Exhibition: A Tale of Two Persian Carpets (One by One) – The Ardabil and Coronation Carpets

Exhibition dates: 17 September 2017 – 8 July 2018

Dating to the first half of the sixteenth century, LACMA’s two spectacular Persian carpets, both the gift of J. Paul Getty, have only rarely been exhibited due in part to their size and sensitivity to light. Now, these large and sumptuous carpets will be shown sequentially, affording visitors the opportunity to see two of the world’s most renowned Persian carpets and to learn of their fascinating history before and after they left Iran. The Ardabil carpet will be on view from 17 September 2017 – 19 February 2018, and the Coronation carpet will be exhibited from 24 February – 8 July 2018.

The large number of carpets surviving from sixteenth-century Iran compared to earlier periods reflects not only a high level of carpet production but also perhaps a change in the nature of their manufacture. During this period, carpet weaving evolved from a rural, nomadic craft to a national industry and an internationally acclaimed art form, as the first shahs of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1732) established royal factories in cities such as Tabriz, Kashan, Kirman and Isfahan. The two great Persian carpets presented here belong to this period of cultural, political and religious flowering.

For more information, visit the website of LACMA, Los Angeles, USA.

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Event: REMINDER – Talk by Author and Specialist Chris Aslan Alexander – A Carpet Ride to Khiva

oatg-a-carpet-ride-to-khiva

Event date: Thursday 13 October 2016, 6.15 – 8pm

This is just a reminder about the OATG event taking place next Thursday, in which Chris Alexander will be speaking about carpet weaving in Uzbekistan. Chris has also recently let us know that he will be bringing carpets and other textiles for a show and tell session after his presentation for attendees of the event to see.

Chris Aslan Alexander established two workshops in Khiva in Uzbekistan, recreating fifteenth-century Timurid carpet designs from forgotten illuminations and reviving silk carpet weaving, natural dye-making and suzani embroidery. To find out more about Chris, and about the book he has written on this subject, visit his website.

Location: The Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS.

Admission is free for members, and £3 for non-members.

There are still a few places remaining at this event, so please book yours now if you’d like to come.

For more information, and to book your place at this event, please contact the OATG events organisers (oatg.events@gmail.com).

Event: Talk by Author and Specialist Chris Aslan Alexander – A Carpet Ride to Khiva

oatg-a-carpet-ride-to-khiva

Event date: Thursday 13 October 2016, 6.15 – 8pm

Chris Aslan Alexander established two workshops in Khiva in Uzbekistan, recreating fifteenth-century Timurid carpet designs from forgotten illuminations and reviving silk carpet weaving, natural dye-making and suzani embroidery. To find out more about Chris, and about the book he has written on this subject, visit his website.

Location: The Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS.

Admission is free for members, and £3 for non-members.

For more information, please contact the OATG events organisers (oatg.events@gmail.com).

Exhibition: Kum Kapi Carpets at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

Gulbenkian - Kum Kapi

Exhibition dates: open until 19 September 2016

Kum Kapi carpets owe their name to a district of Istanbul where, in the nineteenth century, various Armenian master carpet makers settled to create their rich knotted carpets of silk, with metal threads, inspired by the classic Persian carpets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Hagop Kapoudjian (c. 1870–1946) was one of the most famous Kum Kapi master carpet makers, and created three of the carpets included in this exhibition, taking place at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, which are placed in dialogue with works by the contemporary artist, also of Armenian origin, Mekhitar Garabedian (b. 1977, Aleppo). Two artists from different times and places who share a common past that, in a way, is connected to the life story of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian himself.

The exhibition establishes a dialogue between tradition and contemporaneity, continuity and reinvention, showing in surprising ways the relationship between the carpet and the journey that is, here, more than ever, linked to the Armenian diaspora.

There is also a free lecture taking place at the Gulbenkian Museum in connection with this exhibition, on Wednesday, 29 June, on Armenians and rug weaving.

For more information, visit the website of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal.

Exhibition: The Carpet and the Connoisseur – The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs

SLAM - The Carpet and the Connoisseur

Exhibition dates: 6 March – 8 May 2016

During the early twentieth century, St Louis businessman James F. Ballard became one of the country’s top collectors of oriental carpets. An unlikely collector, he was celebrated for his approach to collecting Anatolian carpets from provincial centers in Turkey at a time when most other rug connoisseurs were acquiring classical Persian and Indian carpets. In addition to his passion for collecting, Ballard was also a patient teacher, inveterate traveler, and, above all, the first oriental carpet enthusiast to acknowledge the importance of Turkish influence on the history of the pile carpet.

Ballard ultimately divided his collection of carpets between the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1922 and the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1929. Another group of carpets were added to the St Louis collection through a later donation by his daughter, Nellie Ballard White, in 1972. As a result of these two gifts, the museum has amassed a collection of oriental rugs recognised as one of the most significant collections in the world.

‘The Carpet and the Connoisseur’ highlights 51 carpets from the Ballard collection, including three Cairene rugs, a Spanish rug, and examples of ‘Lotto’ and small-pattern ‘Holbein’ carpets, all important examples of works from the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ballard also acquired two nineteenth-century Persian pleasure tents that were used for outdoor gatherings. These are also featured in the exhibition.

‘The Carpet and the Connoisseur’ is guest-curated by Walter B. Denny, University of Massachusetts distinguished professor in Islamic Arts in collaboration with Philip Hu, associate curator of Asian art, and textile conservator Zoe Perkins.

For more information, visit the website of the Saint Louis Art Museum, USA.

Event: Scott Redford talks about Medieval Anatolian Animal Carpets and Seljuk Art for ORTS

ORTS - Medieval Anatolian Animal Carpets

Event date: Wednesday 23 March 2016, 7pm

This is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event.

Scott Redford, Nasser D. Khalili Professor of Islamic Art & Archaeology at SOAS, will give a lecture on medieval Anatolian animal carpets and Seljuk art. Scott has published widely on the art, archaeology and architecture of medieval Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean.

The talk will be held at St James Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL.

The Conference Room entrance is in the Church Place passageway, which runs between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly.  There is a wrought iron gate signed ‘Church Hall Conference Room’ leading downstairs.  Drinks and snacks will be served.

Piccadilly Circus tube is 5 minutes’ walk, and Green Park Tube is 10 minutes’ walk.  There is free parking in St James Square after 6.30pm.

Please note this is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event, but non-members are welcome to attend: £7 single lecture, £5 students, or choose £20 for one year’s membership (11 events).

For more information, visit the website of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society.

Event: Roberta Marin Talks about the Kaleidoscopic World of Mamluk Carpets for ORTS

ORTS - Mamluk Carpets

Event date: Wednesday 24 February 2016, 7pm

This is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event.

Roberta will focus on the carpet production of the Mamluk Empire (1250–1517). Special attention will be dedicated to the patterns, the carpet trade between Egypt and Italy and the representation of Mamluk carpets in Italian Renaissance paintings.

Roberta Marin collaborates with the Khalili Collection and has previously taught Islamic Art and Architecture at Birkbeck College, London College of Communication, SOAS and the University of York. She completed her BA in Fine Arts in Italy and holds an MA in Islamic Art & Archaeology from SOAS. Her research interests include Mamluk art, Islamic carpets and modern and contemporary art from the Middle East and Iran.

The talk will be held at St James Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL.

The Conference Room entrance is in the Church Place passageway, which runs between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly.  There is a wrought iron gate signed ‘Church Hall Conference Room’ leading downstairs.  Drinks and snacks will be served.

Piccadilly Circus tube is 5 minutes’ walk, and Green Park Tube is 10 minutes’ walk.  There is free parking in St James Square after 6.30pm.

Please note this is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event, but non-members are welcome to attend: £7 single lecture, £5 students, or choose £20 for one year’s membership (11 events).

For more information, visit the website of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society.

Feature: Summer Travels with May Beattie, Fifty Years On

Now that the summer holidays have definitely drawn to a close, I’m happy to publish the third installment in our Beattie Archive mini-series from Katherine Clough, all about May Beattie’s summer adventures hunting carpets through Europe and Turkey. Through photographs and excerpts from her diary entries, we can experience some of May’s summer holidays vicariously, and get an insight into how the Beattie Archive was compiled.

For many the summer months are a time for adventures, relaxation and travelling abroad, with September signalling a return to working life. This blog post considers one of May Hamilton Beattie’s own summer excursions – in pursuit of carpets – in the summer of 1965, fifty years ago. Beattie travelled extensively in Europe, Central Asia and North America, visiting and recording carpets she encountered photographically, with analysis sheets and by recording her thoughts in detailed diary entries. In 1965 May and Colin Beattie left their Sheffield home by car to travel on a circuit through Europe to western Turkey and back again, driving through many countries, and stopping to visit rugs en route.

Map roughly showing the Beatties’ route by car in Summer 1965, as deducted from her diary notes in MBA Ref 63.

Map roughly showing the Beatties’ route by car in Summer 1965, as deducted from her diary notes in MBA Ref 63.

The opening paragraph of May’s diary shows how their journey did not always go to plan, but once at their destination she launched straight into intensive work on a rug collection:

July 1965

We left Sheffield on Sunday the 18th, crossed as usual to Ostende, after suffering two punctures and discovering a weak-walled tyre on the way down and non-acting brake lights. Hardly a cheerful beginning! We were off the boat by 4.20 a.m. and in Düsseldorf by 10.30. There were more rugs there than I was aware of and some interesting fragments. I worked at top speed and still did not finish everything by 4.30 when we had arranged to meet outside. Col. had missed his way back to the car so I foraged in the lunch basket and sat in the sun outside the Museum and ate brown bread and butter and bananas, having had no lunch.

Car problems would hit several times that summer, with May writing about how she veered the car into a ditch on 26th August, on the road out from Konya in Turkey. Fortunately, neither Colin nor May were hurt and ‘there was not much apparent damage to the car apart from the fact that the gear lever came away in the hand’ on impact (MBA Ref 63, f.669). After a couple of days’ delay waiting for the repair work, they were soon travelling again.

A photograph from another journey to Konya, Turkey, in 1973 captures Beattie’s recording of carpets en route with the carpet photographed while held out in front of a car (MBA Imag 24, f.46).

A photograph from another journey to Konya, Turkey, in 1973 captures Beattie’s recording of carpets en route with the carpet photographed while held out in front of a car (MBA Imag 24, f.46).

At the front of her 1965 diary May filed correspondence with museums and collectors that she hoped to visit, sent in advance of their journey. Her diary notes list her encounters with museums, religious buildings and members of the community as well as detailed descriptions of rugs inspected, offering insight into particular carpets, but also into her life as a researcher in the 1960s. For example, a local doctor is very helpful following a visit to a bishop’s house in Romania in early August (MBA Ref 63, f.609):

Pure gold was forthcoming – an official list of the numbers of rugs and fragments at present in the Evangelical churches. This was more than I hoped for, and luckily the typewriter was in the car so that I got to work in the office and copied the list and such correspondence as was relevant.

The thoughtful doctor also provided ‘a letter to look at church rugs, which will allay the fears of the good ladies with the keys, who naturally think it odd that anyone should want to spend a day making notes on rugs’ and the nearby museum allowed her ‘to take small pieces of rug’ (MBA Ref 63, f.609). Textile fragments from another part of the archive are labelled with the same town names as on her 1965 trip – these notes could potentially provide provenance and further contextualization to the material. Beattie built up an extensive collection of such carpet samples, creating a useful resource for today’s researchers, especially as non-destructive methods of analysis are preferred these days for museum artefacts with restrictions on destructive sampling.

This box holds over seven hundred individually-labelled envelopes containing tufts and threads of carpets collected by May Beattie from carpets in museums and field sites on her travels across Europe. A similar box contains a further four hundred samples from rugs in Central Asia, the United States and the Middle East. Both are in the process of being rehoused.

This box holds over seven hundred individually-labelled envelopes containing tufts and threads of carpets collected by May Beattie from carpets in museums and field sites on her travels across Europe. A similar box contains a further four hundred samples from rugs in Central Asia, the United States and the Middle East. Both are in the process of being rehoused.

In another research stop-off, Beattie found a Dr Ditroi ‘quite charming’ in facilitating her research: ‘I spent an hour on the floor of his office looking at rugs – a perfectly good but coarse Lotto, kileem style, and a ‘Tintoretto’ type – very odd’ (MBA Ref 63, f. 598). She also recorded her frustrations and the effects of her perseverance in attempting to access some museum stores: one custodian ‘klinked his keys’ and ‘bristled with indignation’ at her persistent determination to visit Turcoman rugs (MBA Ref 63, f. 596). Walking round museums Beattie also noted paintings depicting carpets – an ongoing activity that would build up into her ‘Rugs in Pictures’ image index that makes up seven out of the seventy-five boxes of the total IMAG archive material and over 1,300 folios.

All of May’s diary entries were typed out on the move after long days of viewing carpets, with accommodation often little more than a tent, making the detail included even more remarkable. May did take a short break from research, over two-thirds of the way into their trip – it seems mainly at Colin’s request – to enjoy the scenery of Kuşadası Bird Island, near Ephesus, for a couple of days. They then set off again driving north round to Greece, and on to museum visits in Florence and Milan in Italy. Finally, the last sentence of her travel diary on 9th September 1965, writing from Milan, records her hunting for a different kind of textile: ‘To-morrow we must search out woollen clothes for we are back to northern Europe and its rain and cold’ (MBA Ref 63, f.703).

Katherine Clough
Beattie Archive Assistant
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

All images taken by author © Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology