The Muslim Carpet and the Origin of Carpeting - Cont'd
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4. The Muslim carpet and Europe
The European fascination with Muslim textile products goes back to the Middle Ages when contacts with the Muslim world, made during the Crusades and trade, resulted in the import of oriental art items, including textiles. Such products were so valued that the Pope Silvester II  was buried in luxurious Persian silk cloth. The reader may appreciate the significance of this if he learnt that Queen Eleanor, the Castilian Bride of King Edward I, brought to England Andalusian carpets as precious items of her dowry in 1255 . However, the earliest recorded English contact with Muslim textiles was in the 12th century when the grandson of William the Conqueror, who lived in the Abbey of Cluny in that century, gave an Islamic carpet to an English church .
In France, as expected, Muslim carpets were known much earlier and were particularly popular at the time of Louis IX (1215-70) under the name "tapis Sarrasinois", and in 1277 there were trade privileges for this tapis in Paris . A silk cope from a Mamluk sultan of Egypt was inscribed on it ("the learned Sultan", dating from the 14th century) was found in St. Mary‘s Church at Danzig. This is not surprising as the famous geographer and philosopher Al- Idrisi (ca 1096-1166) revealed that woollen carpets were produced in the 12th century in Chinchilla and Murcia (both now in Spain) and were exported all over the world.
Figure 5: The painting of Hans Holbein the Younger The Ambassadors (1533). Oil on wood, National Gallery, London. The painting is notable not only because its carpet is the one that gave rise to the term "large-pattern Holbein" , but also for its curious rendering, near its bottom center, of an anamorphic skull, discernible as such only when the painting is viewed at an acute angle. (Source).
In addition to these historical facts, there is another source which provides credible evidence enabling us to evaluate the extent of use and the position of the Muslim carpet in Europe. The study of paintings made in late medieval period supplied considerable information on how and where these carpets were used and how they were regarded. The earliest occurrences of carpets in European paintings go back to early 1300s, starting with the painting of the Italian Simone Martini, Nicolo of Buonaccorso, Stefano de Giovanni, or that of Anbrogio Lorenzetti (see above). In addition to the depiction of stylised animals, there was also a Turkish element in these carpets which consisted of using similar knotting technique .
"In Renaissance paintings one can easily notice a considerable increase in the popularity of Muslim carpets, particularly the Turkish and Persian makes. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries growing trade relations and increasing prosperity of Europe resulted in more importation of Muslim artistic and luxurious goods as European society (i.e. the educated and wealthy) started to experience a more comfortable life. Large quantities of rugs, ceramics and other items formed an essential part of this trade, as confirmed by Mills: "By 1500 we reach a time when certain Turkish products were being produced and exported to the West in large number, and pieces evidently Portraits of important dignitaries from Italy, France, Germany, Holland and Belgium illustrated the luxurious usage of these carpets. Examples of these are those portrayed in the work of the German Hans Holbein, the Junior (1497-1543). He chose large patterned carpets, centrally decorated with octagons and framed within a pseudo-Kufic inscription. His painting known as French Ambassadors, for example, depicts two wealthy men standing in front of a table topped with an Ottoman carpet [figure 5]. There other instances where Ottoman carpets were present in Christian themes i.e. depicting the Virgin Mary in a setting displaying Ottoman textiles [figures 6 &7]. belonging to the same group are to be found represented by painters both of Italy and Northern Europe ."
Portraits of important dignitaries from Italy, France, Germany, Holland and Belgium illustrated the luxurious usage of these carpets. Examples of these are those portrayed in the work of the German Hans Holbein the Junior (1497-1543). He chose large patterned carpets, centrally decorated with octagons and framed within a pseudo-Kufic inscription. His painting known as French Ambassadors, for example, depicts two wealthy men standing in front of a table topped with an Ottoman carpet (figure 5). There other instances where Ottoman carpets were present in Christian themes; i.e. depicting the Virgin Mary in a setting displaying Ottoman textiles (figures 6 & 7).
Figure 6: The painting The Virgin and Child with the family of Burgomaster Meyer by Hans Holbein the Younger (1528). Oil on wood, Schloss Museum, Darmstadt, Germany. (Source).
