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Isabelle Chaligne – V&A blogpost

March 3, 2017

The Ardabil Carpet

The Ardabil Carpet was completed in 1539-40 by Iranian artisans; it was commissioned by members of the court of the Safavid dynasty to lay in the shrine of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili, a great Sufi leader, founder of the dynasty, in Ardabil with another similar carpet. The carpet has great value as it is one of the largest and oldest carpets in the museum. It is of great historical significance because of its important commissioners. It is also representative of high quality craftsmanship at the time as the dense knotting technique is hard to achieve, especially on such large scale and with such symmetry.

The V&A presents the carpet as one of the most valuable items in the Jameel Gallery. This is made evident through its display; it is placed in the centre of the room and is treated with a lot of care. A large glass casing is kept over it to protect it and to allow the viewer to see it as if it was placed on the floor, as it would have been seen in the shrine. The very fine glass was created to protect the carpet from damage but also allows the viewer to see it well with few reflections. For maintenance reasons, the carpet is lit for 10 minutes every half hour. By choosing to exhibit this particular object in this way, the V&A positions itself as an institution that values the conservation and presentation of its collection as well as educating its public.

Many books in relation to the carpet are placed next to the seating area next to the carpet. There are explanations concerning the history and production of the carpet. The museum label for the object focusses more on the history and origins of the object which is quite conventional, the design aspect is not the main focus but is not completely neglected either. The carpet is praised for being one of the oldest carpets in existence and for its quality and rarity. In the side books, the court official in charge of the production is mentioned as well as the weavers, the techniques used in production are well described.

The purchase of the carpet reflects some of the colonialist approach of the museum. The carpet had to be sold after an earthquake in 1843 to fun the reparations of the shrine. After being bought by an Auction from Manchester and being past through a couple others during a couple decades, the V&A finally purchased it in 1893 for the 2000 pounds. It was only after 2006 that the carpet was placed on the floor instead of the wall, which in my opinion, rendering it full justice. The museum is very discreet about the fact that the museum bought the carpet for quite a small sum when putting its rarity and quality into perspective. If the ethos of the museum was really the conservation of works, it would seem appropriate to help with the renovation of the shrine that was forced to sell the carpet.

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