Textile (termeh cloth)

This large textile is known in Persian as termeh, a cloth used primarily for royal garments in the Qajar era (1779–1925). Dateable to the late nineteenth century, the handwoven silk and wool fabric was probably made in Yazd, a city in central Iran famous for its textile production.

The paisley motif (boteh) was the most common design for termeh. This tear-shaped pattern had originated in pre-Islamic Iran and regained popularity in the sixteenth century. From there, it spread to India. Mughal emperors promoted and exported textiles decorated with paisley, which were appreciated in Europe and Britain in particular. Paisley, a town in Scotland, became the center of European production for shawls after 1800 and ultimately gave the motif its English name.

Back in Iran, intricately designed termeh fabrics with paisley motifs enjoyed another revival in the nineteenth century, particularly under Nasir al-Din Shah (reigned 1848–­96). The vivid background colors were typically jujube red, light red, green, or orange, as this piece exemplifies.

The prestige of termeh in Iran is evident from late nineteenth-century photographs. In images with courtiers, only the shah wears a jacket made of termeh. The fabric, however, was also favored for robes of honor (khil‘at), which the ruler would bestow on members of the nobility and high-ranking officials. Such garments were traditionally offered during the New Year (Nowruz) festivities.

After the fall of the Qajar dynasty in 1925, termeh lost its royal cache. Now mechanically woven in wool, it was produced in greater quantity and became more affordable. One of its most common uses was as a cover of different sizes. This example comprises a dozen fragments of the same fabric, which have been sewn together in such a way that the seams are barely visible. There is little doubt the original cloth was in fact a large robe of honor that was eventually cut and remounted into a table cover. The inscription with numerals in the white embroidered medallion indicates the fabric’s workshop, which still needs to be identified.

Textile (termeh cloth)
Iran, probably Yazd, ca. 1875–1900
Wool and silk
246 × 117 cm (96 7/8 × 46 1/16 in)
Gift of Nader Ahari in memory of Nahid Ahari
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S2017.14