In Belgium, similar processes took place as carpets were subjected to similar privileged treatment. Two examples may suffice here including the works of Van Eyck (1390-1441) and Hans Memlinc. These two artists, like Holbein, incorporated the Muslim carpet in their drawings with holy and noble themes. Van Eyck's painting of the Virgin and Child with St. Donatian, St. George and Canon Van der Paele (figure 8), which he painted in 1436 at Bruges, shows Mary seated on a carpet with geometrical shapes, essentially circles drawn around rosettes combined with lozenges and eight pointed star motifs. His fellow artist Hans Memlinc, in his Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine (1479) and The Virgin Enthroned (figure 9), used those Anatolian patterns very closely resembling the carpet of Eshrefoglu at Beysehir .
In Italy, the earliest evidence of carpets is traced to the end of 12th century, appearing in increasing number of paintings of this period, either below the throne of the Madonna (as in the work of Martini above) on the floor of sacred rites, or hanging from windows of homes on feast days. By the 15th century, carpets gained more popularity as they began to appear in documents showing that they were used as table carpets (tapedi de tavola), and desk carpets (tapedi da desco). These were both tapedi damaschini, Damascus carpets, and tapedi ciaiarini, Cairo carpets, which invaded the trading markets of Venice .
Figure 7: Details of the painting The Virgin and Child. Here we have medallions made up of diamonds and squares. The main border is a connected "S" pattern that is more common as a minor or guard border.
In other occasions, Muslim carpets formed fashionable diplomatic gifts, especially the stylish Mamluk carpet from Egypt . The portrait of Husband and Wife of Lotto (1480-1556) shows the use of the "S" pattern for inner border combined with a delightful arabesque followed by another wider border made essentially of vine leaves (figures 12 & 13). The painting of the Venetian Cittore Carpaccio St. Ursula Taking Leave of her Father shows the popularity of rugs appearing on the boat and on balcony of the tower. It is said that these carpets (of the painting) were made by Turkish artists living in Venice in the "Fondaco dei Turchi" which provides another light on how the reproduction of Muslim/Turkish carpet, transformed into the so called "Venetian Carpaccio", took place . In late 15th century, paintings show the "Venetian Carpaccio" hanging from the windows and balconies of houses as well as thrown on table tops and places where they can be more visually seen and appreciated. From this time, the representation of carpets in paintings spread to Spain, Germany and France .
The first arrival of this Ottoman/Turkish carpet to England was recorded in 1518 when Cardinal Wolsey ordered seven from Venice and another 60 Damascene carpets were dispatched to him in 1520 . King Henry VIII of England (1509-47) is known to have owned over 400 Muslim carpets . A portrait made for him by Holbein in 1537 shows him standing on a Turkish carpet with its Ushak star  while Arabesque is bordering his garment, and other Muslim interlacing patterns appear on the curtains (figure 10). In another portrait showing the King and Princess Mary (later Queen 1553-8) seated at a table on which a Turkish carpet is spread (figure 11). Records also show that the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, (1532-1588), who lived during the time of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), left a total of 46 Turkish carpets and one Persian .
Turkish carpets were also acquired by Hardwick Hall, formerly Bess of Hardwick which was built by Elizabeth of Shrewsbury in the 1590‘s. An inventory of the hall‘s will of 1601 counted 32 carpets . Records also show that the Hall purchased in 1610 two Turkish carpets for the price of £1315  they were first introduced to England, carpets were used in display places, such as tab coffers, by households with prestige.
Figure 8: The painting The Madonna with Canon van der Paele by Jan van Eyck (Bruges, 1436). (Source).
Muslim carpets continued to decorate most of Tudor England‘s tables, chests, and walls. It was not until the Victorian period (18th century) that they were used on floors. There is evidence suggesting that some carpets were made specifically for Europeans customers. The presence of round shaped carpet that could be used for tables and other cross-shaped carpets that were produced in Egypt can only be suggestive of a European destination . In other carpets, the figure of the crucifixion was inserted in floral motifs, while others carried the European coat of arms of which some were sent to King Sigismund III (1566-1632) of Poland.
It is quite clear that the Ottoman carpet reached an unprecedented position in European high society, as confirmed by Ettinghausen who wrote:
"There is no doubt that carpets exerted a great fascination on would-be buyers and owners, whatever their social position-whether they were Hapsburgs or members of the royal house of Sweden, princes of the church, the nobility, or were just well-to-do members of the bourgeoisie. Their esteem can be gauged by the fact that they served as the setting for coronations and other important festive occasions. They became what is now called a 'status symbol'." 
