Carpets of the East in Paintings from the West – The Met, NY

A Young Woman and a Cavalier Cornelis Bisschop (Dutch, Dordrecht 1630–1674 Dordrecht) courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A small focused exhibition Carpets of the East in Paintings from the West opened March 11 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alongside three mid-17th-century Dutch paintings three actual rugs from the period, corresponding to those recorded on the canvases, will be on show together.

The three paintings are Gabriël Metsu’s A Musical Party (1659) Cornelis Bisschop’s A Young Woman and a Cavalier (early 1660s) and Matthijs Naiveu’s Newborn Baby (1675).

Somewhere in the great scheme of things, carpets became a rare commodity in the west for centuries, although in the east they remained in contention constantly, bringing a great deal of colour and comfort to life and as an integral aspect of cultural identity.

Blending traditional designs, skills, and tastes of all the cultures historically carpets, rugs and fabrics serve as conduits for an important exchange of information.

They sparked ideas of imagined exotic lands and peoples in both East and West, inspiring and growing the use and types of decorative ornament in architecture.

“Ornamental Lotto” Carpet 17th century Turkey Wool (warp, weft and pile); symmetrically knotted pile The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The James F. Ballard Collection, Gift of James F. Ballard, 1922 © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This also gradually flowed over into other aspects of interior design as comfort became of primary importance especially in the courts and aristocratic homes of England and Euorpe.

During the eleventh century in Europe traditions associated with weaving textiles became established as a symbol of status and influence.

Trade textiles traversed the Silk Road cross culturally influencing the traditional designs, skills, and tastes of all the cultures that produced or purchased them.

It resulted in fabrics and carpets or rugs that were both intrinsically beautiful and historically fascinating and by the second half of the fourteenth century, weaving was an integral aspect of many societies and economies.

Images of carpets woven in the East, primarily in the areas constituting present-day Turkey and Iran and Indo-Isfahan carpets were exported in large quantities to Europe.

These densely knotted textiles with their very rich and nuanced colour palette were a symmetrical composition of symbolical scrolling motifs such as cloud bands and various floral shapes while stylized peonies and lotus blossoms alternated in the border.

They also began to appear in European paintings

Matthijs Naiveu (Dutch, Leiden 1647–1726 Amsterdam) The Newborn Baby, 1675 Oil on canvas The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, 1871 (71.160) Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Originally the precious textiles were depicted solely in religious scenes sometimes under the foot of the Virgin, or as an altar covering.

Later carpets began appearing in portraits of members of the aristocracy or wealthy merchants to reflect their social standing and economic status.

Bold, stylized vegetal arabesques in yellow on a red ground characterize the so-called “Lotto” carpets,

They are named after a famous altarpiece by Italian Renaissance painter Lorenzo Lotto that reveals a similar carpet.

The exotic east certainly held great fascination for many Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIII of England’s adviser was no exception.

He was offered a bevvy of Turkey rugs in 1540 by the Venetian ambassador to the English court.

Gabriël Metsu (Dutch, Leiden 1629–1667 Amsterdam) A Musical Party, 1659, ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1890

He was so bowled over by their magnificence he ordered more, using them lavishly to decorate his new home (Hampton Court Palace).

From Wolsey’s time forward carpets on tables in the classiest homes, as well as ‘underfoot’ became de riguer, and so we probably have a lot to thank him for.

They appeared regularly in paintings draped on tables against a backdrop of ‘tooled and gilded leather’ wall hangings in genre scenes showing the homes and families of wealthy citizens.

By the 17th century a variety of types of exotic eastern carpets were being depicted in Dutch Art.

“Chessboard” carpets were so named because of the grid like arrangement of their motifs.

In this gem of an exhibition at the Met in New York their geometrical stars are set to shine yet again.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 201

Carpets of the East in Paintings from the West

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Met, NY has one of the largest and most comprehensive public collections of Islamic rugs, in large part due to the generous bequest of 126 rugs by James F. Ballard (1851–1931) and the gift of approximately 120 carpets and textiles from Joseph V. McMullan (1896–1973), both important collectors in the field. The installation will include one rug each from the Ballard and McMullan collections.

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