Islamic Arts


Surviving examples of carpets from the early Islamic period are rare. Fragments of silk carpets from the 7th to the 8th century, that were made in Tunsia and central Asia, have been found. Large prayer rugs with multiple niches were made in Egypt at this time.

Ottoman carpets were imported into Europe in considerable quantities, appearing in a number of paintings by European artists, often depicted in minute detail. The paintings have thus played an important part in dating surviving Ottoman rugs. There is one group in particular, known as Holbein’s, which featured in the paintings of Hans Holbein. Luxurious Ottoman rugs known as ‘Usak’ carpets, featuring star and medallion designs,  were produced in Usak in western Anatolia, which was an established carpet weaving centre from at least the 15th century. Usaks continued for over 200 years, with many examples having survived, particularly in Italy.

Court carpets were produced from the 16thcentury, originally in Cairo, with many incorporating a ‘mihrab’-like niche on the longer axis. Village rugs and kilims (flat weave carpets) were produced, featuring strong colours, stepped lines and zoomorphic motifs, drawn from the repertoire of nomadic an steppe art.

Some magnificent carpets were produced in Safavid Iran, with the best know of these being the two ‘Ardabil’ carpets, with one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. These huge carpets (over 10.5 x 5m) have central medallion designs, with a sun disc rosette or star within framing bands, that mirror the format of illuminated book covers. Other Iranian carpet designs included ‘Vase’ carpets, which have spiralling vines emanating from vases and ‘Polonaise’ carpets, characterised by arabesques of flowers and leaves with medallions. These carpets were typically knotted in silk, often with silver and gold brocading.

Under the Mughals, carpets attained great refinement, featuring plants and animals drawn from the world of miniature painting, which became very detailed during the reign of Shah Jahan.

Source:- “The Timeline History of Islamic Art and Architecture” by Nasser D. Khalili.

Photo above:- Niche Rug. Central Iran, c.1570 CE. Wool pile with metal thread on silk foundation, asymmetrical knot. Source:- Khalili Collection.