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The Clark Safavid Sickle Leaf, vine scroll and palmette carpet (also called the Bacri-Clark throne carpet), probably Kirman, Southeast Iran, first half 17th century, Shah Abbas Period. William A. Clark Collection


Sotheby's Important Carpets from the William A. Clark Collection,
Corcoran Gallery of Art
New York | 05 Jun 2013, 10:00 AM | N09012

LOT 12
approximately 8ft. 9in. by 6ft. 5in. (2.67 by 1.96m.)
First Half 17th century
ESTIMATE 5,000,000-7,000,000 USD
Lot Sold: 33,765,000 USD

PROVENANCE: Bacri Frères, Paris

Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Carpets for the Great Shah, October 3 - November 16, 1948
Washington, D.C., The Textile Museum, From Persia's Ancient Looms, January 23 - September 30, 1972
New York, Asia House Gallery, Shah 'Abbas & the Arts of Isfahan, October 11 - December 2, 1973
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Shah 'Abbas & the Arts of Isfahan, January 19 -
February 24, 1974
Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery, Carpets of Central Persia, 1976; also travelled to Birmingham; City Museum and Art
Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The William A. Clark Collection, April 26 - July 16, 1978
London, Hayward Gallery, The Eastern Carpet in the Western World, May 20 - July 10, 1983
Washington D.C., Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, The World at our Feet. A Selection of Carpets from the Corcoran Gallery
of Art, April 4 - July 6, 2003
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Masterpieces: European Arts from the Collection, August 25, 2007 -
January 6, 2008


The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Illustrated Handbook of The W. A. Clark Collection, The Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Washington, D.C.: W. F. Roberts Company, 1928, p. 74
"Carpets for the Great Shah: The Near-Eastern Carpets from the W. A. Clark Collection," The Corcoran Gallery of Art
Bulletin, Washington, D.C., Vol. 2, No. 1, October 1948, pp. 6 and 23, illustrated p. 8
Pope, Arthur Upham and Ackerman, Phyllis, A Survey of Persian Art, London and New York, 1939, pl. 1234
Erdmann, Kurt, ' "The Art of Carpet Making," A Survey of Persian Art. Rezension,' Ars Islamica, vol. 8, Ann Arbor,
1941, pp. 174-188 (cited)
Erdmann, Kurt, Oriental Carpets, An Account of their History, London 1960, fig. 85
Schlosser, Ignaz, European and Oriental Rugs and Carpets, London, 1963, no. 53
Ellis, Charles Grant, 'Kirman's Heritage in Washington: Vase Rugs in the Textile Museum,' Textile Museum Journal II:
3, December 1968, p. 19, fig. 2
Ettinghausen, Richard, From Persia's Ancient Looms, Washington, D.C.: The Textile Museum, 1972, fig. 6
Dimand, M.S. and Mailey, Jean, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, p. 77, fig. 107
Welch, Anthony, Shah 'Abbas & the Arts of Isfahan, New York: The Asia Society, 1973, no. 30, p. 17
Beattie, May H., Carpets of Central Persia, Sheffield: World of Islam Publishing Company, 1976, pl. 6, cat. no. 15
Ettinghausen, Richard, "Oriental Carpets in the Clark Collection," The William A. Clark Collection, Washington, D.C.:
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1978, pp. 84-86, fig. 71
Yetkin, Serare, Early Caucasian Carpets in Turkey, vol. II, London: Oguz Press, 1978, p. 91, fig. 217
Eskenazi, J., et al, Il Tappeto Orientale dal XV al XVIII Secolo, Milan, 1982, fig. 1, p. 44
King, Donald and David Sylvester, eds., The Eastern Carpet in the Western World, London, 1983, no. 80, pp. 46, 100-
Coyle, Laura and Dare Myers Hartwell, Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2001, pp. 74-75
"The Senator's Carpets, Hali, issue 127, p. 41, fig. 4
Franses, Michael, "Classical Context," Hali, issue 129, pp. 68-69, fig. 4 (detail)



The visual impact of the Clark sickle-leaf carpet is so potent that it has impressed carpet scholars for decades,
beginning with its first publication, where the author writes, “ The Clark-Corcoran carpet is definitely the finest of the
group, and is surely one of the outstanding examples of Persian carpet weaving,” Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of
Persian Art, vol. VI, 1939, pp. 2385-2386.

The tremendous vitality of this carpet’s design is achieved through its highly complex network of swirling vines, which
intertwine and overlap each other and flowering or fruit-laden branches. All of these are in planes overlaid by the
curling, split and serrated lancet or ‘sickle’-leaves which encircle the horizontal and angled palmettes. Also on the
highest plane are the bold palmettes along the central vertical axis and the half-motifs along edges of the field. The
two elegant cypress trees, while overlaid by leaves and branches, pierce the pattern vertically. All of these elements
are depicted in a rich array of vivid color and executed with a crispness of drawing that demonstrate the superiority of
the carpet’s weavers and designers.

