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THE HIRTH MAMLUK CARPET (Egypt or Syria)
Oriental Rugs and Carpets
Tuesday 2 October 2012
80- A MAMLUK CARPET
EGYPT, PROBABLY CAIRO, SECOND HALF 15TH CENTURY
Areas of low pile, three minute repairs
7ft.3in. x 6ft.5in. (220cm. x 195cm.)
Schottenkirche (Scots Church), Regensburg, from where purchased in the early 20th century
by Georg Hirth, Munich, from whom purchased circa 1948 by
Otto Bernheimer, Munich
Private Collection, Germany, from whom purchased by the present owner in 1999.
E X H I B I T E D: Alte Teppiche des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts der Firma L. Bernheimer, Munich 1959
L I T E R A T U R E : K.Erdmann, ‘Kairener Teppiche, Teil II: Mamluken und Osmanenteppiche’, Ars Islamica, vol.
VII, 1940, pp.55-81, fig.l6, (also no.40 of the list published on p.67).
O.Bernheimer, Alte Teppiche des 16.bis 18. Jahrhunderts der Firma L.Bernheimer, Munich 1959,
Carlo Mario Suriano, ‘A Mamluk Landscape, Hali 134, May/June 2004, p.105, pl.19.
A fragmentary carpet in the Bardini Collection in Florence, one part of which is in the Textile Museum,
Washington, bears the blazon of Sultan Qayt Bay (1468-1496) (Umberto Boralevi, Oriental Geometries,
Stefano Bardini and the Antique Carpet, Florence, 1999, no.1, pp.24-27). Of huge size and with a
plain red field the blazon was repeated four times in the design, leaving no doubt of its importance,
and thus that of the owner. This carpet is hugely important in our knowledge of the development
of the Mamluk carpet, as it is almost the only one that is securely dateable. It is probable that the
large fragment in the Victoria and Albert Museum, now on public display, formerly in the Salvadore
collection, is also of similar date, although it shows considerably stronger Anatolian links in the design
elements (Hali, vol.4, no.1, p.42, pl.1 and also p.38(top)). These early carpets are typified by a variety
of colours and strong contrasts between different elements, very different from the shimmering
appearance of the majority of Mamluk carpets. This is partly achieved through the use of a greater
number of colours, both carpets use seven colours, and partly also by employing contrasting outlines.
Those same features are found on a small number of other rugs of Mamluk design. Seven colours
are rare to find, but are included on the present rug. In addition to the normal lac red, green and
blue, it also uses a light turquoise-blue, a yellow, a black, and an ivory. It is one of just four small
format rugs with a single medallion, which, together with a series of large format carpets with three
or more medallions and some fragments, making a total of fifteen pieces in all, were defined as the
most important group of Mamluk rugs by Charles Grant Ellis. The main design feature that these
carpets all have in common is octagonal medallions and the “sunburst” element seen as the major
element in the centre of this rug. The other three small format rugs that relate closely to the present
example are one in the David Collection, also coming from the Schottenkirche in Regensburg (Kjeld
von Folsach, Islamic Art, The David Collection, Copenhagen, 1990, no.415, p.246), in the Museum of
Islamic Art, Berlin (inv.91,26; Volkmar Gantzhorn, Oriental Carpets, Köln, 1998, Ill.506, p.372; Donald
King, The Eastern Carpet in the Western World, exhibition catalogue, London, 1983, no.20, p.61),
and the Count Moy Mamluk rug in a private collection (Toby Falk (ed.), Treasures of Islam, exhibition
catalogue, Geneva, 1985, no.334, pp.322-333). None of these have the standard Mamluk border of
alternating roundels and cartouches; the present rug is the only one that even hints at it.
This rug is one of the earliest Mamluk rugs to have survived. It has many more colours than most,
and it is in remarkably good condition for its age, having virtually no repiling at all. It is a remarkable
survival from one of the greatest carpet production centres that have ever existed.