Christie’s recently unveiled the exquisite Baron Edmond de Rothschild ‘Bird and Palmette’ Imperial Safavid carpet, believed to have been crafted between 1565 and 1575 in Qazvin, central Persia, a piece that stands as a testament to the artistic prowess of its time.
Produced during the reign of the enlightened Shah Tahmasp, this sixteenth-century masterpiece, with an estimated value of £2,000,000–3,000,000, showcases the unparalleled craftsmanship that thrived during the ‘Golden Age’ of carpet weaving under the Safavid dynasty (1501-1732).
An Artistic Marvel
Safavid carpets from this era were renowned for their meticulous precision, opulent materials, and intricate designs. The ‘in and out palmette’ or ‘spiralling vine’ pattern on this carpet, set against a rich burgundy-red background, remains an iconic example of the period’s court designs. Its lush motifs feature a plethora of scrolling vines adorned with palmettes, blossoms, buds, leaves, and captivating paired pheasants with elongated, vibrant plumes.
This remarkable carpet takes centre stage at the Autumn edition of the bi-annual sale of Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds, including Rugs and Carpets, scheduled for 26 October at Christie’s headquarters in London.
The carpet boasts a distinguished lineage that can be traced back to the early 19th century when it graced the residence of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934) and his wife Adélaïde, renowned members of the illustrious Rothschild banking dynasty. Their home, the Hôtel de Pontalba in Paris, housed a remarkable collection of art, including textiles and carpets from Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran, of which this magnificent specimen was a part. In 2001, it transitioned into the collection of Gordon P. Getty and later found its current home in a prestigious private Asian collection.
A Material and Colour Symphony
This particular carpet stands out as a paragon of craftsmanship, characterized by its use of silk warps in its foundation—a luxury material reserved for Safavid Persia’s royal court workshops and masterful weavers. The vibrancy and diversity of its colourful dyes, combined with the finest quality of soft, finely spun wool, contribute to its unique appeal. With a palette featuring at least seventeen distinct natural dyes, the carpet’s meticulous rendering of the birds is nothing short of extraordinary.
During the 16th century, a revival of interest and patronage within royal courts led to master weavers collaborating with court draughtsmen, miniaturists, illuminators, and other artists. This synergy sparked a revolution in carpet design and weaving techniques. Safavid or ‘Court’ carpets transcended their functional purpose, evolving into independent works of art that symbolized the status and wealth of their owners. These carpets adorned reception halls, audience chambers, and religious institutions, and were presented as prestigious gifts to rulers and foreign dignitaries.
Among the most iconic carpets from this 16th-century Safavid era are the “Emperors’ Carpets.” One resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, while the other graces the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. These masterpieces feature animals within their designs, in addition to the birds and cloud bands that adorn Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s “Bird and Palmette” Imperial Safavid carpet.
For those eager to witness this historic treasure in person, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild ‘Bird and Palmette’ Imperial Safavid carpet will be on display at two exclusive locations during September and October:
- Dubai, Christie’s DIFC: 23 – 28 September
- London, Christie’s headquarters: 21 – 25 October
In conclusion, Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s ‘Bird and Palmette’ Imperial Safavid carpet transcends mere craftsmanship; it represents a window into a bygone era of artistic excellence and opulence. This sixteenth-century masterpiece, steeped in history and provenance, serves as a testament to the pinnacle of Safavid carpet weaving during the enlightened reign of Shah Tahmasp.
As it takes its place as a star attraction at Christie’s Autumn sale, it invites us to appreciate the meticulous artistry and cultural significance of these court carpets. With its vibrant colours, intricate motifs, and prestigious lineage, this remarkable carpet is not only a collector’s dream but also a living piece of history. Its exhibition in Dubai and London provides a rare opportunity to witness the legacy of Safavid craftsmanship firsthand, making it an event not to be missed for art enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike.