Carpets in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Apollo 2003, Nov, 158, 501
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The Victoria and Albert Museum's current exhibition, 'Gothic: Art for England 1400 1547, includes a faithful copy of Holbein's lost portrait of Henry VIII standing proudly on a universal symbol of wealth and prestige--a Turkish carpet; in this case the type known as a star Ushak, woven in Anatolia. An inventory from Windsor Castle shows that he owned at least five hundred oriental carpets. In 1520, Cardinal Wolsey purchased sixty Turkish carpets, together with a considerable quantity of wine, which were both part of a consignment of goods from the Maggior Consiglio of Venice. The 'Gothic' exhibition also features a triptych by Memling from the National Gallery, depicting the Virgin standing on a different type of Anatolian rug, which shows a pattern of distinctive hooked medallions now known as 'Memling guy (gul is Turkish for rose). Over time, as carpet studies have progressed, various oriental patterns have come to be named after the European artists who employed them symbolically and decoratively in their paintings, cases in point being Holbein, Crivelli, Lotto, and Bellini. The Victoria and Albert Museum's collection of carpets includes its stars--a number of celebrated masterpieces, of which the most notable are the Ardabil (Fig. 1), the Fremlin (Fig. 2), and the Salting carpets (1)--a selection of intriguing fragments, and elegant examples of the type of carpets which would cause flurries of excitement and interest if they appeared on the present-day marketplace. There are also several quite run-of-the-mill rugs, which are nevertheless extremely useful for study purposes. The majority of the nineteenth-century carpets were acquired when they were new or almost new. In the nineteenth century it was unusual for museums to collect "modern' carpets, but contemporary textiles have always been fundamental to the vision of the V&A. The Museum was established in 1852 to promote the principles of good design and to serve as a source of inspiration for designers and the creative industries. As a result, the Museum collected carpets that fulfilled its criteria for functional rug design, and there was a clear preference for Persian carpets because they were considered to be independent of European influence. Of the V&A's carpet collection, 34% is Persian, 18% Turkish, 16% Caucasian, 18% Central Asian, 8% Indian, and 6% East Turkestsan/Chinese. Unfortunately a lot of V&A carpet cataloguing remains vague and nineteenth century in outlook: categorising a piece as 'woollen rug--Persia' is no longer good enough. Carpet studies have advanced a great deal, especially in the past thirty years, and these developments need to be incorporated. At one point, technical analysis seemed to be an end in itself, and no discussion of rugs could take place without mention of z-spun or s spun, but this can become eye glazingly tedious and is of limited value unless the information that has been collected is properly interpreted. Jennifer Wearden's new book, 'Oriental Carpets and their Structure--Highlights from the V&A Collection' sets out to present, in admirably simple style and with clearly drawn illustrations, an analysis of the structural principles that determine the design of oriental carpets, using the V&A's holdings as examples. The plates are arranged, rather loosely, by design, rather than--as is usually done--by geographical region or culture, the intention being to illustrate the similarities and differences between carpets from different cultures. It is a popular misconception that the Koran forbids the representation of living creatures. Yet any examination of Islamic art reveals it to be populated by a delightful array of animals and humans. In fact, this prohibition is not mentioned in the Koran but appears in the Hadith, the sayings of Mohammed which were compiled by his followers, sometimes many years after his death. The ban is, however, respected for objects intended for religious use, in order to avoid any conc
- Category: Performing Arts
- Published: 01 November 2003
- Publisher: Apollo Magazine Ltd.
- Print Length: 10 Pages
- Language: English
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