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A MAMLUK CARPET
LOWER EGYPT, 15TH CENTURY

Price Realized  243,500 ($374,284)

Sale Information
Christies SALE 5547
THE BERNHEIMER FAMILY COLLECTION OF CARPETS
14 February 1996
London, King Street

The raspberry-red field divided into three equal panels, the central panel with a variety of small floral octagons and radiating panels around a large central octagon with a blue band of umbrella plants around a band of radiating panels flanking a geometric centre, each end panel with similar radiating panels and octagons together with stepped shaded grass-green spandrels containing flowerheads around rosettes flanking a large radiating concentric stellar octagon, in a blue border of umbrella plants around green similar cartouches alternating with red cusped roundels between double umbrella plant stripes, some areas of wear, some repiling, selvages rebound with very slight loss, ends losing outer guard stripe, small repairs, repaired fireplace cuts
Approximately 15ft.11in. x 7ft.6in. (485cm. x 228cm.)

Warp: green wool, S4Z, slightly undulating, slightly depressed
Weft: 3 shoots, red wool, S3-4Z, the second shoot S4-5Z, shoots 1 and 3 slightly undulating, shoot 2 strongly undulating
Pile: wool, S2Z, the blue and the green partly S3Z, asymmetrical open to the left, H3.2 x V3.8cm.
Provenance
Collection of J. Weissberger, Madrid
Acquired 9 August 1937 as a "Damaskus"
Literature

Exhibited: Ausstellung Orient-Teppiche, Museum fr Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, 1950, no.1, pp.15-16, pl.1

Lot Notes
The carpets of Mamluk Egypt are among the oldest and most magnificent group of carpets surviving today. Although they have been the subject of extensive study, their complete history and development as an art form still somewhat eludes us today. In the past, Mamluk carpets have been given various attributions as it was not possible to justify a fully developed and mature weaving tradition with the Mamluk Empire with no known historical tradition or precedent. As a group, Mamluk carpets share a limited palette and an intricate, nearly kaleidoscopic, design created by the juxtaposition of color and form instead of clearly delineated designs as found in most other carpets. They also share unusual structural characteristics that distinguish them from the carpets of other cultures. The soft, lustrous wool found in Mamluk carpets is 'S' (clockwise)-spun and 'Z' (anti-clockwise)-plied whereas almost all other Eastern carpets are constructed from 'Z'-spun/'S'-plied wool. Lousia Bellinger has shown that the technical characteristics of the Mamluk wool is consistent with the characteristics of Egyptian wool used for centuries (Khnel, Ernst and Bellinger, Louisa: Cairene Rugs and Others Technically Related, Washington, DC, 1957, p.80).

The Mamluk origin for these carpets is also evidenced by the 1474 writings of the Italian traveller Barbaro who compared Persian carpets to those of Turkey and Cairo (Pinner, Robert and Franses, Michael: "The East Mediterranean Carpet Collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum," Hali, Vol. 4, no.1, 1984, p.37) and by an event in 1341 when an angry mob pillaged the Palace of Sayf al-Din Qusun al-Nasir in Cairo. Among the items taken or destroyed were carpets, one of which was specifically noted as having been woven in Cairo (Irwin, Robert: "Egypt, Syria and Their Trading Partners c.1450-1550-With Special Reference to Carpets," Preprints for the Special Session: Carpets from Mediterranean Countries 1450-1550, Fourth International Conference on Oriental Carpets, London, 1983). The Mamluk attribution for these carpets is further strengthened by a comparison of their designs to the designs found in other Mamluk arts such as bookbinding, architectural woodwork and mosiac tiles (Pinner and Franses: op. cit., pp.37-40). It should also be noted, that several carpet scholars believe that the Mamluk carpets are part of a long tradition of carpet weaving in the Maghreb region of North Africa (Housego, Jenny: "Mamluk Carpets and North Africa," Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, London, 1986, pp.221-241). These alternative origin theories are not definitive and they still place the production of these carpets within the sphere of the Mamluk Empire.

Interestingly, unlike many other carpet types, Mamluk carpets are not extensively depicted in Western paintings. As of 1981, John Mills had identified only seven depictions of Mamluk carpets in European paintings from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries (Mills, John: "East Mediterranean Carpets in Western Paintings," Hali, Vol. 4, no.1, 1981, pp.53-56). This does not, however, indicate that Mamluk carpets were not sought after in the West, but may perhaps be a reflection of the difficulty in convincingly depicting their intricate designs (Ibid, p.53). The popularity of Mamluk carpets in the West is demonstrated by their numerous inclusions in Western collection inventories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The most notable reference of this sort may be the Mamluk carpet which entered the collections of the Medici family in the sixteenth century (see Boralevi, Alberto: "Three Egyptian Carpets in Italy," Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, London, 1986, pp.205-209).

Within the seemingly homogenous designs of the Mamluk carpets, several basic distinctions can be made to form sub-groups of types within the larger group. The simpliest sub-grouping is a distinction between the carpets woven with three colours, such as the Bernheimer carpet, and those with an expanded palette of five to seven colours. It is along these lines of 'number of colors used' that the Mamluk carpets have been traditionally categorized by date. Some scholars believe that the five-to-seven colour group pre-dates the three colour group, while others believe the exact opposite. It is generally accepted, however, that Mamluk carpets were first woven as early as 1450 and continued in production through the mid-to-late sixteenth century. With our current limited knowledge of the precise history of Mamluk carpets, it is doubtful that the dating hierarchy within this time frame will ever be definitively resolved and it is quite possible that both the three colour group and the five-to-seven colour group were woven contemporaneously.

The second most basic distinction between different types of Mamluk can be made based on size. Most of the surviving examples known today are of relatively small dimensions. Mamluk carpets of large sizes, such as the Bernheimer example, are extremely rare with most known examples being in musuem collections.

The triple-medallion design of the Bernheimer Mamluk can be seen in many other of the large size Mamluks in varying forms. The triple-medallion design can also be seen in the aforementioned Medici Mamluk carpet, although with medallions of slightly different form. The Medici Mamluk is also of the three colour group and like the Bernheimer carpet is obviously a blue and green design on a red ground. Khnel suggests that the Bernheimer piece is directly related to many of the other best large size Mamluks known, including the unusual silk triple-medallion Mamluk in Vienna (see de Unger, Edmund: "Connoisseurs Choice," Hali, 31, pp.9), the five medallion Simonetti Mamluk in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Dimand, M. S. and Mailey, Jean: Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, pp.154-155, fig. 181), the Museo Bardini Mamluk in Florence (see Erdmann, Kurt: "Kairener Teppiche II," Ars Islamica, VII, part 1, 1940, pl.4) and a fragmentary triple-medallion Mamluk in the Textile Museum, Washington (see Khnel, op. cit., pl.XIX). Had the Medici Mamluk been known to Khnel at the time of his writing, it is most likely that he would have also included it in this illustrious group. In comparing these pieces with the Bernheimer Mamluk, Khnel writes, "An earlier carpet, 5 m. long, at L. Bernheimer's in Munich...belongs to the same type of tripartite field composition. It is to be supposed that all of the pieces just mentioned, whose composition, in spite of using the same motifs, differs somewhat from the other examples of this category, come from the same manufactory, probably working for the Mamluk court" (Khnel: op. cit., pp.35-36).