While the horizontal palmettes are in symmetrical pairs, the overall pattern is asymmetric with one end of the field
having three split medallions and the other end featuring two large half-palmettes and quarter rosette medallions at
the corners. It is very likely that this is one half of a design that would have been mirrored, creating a carpet of more
typical long and narrow Safavid proportions, see Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, p. 2385. Pope further
proposes that the format of this carpet shows that it was woven for a throne dais or takht and that the throne, and
carpet, would have been placed against a wall at one end such it would appear that the Shah were sitting in the
middle of a great carpet, Pope, ibid. This proposed function for the carpet stuck over the years, and in the 1976
exhibition Carpets of Central Persia, this carpet was labeled “The Corcoran Throne Rug,” see May H. Beattie, Carpets
of Central Persia, Sheffield, 1976, pl. 6, cat. no. 15. Beattie also notes how the carpet can be viewed from either end,
as the vines and leaves are directed “alternately medially and laterally,” although she prefers viewing with the cypress
trees upright rather than “balancing on their tips,” and illustrates the carpet with this orientation, see Beattie, ibid, p.
50. Whether or not this carpet was woven for a dais, its scale adds to its dramatic impact as the design elements are
barely contained within its boundries.

The sickle-leaf design is the most rare of ‘vase’ technique carpet patterns and of the extant pieces known, the Clark
carpet appears to be the only one having a red ground. The sickle-leaf motif itself is undoubtedly a Safavid rendition
of the Ottoman saz, or curling, feathered leaf motif, such as those seen on the Cairene carpets in this catalogue, lots 1
and 2. The saz appears around 1550 in an album of design elements that would be appropriate in many media
including ceramics, textiles, metalwork, book bindings, and carpets, that was produced by the imperial studio of the
Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, see Michael Franses, "The Influences of Safavid Persian Art Upon An
Ancient Tribal Culture," in Heinrich Kirchheim, et al., Orient Stars, Stuttgart and London, 1993, p.108. Curling,
serrated lancet or sickle leaves became a popular motif in carpets, appearing not only in Safavid and Ottoman court
carpets but also in works from the Caucasus, (see C. G. Ellis, Early Caucasian Rugs, Washington, D.C., 1975, pl. 22,
the Caucasian 'vase' carpet from the collection of Harold Keshishian), and Mughal India, see Dimand and Mailey,
Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, pp. 148-9, fig. 129, cat. no. 55. Not only found in
Safavid 'vase'-technique weaving, the curling leaf also appears in carpets from other Persian workshops such as
those attributed to Isphahan, with one example being lot 19 in this catalogue, the Lafões carpet.

Most closely related to the Clark carpet design-wise is the sickle-leaf 'vase'-technique carpet in the Gulbenkian
Museum, Lisbon, see Richard Ettinghausen, Persian Art: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, 1985, pl. 30. The
Gulbenkian carpet shares a similar design scheme although on a deep blue ground and the design is mirrored from
the central horizontal axis such that its dimensions are those more typical for Safavid weavings, more than twice as
long as it is wide. The Clark and Gulbenkian carpets also share a similar narrow border with simple band guard
stripes. These narrow borders have led some to speculate that they are the inner guard borders to a wide major
border that would more comfortably complement the large design elements of the field, see Steven Cohen, “Safavid
and Mughal Carpets in the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon,” Hali, issue 114, p. 85.

Yet, a narrow border is a feature of so many ‘vase’ technique carpets that Spuhler stated, “The borders of all Vase
carpets are exceptionally narrow, and, as in this fragment, they often lack guard stripes,” when writing about the Sarre
fragment in Berlin, see Friedrich Spuhler, Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, Berlin, 1987, pl. 86, p.
227. Other related ‘vase-technique carpets with narrow borders include the Béhague ‘vase’ carpet, see Christie’s
London, 15 April 2010, lot 100 and Pope, op.cit., pl. 1232; the Wagner Garden carpet in the Burrell Collection,
Glasgow, see Beattie, op.cit., pl. I; and sickle-leaf design ‘vase’ carpet fragments in the Textile Museum, see Charles
Grant Ellis, “Kirman’s Heritage in Washington, Vase Rugs in the Textile Museum,” Textile Museum Journal, vol. II, no.
3, December 1968, figs. 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10a, 16.

The border design of palmettes, rosettes and scrolling, flowering vines on the present carpet is most similar to that on
the ‘vase’-technique carpet with fragments in the Textile Museum, Berlin and Cairo, see respectively Ellis, ibid, fig. 1
and Spuhler, op.cit., pl. 86, and Gaston Wiet, Exposition d’Art Persan, Cairo, 1935. While the basic elements of this
border pattern are found in many ‘vase’ carpets including fragments in the Textile Museum, Ellis, op.cit, figs. 3, 4, 58,
10a, the motifs are usually more stylized and regular, as most distinctly seen on the Béhague carpet. Ellis sees these
changes as an evolution over time and one aspect in setting a chronology of ‘vase’ carpets with the earliest examples
being the Berlin, Textile Museum and Cairo carpet and the Clark carpet offered here, see Ellis, ibid., p. 19.

