The Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures is proud to open its doors with an exhibition dedicated to one of the best-known forms of Islamic art – carpets. The name of the exhibition – “Knots” has various meanings. Carpets tie together East and West, as well as past and present.
Knotting is one method of weaving rugs, when the weft threads are tied over the warp. Most of the carpets exhibited here are weft carpets woven in this manner.
Rugs and textiles hold a major place in Islamic and Near Eastern cultures – at home, in royal surroundings as well as in a religious context. Rugs are pivotal in the Muslim prayer ritual and therefore prayer rugs are a personal item in daily use to this day. In the nomadic culture tents were carpeted with woven mats and embroideries, and woven textiles and rugs covered the floors and the walls of mosques and palaces. Beginning in the Middle Ages, carpets were also exported to Europe as luxury products.
In the medieval Muslim Empire woven rugs were commissioned by rulers, whose wealth was measured among other things by the quantity of rugs and textiles they possessed. Rulers and religious leaders were depicted in portraits seated on magnificent rugs.
The earliest archaeological finding of a complete carpet was made in 1949 in Pazyryk in southern Siberia, in an ancient tomb from the fifth century BCE – its dense weave reveals techniques that were well developed even then.
As early as the eighth century BCE written sources from Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia and Iran describe the use of carpets. One of the most famous carpets mentioned in these sources is the “Spring of Khusrau”, a Persian carpet from the palace of the Sasanian King Khusrau I, who ruled from 531 to 579 CE. This huge carpet, woven in silk, embroidered with silver and gold threads and adorned with jewels, did not survive.
The exhibition “Knots” presents carpets from Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus, from the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, on loan from museums and private collections. They are divided into three groups: prayer rugs, garden carpets and medallion carpets. The source of inspiration for some of these carpets is presented alongside them – the mosque building and its furnishings, book bindings and Quran manuscripts. The exhibit also presents a 17th-century Dutch still life, showing an oriental carpet among the items on a table, the place of the carpet in European art reveals its popularity as a luxury item in the West. Carpets are still important in daily life today – both in the design of the modern home and as a luxury item. The exhibition also presents video installations and contemporary artistic photographs in which the carpet continues to maintain its centrality, both in traditional and modern society.