In the 17th century, the carpet fashion took off strongly as records reveal the existence of many types of carpets; foot carpet, table carpet, cupboard carpet and window carpet . Such overwhelming popularity continues till the present day while the import of carpets from Islamic countries continues strong despite the fierce competition from the Chinese carpets (table 2).
Table 2: Imports of Oriental (Muslim) carpets. Source: E. Wirth, Der Orientteppich und Europa, Erlangen, 1976, p. 337.
Figure 9: The painting Madonna Enthroned with Child and Two Angels (1490-91 by Hans Memling Flemisch (ca. 1440-1494). Oil on wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. (Source).
Figure 10: Portrait of Henry VIII (ca. 1536–37) by Hans Holbein the Younger shows him standing on a Ushaq carpet. Oil and tempera on oak, Fundación Colección, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. (Source).
5. Imitation of the Muslim carpet in Europe
The first imitation of Muslim carpets in Europe was undertaken under the sponsorship of English patrons . Attempts to introduce the craft of weaving carpet into England were made as early as the times of Elizabeth I. A Victoria and Albert Museum publication reports that a chapter in Hakluyt's Voyages, entitled Certaine directions given… to M. Morgan Hubblethorne (Dier sentinto Persia, 1579), refers to a plan to import Persian carpet makers into England:
"In Persia you shall find carpets of course thrummed wool, the best of the world, and excellently coloured: those cities and towns you must repair to, and you must use means to learn all the order of the dyeing of those thrums, which are so dyed as neither rain, wine, nor yet vinegar can stain….If before you return you could procure a singular good workman in the art of Turkish carpet making, you should bring the art into the Realm and also thereby increase work to your company." 
According to Sweetman, the earliest carpet made in Europe was that of Verulam carpet which was produced in 1570 at Gorhambury. Other three carpets were in the collection of Duke of Buccleuch at Boughton bearing the dates of 1584 and 1585. There are other suggestions which point to the existence of other copies made in Britain.
Figure 11: Copy by Remigius van Leemput of Holbein's mural of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Henry VII, and Elizabeth of York (1536-37), destroyed in Whitehall Palace fire in 1698. (Source).
Between the 16th and the 17th centuries, smaller objects such as chair covers, cushion covers and the like, some of which can be found in Norwich Cathedral, were reproduced in similar knotting patterns as those of the Turkish carpets . In the 17th century, small panels to cover cushions upholstery were produced using Turkish techniques. An oak chair dated in 1649 and covered with such panels is to be found in Victoria and Albert Museum.
By the 18th century, the carpet industry was established in Britain. A certain French man with the name Pavisot made carpets, imitating the Savonnerie carpets, at Paddington moving to Fulham by the middle of the 18th century. However most of his production was destined to fulfil orders for furniture covers . Later, in 1751, the Royal Society of Arts promoted the establishment of successful carpet manufacturing "On the Principle of Turkey Carpets" through subsidies and awards. For example, between 1757 and 1759, the Society spent £150 as awards for the best Turkish "imitated" carpets. The manufacturers benefiting from these awards were Thomas Moore in Chisewell Street, Moorfield, Thomas Whitty at Axminster, Passavant at Exeter, and William Jesser of Frome .
In France, a similar approach was followed. In 1604, King Henry IV promoted a certain Monsieur Fortier and made him "tapissier ordinaire de sa Majeste en Tapiz de Turquie et facon de Levant", to make copies of Turkish and Eastern carpets. A year later, in 1605, a company (the "Savonnerie") was set up by Pierre du Pont to do this copying. Later, in 1750 the company expanded into England, two Frenchmen from Savonnerieat Chaillot moved to London and set up a carpet factory first in Westminster and later expanded into Paddington and Fulham , as outlined above.
Figure 12: Husband and Wife by Lorenzo Lotto (ca. 1543). Oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. (Source).
Figure 13: Close up of carpet in Husband and Wife. Details of the octagonal design on the tapestry.
Other countries followed suit. In 1634, Polish companies were set up in Brody by a certain Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski to produce Turkish and eastern styled carpets .
6. Summary and conclusion
From the above, it appears that the European perception of Muslim carpeting has developed over time from being a rare luxurious item gifted to the holy and saintly figures to being possessed only by the rich and ultimately to the establishment of local carpet industries thus making it available to a wider public. In this process one can distinguish five phases:
- Carpets were first reserved for holy rituals as seen in the paintings which incorporated them in the depiction of the Virgin, Jesus, the saints and other holy scenes. This took place between the 14th and 15th centuries.
