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A Rare Royal Carpet Sells at Christie’s Auction for GBP 5,442,000

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A rare carpet that once belonged to Emperor Shah Jahan, the 5th emperor of the Mughal Empire, was a part of the Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds live auction at Christie’s London. The brilliant-colored carpet was made in the 17th century with the most luxurious material, pashmina goat hair. The pashmina was woven onto a fine silk foundation with a design featuring the iconic flower styles from the Mughal Era. This exquisite piece is one of only 21 pashminas that exists from the 17th century.  Only four, including this one, exist outside of institutions and museums.

The royal treasure was sold for GBP 5,442,000.

 

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Excerpts from the Christie’s Auction Lot Essay. Visit https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6393461 for the full essay.

The present carpet represents the highest level of production found at the Mughal court in the middle of the 17th century. With knots of pashmina wool, fine goat hair traditionally used to weave shawls in Kashmir and Lahore, and a foundation of silk, the carpet consists of luxury materials. The weave is extremely fine, with an average of 672 knots per square inch. The field pattern involves an elaborate diamond lattice framework of leafy foliage which twists and coils at regular intervals. The lattice forms cartouche-like compartments containing single flowers arranged in a radial formation – lilies (white), sunflowers (yellow), and possibly cockscomb (red, pink, and white) — shown in silhouette on a deep and brilliant crimson-red ground. The main border design features a pattern of reciprocal vines whose curves embrace clusters of unidentified flower blossoms. These vines, also set against a red ground, incorporate miniature stylized cloud wisps derived from Chinese tradition. The main border is framed by identical minor borders consisting of a reciprocal vine bearing small blossoms and leaves. The fine weave allows for the presentation of minute naturalistic details, especially in the blossoms of the flowers, the lattice, and the vine scroll in the main border. The carpet is now almost square but it has been shortened: originally the length was approximately 4.4 meters. Three smaller fragments in public and private collections are probably survivors of a prior campaign to excise areas of damage.

 

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Pashmina

In most rug-weaving cultures, silk is the most valuable and sumptuous fibre available and is thus the one typically employed for the pile of the highest grades of luxury carpets. In Mughal culture, in northern India, this was not the case. The most highly prized fibre for the pile, that part of the carpet one actually had physical contact with and sat or walked on, was not silk but goat hair, pashmina, the undercoat of the Himalayan mountain goat (Capra hircus laniger). The term pashmina derives from pashm, the generic Persian word for all types of wool. It is also known as cashmere wool, as it was associated with Kashmir, famous for its shawls made from this material. But Kashmir was not the source of the wool, it was merely the transfer point for the fibre collected from the mountainous areas surrounding the city. The trade in this highly prized wool was controlled by the maharajah of Kashmir.

Carpets made with pashmina pile are among the finest carpets ever woven. The highest knot count exceeds 2,000 knots per inch, which goes beyond what the eye can “read.” The majority of examples fall between 400 and 1,000 knots per inch; the carpet proposed here has an average of 672 knots per inch. 17th- century examples have silk foundations whose relative fineness, together with the fineness of the knots themselves, enable the weaver to achieve beautiful curved lines as well as highly naturalistic details. Some later pashmina rugs, which fall into a category with small-scale floral patterns (often called millefleur), show some relaxation of standards, with cotton appearing instead of silk in the foundation, resulting in a slightly coarser weave. Some later millefleur rugs have a pile of sheeps wool, not pashmina. This brings up another point, namely that it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish by touch the wool pile of a fine sheeps wool rug versus a “relatively” coarse pashmina pile.

The carpet proposed here has a pashmina pile and silk foundation. A classic feature of 17th- century pashmina carpets is the grouping of warp threads into coloured stripes often visible in the end fringes, which are an extension of the warps. The coloured end fringes are missing in our carpet but they are visible as green, white, and red stripes under very close examination of the piled area, thus confirming that the proposed carpet does indeed belong to this prestigious group. The coloured stripes perhaps aided the weavers in terms of pattern registration or, more likely, the end fringes provided a colourful touch that appealed to the emperor’s personal taste.

 

 

Sources:

9/9/2022 – https://luxurylaunches.com/auctions/this-royal-carpet-from-the-mughal-era-is-all-set-to-be-sold-at-christies-for-a-whopping-4054592.php 
10/10/2022 – https://www.christies.com/features/an-extremely-rare-17th-century-mughal-pashmina-carpet-12416-3.aspx?sc_lang=en
https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6393461

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