In comparing the Clark carpet with the other sickle-leaf design ‘vase’ technique carpets there are differences in the
designs that suggest a rough chronology. The Gulbenkian carpet features a layer of red vines that are thicker than
the underlying floral vinery, while the branches and vines on the Clark carpet are all quite fine. On the Clark carpet
the sickle-leaves are also more attenuated than the robust, highly serrated foliage on the Gulbenkian carpet. Sickle
leaves on the Jekyll carpet fragments appear to have characteristics similar to both carpets with some leaves being
elongated like the Clark and others being more thick and feathered as in the Gulbenkian carpet, see Kirchheim, op.cit.
, pl. 72, pp. 138-9 and Roland Gilles, et al, Tapis present de l’Orient a l’Occident, Paris, 1989, pp. 148-9. In the
Béhague carpet and the sickle-leaf carpet once with Miss E. T. Brown, see Pope, op.cit., pl. 1236, the leaves have
become more uniform in their drawing and placement across the field, suggesting that these are the latest pieces in
the chronology. Ellis, op.cit., p. 19 believes the Clark carpet to be the oldest of the sickle-leaf 'vase'- technique group,
dating it to the late 16th century. Scholars since have come to consider the Gulbenkian as the earliest with the Clark
and Jekyll examples following closely thereafter in the early 17th century, see Dimand and Mailey, op.cit., p. 77 and
Beattie, op.cit. p. 50.

All of the sickle leaves in these carpets are internally decorated with a variety of flowering vines and in many cases
they are split in two colors along the vein of the leaf. In the Clark carpet the sickle leaves are split, with a smaller leaf
of a different color sprouting from the long leaf and curling in the opposite direction. The Brown and Gulbenkian carpet
have some of these extra leaves, however not to the extent of the Clark carpet. Other distinctive features of the Clark
carpet are the pair of cypress trees and the pair of shield-like light blue palmettes at right angles to the trees, the fanlike
blossoms at the base of the trees and the pair of coiled, stylized blue and white cloudbands which also demark a
slight shift in the design to the central vertical axis of the carpet. These bold, rotund cloudbands are found in other
‘vase’-technique carpets, for examples the Sarre/Berlin fragment and two fragments in the Musée des Tissus, Lyon,
see Roland Gilles, et al., Le Ciel dans un Tapis, Paris, 2004, pls. 50 and 51, pp. 184-187.
The pair of tall, elegant cypress trees in the Clark carpet are more uncommon on sickle design ‘vase’ technique
carpets, appearing on two fragments from the same carpet now split between The Burrell collection, Glasgow Art
Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, see Beattie, op.cit., nos. 18 and 19, pp. 52-53. Similar pairs of
cypress trees appear in other important Safavid carpets such as the Schwarzenberg ‘Paradise Park’ carpet, now in
the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar as well as the 'Coronation' carpet, in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
see respectively Michael Franses, “Persian Classical Carpets,” Hali, no. 155, p. 10 and Linda Kamaroff, "The
Coronation Carpet," Hali, no. 162, fig. 2, p. 47. Cypress trees have long been revered by the Persians. They are
indigenous to the area and have longevity, leading to them becoming a symbol of immortality, and to their choice as
a symbol for the Zoroastrian god Mithra, see Susan Day, “The Tree of Life: A Universal Symbol,” Oriental Carpet and
Textile Studies VI, Milan, 1999, p. 11.

Trees have been used by man as symbols of life, paradise and the cosmic universe from earliest times to the present,
see Day, ibid, pp. 1-13. Since Cyrus the Great built the large garden he called his ‘Paradise Park’ around 540 B.C.,
Persian artists and authors have been depicting and writing about gardens as a paradise ever since, see Franses,
op.cit., p. 7. A favored composition for carpets therefore became the paradise garden with its depiction taking various
forms from the ‘Paradise Park’ carpets, to the bird’s eye view ‘Garden’ carpets, to the ‘vase’-technique carpets filled
with stylized floral motifs and flowering shrubs. The Clark carpet with its abundance of trees and branches issuing
ripe fruits and a myriad of flowering blossoms is the essence of a garden paradise.
A distinct characteristic of the ‘vase’ technique group of carpets is their vivid color range and the highly sophisticated
juxtaposition of these colors. In the earliest ‘vase’ carpets, including the Clark carpet, the design is also resplendent in
its variety of floral elements and in their differing sizes. Here, the dynamic combination of design and color keep the
eye moving over the surface of the carpet . The Clark sickle-leaf carpet also engages our imagination and we are
invited into a world of great splendor and abundance by a tour de force of Safavid weaving.
Please note that a license may be required to export textiles, rugs and carpets of Iranian origin from the United States.
Clients should enquire with the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regarding export requirements. Please
check with the Carpet department if you are uncertain as to whether a lot is subject to this restriction or if you need



Watch video: The Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet's Dramatic Details: Mary Jo Otsea discusses the complex design and vibrant history of this red carpet, which has entranced scholars and collectors for decades. Garnering $33.8 million, the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet was one of the 25 Middle Eastern and Asian carpets from Sotheby's June 2013 auction Important Carpets from the William A. Clark Collection, which achieved a total of $43.8 million.