- In the late 15th century the carpet reached the landed gentry becoming a status symbol to be displayed from such as windows and balconies (as seen in the "Venetian Capaccio").
- In the 17th century, carpets were a popular decorative item covering tables, as seen in the Dutch paintings. This period also saw the appearance of the foot carpet, table carpet, cupboard and window carpets.
- The 18th century marked the start of the carpet manufacturing.
- The last two centuries have seen a wider spread of carpet spreading reaching most houses and offices of the Western world.
This contribution shows the humane dimension of Islamic civilisation in catering for the comfort and well being of people through the development and spread of carpets. An insignificant item maybe, if compared to those higher intellectual achievements such as science, literature, poetry and the contribution.
Ettinghausen, R. (1974), "The Impact of Muslim Decorative Arts and Painting on the Arts of Europe", in The Legacy of Islam, edited by Joseph Schacht and Carles E. Bosworth, 2nd Edition, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 292-317.
Gans-Ruedin, E. (1975), Antique Oriental Carpets from the Seventeenth to the Early Twentieth Century, translated from Le tapis de l'Amateur by Richard and Elizabeth Bartlett, Thames and Hudson, London.
Hattstein, M. & Delius, P. eds (2000), Islam: Art and Architecture, Konemann, Köln.
Hunke, S.(1969), Shams Al-'arab tasta' 'ala al-Gharb, The Trading Office for Printing Distributing & Publishing, Beirut, 2nd edition.
Mills, J. (1975), Carpets in Pictures, Publications Department, National Gallery, London.
Rice, D.T. (1975), Islamic Art, Thames and Hudson, Norwich.
Spuhler, F. (1978), Islamic Carpets and Textiles in the Keir Collection, Faber and Faber, London.
Victoria and Albert Museum (1920), Guide to the Collection of Carpets, HMSO, London.
Wirth, E. (1976), Der Orientteppich und Europa, Heft 37, Gedruckt inder universitatsbuchdruckere Junge & Sohn, Erlangen.
 Reigned 999-1003, also called Gerbert. Born at or near Aurillac, Auvergne, France, about 940-950, of humble parents; he died at Rome 12 May, 1003. Gerbert entered the service of the Church and received his first training in the Monastery of Aurillac. He was then taken by a Spanish count to Spain, where he studied at Barcelona and also under Arabian teachers at Cordova and Seville, giving much attention to mathematics and the natural sciences.
 Sweetman (1987), op. cit.
 Boase, T.S.R. (1953), English Art 1100-1216, p. 170.
 Sweetman (1987), op. cit.
 Mills, J. (1975), op.cit., pp. 4-5.
 Ibid, p. 16.
 Gans-Ruedin, E. (1975), op. cit., p. 20.
 Victoria and Albert Museum (1920), op. cit.
 Erdmann, K. (1962), Europa und der Orinetteppich, Mainz-Berlin, pp. 11-17.
 Mills, J. (1975), op.cit., p. 17.
 Victoria and Albert Museum (1920), op. cit., p. 3.
 Beattie, M. (1964), "Britain and the Oriental Carpet", in LAC 55, and Mills, J. (1983), "The Coming of the Carpet to the West", in ARTS cat., the Eastern Carpet in the Western World.
 King, D. (1983), "The Inventories of the Carpets of King Henry 8", in Hali 5, pp.287-296.
 The Ushak star consists of eight point indented star motif alternating with lozenge shapes.
 Ettinghausen, (1974) , op. cit., p. 301.
 Beattie, M.H. (1959), "Antique Rugs at Hardwick Hall", in Oriental Art, vol. 5, pp. 52-61.
 Ettinghausen 1974, op. cit., p. 301.
 Ettinghausen (1974) op. cit., p. 301.
 Victoria and Albert Museum, op. cit., p. 9.
 Sweetman, 1987, op. cit., p. 16.
 Quoted in Victoria and Albert Museum, op. cit., p. 62.
 Victoria and Albert Museum, op. cit., p. 63.
 Ibid, p. 64.
 Sweetman 1987, op. cit., note 39, p. 274. Also see Victoria and Albert Museum, op. cit., p. 64.
 Ibid, note 39, p. 40.
 Ettinghausen (1974), op. cit., p. 302.
* Dr Rabah Saoud, BA, MPhil, PhD, wrote this article for www.MuslimHeritage.com when he was a researcher at FSTC in Manchester. He is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Ajman, Ajman, UAE.
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by: Rabah Saoud, Tue 13 April, 2004