Heriz “Serapi”, Northwest Persia. Ca 1880
Size: 470 x 364 cm
BEIRUT - LEBANON THE COVER ISSUE 170 WINTER 2011
SILK SAMITE FRAGMENT WITH FELINES, GRIFFINS AND FLOWERS (DETAIL) Central Asia or Eastern Iran, 12th/13th century. Textiles from along the Silk Road play an important role in the new permanent exhibition at The Abegg Foundation in Riggisberg, Switzerland, which reopened after rebuilding in September 2011 (see pp.96-99). This previously unpublished early silk is one of numerous textiles from the Abegg’s holdings on display for the first time in the new installation.
Cloth-of-gold typically comes to mind when thinking of early Central Asian or Mongol silk textiles, but this samite fragment shows that there were other weavings of enormous appeal with striking colours and lively designs. Composed of two joined fragments, it originally must have been from a garment consisting of an upper part and a skirt with a densely pleated waist. The pattern shows a red arabesque scroll inhabited by felines, griffins and flowers in red, brown, white, and light blue against a yellow ground. The rampant felines with collars and the winged griffins are displayed in rows. There are two further fragments of this silk garment in the David Collection, Copenhagen (12/2002), one of which has a faux- inscription band whose text in mirror-reverse is woven in silvered lamella spun around silk (Sheila Blair & Jonathan Bloom, Cosmophilia, Boston 2006, no.92). Asian silk weavings of this kind must have been known to Italian weavers of the 14th century and inspired them to create similar patterns. Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg, 5326a-b
Kurdish ‘Garden’ carpet, northwest Persia, second half 18th century. Asymmetrically knotted wool pile on a cotton foundation, 1.90 x 3.13m (6'3" x 10'3"). Formerly Carl Robert Lamm Collection, Stockholm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of James F. Ballard, 1922, 22.100.128
AT THE HEART OF THIS ISSUE is the opening of the new galleries for Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum after a refit costing $50 million and taking eight years. I say Islamic art galleries out of habit since they are now known as the Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia, a name that reflects the complexity of the art on display. The nature of the material shown has not changed but the way in which it is approached has over the intervening period, and the Met has chosen, rightly, to contribute to the ongoing debate about how the art of this region and provenance should be labelled.
Although some people may see the name changing and debate about what to call the subject area as semantic acrobatics or simply political correctness, the galleries open at a time of heightened political sensitivity about Islam and the attempt of the museum to present, as Director Thomas Campbell says, “a revised perspective on this important collection” in galleries that “evoke the plurality of the Islamic tradition”, recognises the significance of the reopening, and the important didactic role that the US’s foremost collection of Islamic art has to play. That having been said, I hope that by the time that the galleries are due to change again the rather cumbersome acronym, ALTICALSA has not caught on worldwide.
The galleries are spectacular, as are the works of art. The addition of 4,000 square feet has had a magnificent effect and the space seems almost to have doubled as there is now a clear circuit to take. There seems to be more light than one is used to in galleries with textiles and carpets on view and not behind glass. The unobtrusive hanging system for the large carpets made the temptation to touch them when no-one was looking, almost unbearable for me. The colour and warmth they add to the overall display, and the huge galleries, makes it obvious how and why these objects were so vital in the planning process, and demonstrates, with reference to both scale and artistry, why the grand carpets were considered so important during the cultural periods when they were made.
Not having been to either Qatar or Copenhagen, I cannot make comparisons, but I was left feeling that there could have been more dramatic tension in the galleries, a little more theatre to offer startlingly new perspectives on the material. That is not to say that this is not a hugely successful installation, something that is clearly evidenced by the positive reviews throughout the media and the large numbers of people visiting. The new cycles of rugs to be put on display will be featured in the pages of HALI, and it will be interesting to see how non-classical rugs from the museum’s collection fit into the spaces. I hope that the Hagop Kevorkian special exhibition gallery will one day play host to a show combining the Met’s fine Turkmen rugs with jewellery from the Wolf ’s collection.
Celebrations of the new galleries in New York, and also in Riggisberg, where the Abegg Stiftung has emerged with a dramatic new installation of early textiles, are complemented in this issue by the the late Christine Klose’s work on Safavid ‘spiral vine carpets with animals’, including the Met’s Emperors’ carpet. This remarkable piece of careful detective work was described by at least one person as a “good old fashioned rug article”. I hope that our publication is a fitting dedication to her tenacity, memory and work.
On a final sad note, we also mourn Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, whose major contribution to the textile art world as both scholar and dealer will be remembered more fully in the next issue.
Ben Evans Editor
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