European visitors to Persia in the seventeenth century commented specifically on the richness of the silk textiles and carpets. John Fryer in 1676 notes that Isfahan had special bazaars handling the sale of rugs "both woolen and silk, intermixed with Gold and Silver, very costly, with are the peculiar manufacture of this country" (quoted by M.S. Dimand and Jean Mailey, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, p.59). Sir John Chardin, who visited Persia between 1666 and 1672, also noted that the workshops were allowed, when they had time, to work for other clients as well as the Shah. A large proportion of "Polonaise" carpets made at the time ended up in Europe. Some were directly commissioned, such as a group of eight carpets ordered by Sigismund Vasa III of Poland in 1601. These appear to have been delivered in 1602, some or all of which then passed by marriage into the Wittelsbach family and are now in the Residenz Museum in Munich. Others were given as diplomatic gifts by the Shah, such as one given in 1603 to Marino Grimani, the Doge of Venice, "to become part of the treasury" where it still remains. Further examples survived into this century in the collections of the Kings of Denmark, the Habsburgs in Austria, the Czartoryskis in Poland, the Grand Dukes of Liechtenstein, and the royal house of Savoy in Italy.
There is a major development of carpet design in 'Polonaise' carpets. Until this point Persian carpets would have one colour for the ground of the field, maybe another for the medallion, and maybe another, or, rarely, a reciprocal design of two colours, for the border. The earliest Kashan silk and metal thread carpets follow the same concept, usually with monochrome metal-thread fields (Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pls.1242 and 1243 for example). Very shortly after this the designers began using the irregularly shaped panels formed by the scrolling arabesques to create different fields, each of which would have a different ground colour. The border in this carpet demonstrates this feature very well. The inner and outer "ground" colours are slightly different, a difference that was probably more marked when the rug was made. The panels between them are coloured in light blue, pale apricot and silver thread to create a counterpoint of blocks of colour. From a design point all of these could be considered to be the same "ground" and therefore have the same colour.
The same feature is used in the field, although it is not so obvious due to the oxidation of the metal. The central medallion was golden thread while the area around this was silver thread. The divisions are created by arabesques that issue from the small central flowerhead. This medallion outline design is overlaid on top of the finer scrolling tendrils that cover the field. But in a similar way to the colouring in the border, these tendrils themselves change from a dark to a light blue when they cross the boundary into the medallion. Very similar effects of colouration and design are found in another 'Polonaise' rug in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Jennifer Weardon, Oriental Carpets and their Structure, London, 1999, pl.84). This independence of colouration from the drawing of the design elements is one of the most remarkable developments in 'Polonaise' carpets.
The condition of the present rug is remarkable. It even retains the black outlines that lend a clarity to the design so often no longer visible in Polonaise rugs.
A SILK AND METAL-THREAD 'POLONAISE' RUG
Areas of wear, corroded silver and gold metal-thread, ends secured
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1966.
Rugs & Carpets
7ft.11in. x 4ft.4in. (241cm. x 132cm.)
Maurice S. Dimand, The Kevorkian Foundation Collection of Rare and Magnificent Oriental Carpets, Special Loan Exhibition, New York, 1966, cat.no.1.
The Kevorkian Foundation, sold Sotheby's, 5 December 1969, lot 5, thence by direct descent to the present owner.