Iran, Safavid period, first half of 17th century
Cotton warp and weft, wool pile
H × W: 256 × 148.6 cm
Gift of the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (William A. Clark Collection)
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S2018.18

In the early sixteenth century, the Portuguese captured the island of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and began to export Persian carpets to Europe. At first, these luxury items were reserved exclusively for the Portuguese court; but by the seventeenth century, Safavid carpets, such as this fine example, also became available to members of the European aristocracy, especially in Portugal and the Netherlands. Admired for their rich colors, intricate patterns, and luxurious surfaces, Persian carpets became a coveted status symbol and were frequently depicted in paintings of the period. These representations have helped scholars to date them more precisely and determine their international cultural and economic significance.

The growing popularity of Safavid red-ground carpets in Europe meant that in the seventeenth century, Mughal India began to produce similar ones. The Indian examples are almost identical to the Persian in both colors and design and, consequently, the entire group has been referred to as “Indo-Persian.” In recent years, however, scholars have looked beyond the carpets’ appearances to analyze their structure. According to recent studies, the warp or vertical threads of the Indian examples always consist of white or off-white cotton, which itself comprises six or more individual threads twisted in a clockwise direction, conventionally known as a Z twist. In Persian carpets, the warps can be cotton or silk in various colors—though never white or off-white—and the material consists of fewer twisted Z strands. The weft or horizontal threads of Persian carpets also show greater variety than those of their Indian counterparts. This carpet falls into the Persian category.