a decorative cloud-motif band. This cloud-motif band is a common feature of Ottoman art since the AH 9th and 10th / AD 15th and 16th century, and it originated in China. On this rug, the yellow cloud-motif bands are displayed over a red background, and are positioned very close to one another. The rug’s wider border consists of a continuous tendril-like interlacing band involving plant motifs, over a light-green background.

The rug’s symbolism derives from the connection between the mihrab motif and that of the garden of Paradise, which is perhaps what is being illustrated on the rug through the pool of water and the tree. Paradise, described as a wonderful garden, is promised at different points throughout the Qur’an to those who believe in the Islamic faith. Followers of Islam will one day arrive and stay in this garden full of lovely streams, wonderful plants and beautiful young virgins (Huris).
Prayer rugs from Cairo are frequently mentioned in the sources, but this particular rug is the only surviving Mamluk prayer rug. It is particularly noteworthy for its incorporation of Mamluk motifs with those derived from Ottoman art, hence the reason for dating it to around AH 900 / AD 1500 or a little later.
Mamluk rugs can be seen in Italian paintings from the 15th and 16th century and moreover are mentioned in a great number of sources. During this period there was also a flourishing trade between Mamluk Cairo and Italy.

How object was obtained:
Purchased in 1888 by Wilhelm von Bode for the Museum of Arts and Crafts, Berlin. Transferred from the Museum of Arts and Crafts on a long-term loan.

How date and origin were established:
The carpet exhibits both Mamluk and Ottoman elements in its style, and thus could be from around 900 / 1500 as manufacturers in Cairo were just in the process of adopting Ottoman elements into their repertoire. However, as all that remains is this single Mamluk prayer carpet, it is difficult to give an exact date.

How provenance was established:
The whole host of its unique motifs, colours and characteristic asymmetric or Persian knots all collude to suggest that this carpet was made in Cairo in a Mamluk carpet workshop.

Selected bibliography:
Enderlein, V., Wilhelm von Bode und die Berliner Teppichsammlung, Berlin, 1995, p.25, plate 16.
Enderlein, V., “Zwei ägyptische Gebetsteppiche im Islamischen Museum”, Forschungen und Berichte 13, 1971, pp.7–15, plates 1 and 2.
Mack, Rosamond E., Bazar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300–1600,Los Angeles; London, 2002, pp.73–94, notes 54, 201.
The Eastern Carpet in the Western World, Exhibition catalogue, London, 1983, pp.60–1, cat. no. 19.
Zick, J., “Eine Gruppe von Gebetsteppichen und ihre Datierung”, Berliner Museen, 11, 1961, pp.6–14, ill. 1.

Citation of this web page:
Annette Hagedorn "Prayer rug" in Discover Islamic Art. Place: Museum With No Frontiers, 2014. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;28;en
Prepared by: Annette Hagedorn
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen