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An important early Ottoman blue and white pottery dish, probably Edirne or Bursa, mid 15th century

An important early Ottoman blue and white pottery dish, probably Edirne or Bursa, mid 15th century. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2014.

LONDON.- Objects tracing the rich cultural heritage of the Islamic and Indian worlds will be offered in a series of three sales at Christie’s in London during Islamic Art Week which runs from 7-10 October. Among the 700 lots on offer within the sales there is particular strength among the works of art from the Mughal, Safavid and Ottoman Empires. The sales offer an insight into the diversity of the religious, social and geographical influences on works of art and the craftsmen, artists and patrons who created them.

Indian World
One of the highlights in the Oriental Rugs and Carpets sale is the Douglass Mughal ‘Millefleurs’ prayer rug (lot 50) which dates from the 18th century and was most probably woven in Lahore or Kashmir in northern India. It is part of an exceptionally small and rare group, of which only ten other examples are known. This ‘millefleurs’ prayer rug, a reference to the delicate floral design worked across the entire field, is woven with wonderfully soft pashmina wool and remains in astonishingly good condition. It is “one of the most extraordinary of these rare and beautiful weavings” and is estimated at £300,000-500,000, a reflection of its condition and provenance. Also from Mughal India is a very elegant Lahore gallery carpet, lot 116, which relates to the famous Girdlers’ carpet, commissioned for the Girdlers’ livery company in the 1630s. The best of 19th century Indian Revivalist weaving is represented by lot 49 a finely woven ivory ground Agra carpet with a classic large palmette design borrowed from Safavid and Mughal carpet designs (estimate: £30,000-50,000).

The Douglass Mughal ‘Millefleurs’ prayer rug, North India, probably Lahore or Kashmir, 18th century

The Douglass Mughal ‘Millefleurs’ prayer rug, North India, probably Lahore or Kashmir, 18th century

The Douglass Mughal ‘Millefleurs’ prayer rug, North India, probably Lahore or Kashmir, 18th century

The Douglass Mughal ‘Millefleurs’ prayer rug, North India, probably Lahore or Kashmir, 18th centuryEstimate £300,000 – £500,000 ($490,800 – $818,000). Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2014

Good pile throughout, a few small localised repairs, selvages rebound; 5ft.4in. x 3ft.11in. (163cm. x 119cm.)

Provenance: John M. Douglass and Sue N. Peters Collection
Eberhart Herrmann
Joseph R. Ritman Collection
Purchased by the present owner at Sotheby’s New York, 12 April 1996, lot 78

Literature: Eberhart Herrmann, Seltene Orientteppiche, IX, Munich 1987, cover and pp.7-9
‘Auction Reports – Mughal Mania’, Hali 87, July 1996, p.161
Steven Cohen, ‘Ten Thousand At A Glance’, Hali 88, September 1996, pp.74-77

Notes: The pashmina Mughal millefleurs prayer rugs are amongst the most revered and sought-after of all classical Indian carpets. Distinguished by their elegant compositions of finely drawn floral stems and luminous, jewel-like colours; fewer than fifteen examples of these exquisite rugs are known and half of these are housed in important museum collections. Woven using pashmina, the short, silky soft wool from the underbelly of Himalayan goats found in Ladakh and Tibet, it seems most likely that these beautiful weavings were the product of a specialist workshop in Kashmir, where there was a ready supply of pashmina wool due to the established shawl industry. These extraordinary weavings would have represented the height of luxury and would have have most probably been woven as special commissions for the Mughal court. In his publication of the present prayer rug in Seltene Orientteppiche IX, Munich, 1987, p.8, Eberhart Herrmann listed eight additional prayer rugs in the group, the Habsburg prayer rug in the Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna; The Textile Museum prayer rug; the three rugs formerly in the Joseph V. McMullan collection now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, respectively; the two rugs from the George W. Vanderbilt collection at Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina; the Dubernard rug in the Musee Historique des Tissus, Lyon; The Marquand/Benguiat/Kevorkian rug. To this list should be added the prayer rug offered at Sotheby’s New York, 19 September 2003, lot 84 and the Rippon Boswell rug sold 1 December 2007, lot 133 (Hali 155, p.147).

The origin of the design of the millefleurs prayer rugs can be traced back to the magnificent pashmina shrub niche rugs created during the reign of Shah Jahan in the mid 17th century. These earlier weavings, such as the famous Aynard rug formerly in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, have very similar design elements to the millefleurs prayer rugs, such as the cusped arch, two bisected cypress trees at each side and a central hillock or vase from which issue the floral stems. Many of the carpet designs created during the reign of Shah Jahan continued to be popular under the reign of his heir Aurangzeb and his successors, however one can witness a tendency towards reducing the scale of ornamentation. The millefleurs carpets developed out of this tendancy towards miniaturisation and, Dan Walker suggests, from the European influence on Mughal floral patterns (Daniel Walker,Flowers Underfoot; Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, New York, 1997, pp.119-129). In his article ‘Ten Thousand At A Glance’, ibid., Steven Cohen suggests that the designs of Mughal Kashmir shawls may have also influenced the development of the designs of the millefleurs prayer rugs. The correlation between the composition of the millefleurs prayer rugs and the boteh design of mid 18th century Kashmir shawls is undeniable (see Steven Cohen, ibid., figs. 2 and 3, p.75) but it does not follow that the design originated with the shawl industry.

Historically the Habsburg prayer rug has been considered the earliest of the millefleurs prayer rugs, dated by most authorities to the late 17th century or early 18th century. It is this prayer rug that most closely resembles the earlier prototype of the Aynard rug. It is the only millefleurs prayer rug in the group not to depict a vase, instead the floral stems rise directly from the hillock, which contains individual shrubs and is seen as the prototype for the present rug. The present prayer rug is most closely related to the magnificent Marquand/Benguiat/Kevorkian rug. Both rugs have a wider profile to the cusped arch and to the field due to the much smaller cypresses to each side. In each rug the drawing of the vase is very similar, it is ramed by the curled sickle leaves and flanked on each side by miniature secondary vases. The beautiful and sinuous border of the present rug is shared by the Metropolitan Museum rug, one of the Vanderbilt rugs at Biltmore and the Dubernard rug; these are the four examples that relate most closely to the border of the Habsburg rug.