Museum Musings at the Victoria & Albert

Largest, Oldest, Most Famous. These adjectives catch my attention. Continuing on this thread of new Islamic art wings at major museums (the Louvre, The Met), we’ve crossed the channel to London’s Victoria and Albert. The centerpiece to the Jameel Gallery of Islamic art, which opened in July 2006, is just that: The largest, the oldest signed, and undoubtedly the most famous Persian carpet in the world. Behold the Ardabil Carpet.

When William Morris, an art referee for the museum at the time (and the grandfather of textile design), first saw the Ardabil carpet in 1893 he was smitten, describing it as “the most remarkable work of art … the design is of singular perfection …”, banging on in delirious delight. Morris didn’t know that it was one of a pair (the other of which is at LACMA in Los Angeles, and was at one point in JP Getty’s possession).

Measuring 10.51m x 5.34m (34.4 x 17.6 feet), it has over 26 million knots of silk and wool. The pair took more than 4 years to weave and were laid on the floor of the burial place of Shaikh Safi al-Din, the founder of the Safavid Dynasty. They were in the mosque of Arbadil (NW Persia) from 1539-40, when they were made on royal commission, till 1890 when they left Iran for England. The inscription of the weaver (who wasn’t really a slave, but probably using the word in humility)

I have no refuge in the world other than thy threshold.

There is no protection for my head other than this door.

The work of the slave of the threshold Maqsud of Kashan in the year 946 (Muslim calendar).

After years of having it hanging from the wall, the Jameel Gallery had it restored outdoors near Wales. A slanted platform was made for it to rest and fresh river water, which is low in minerals there apparently, washed it clean. For some reason this amazes me the most about the Ardabil carpet – that it wasn’t cleaned in a scientist’s restoration lab. It is no longer hanging, but flat, and the V&A have a high-tech non-reflective whoosiwhatsit suspended above it so to protect the 10 colours from damage. Every half hour a dim light is switched on to illuminate it. A precious flash to behold this singular perfection.

The idea here is that the more you read of this THATLou blog, the more likely you’ll be to find hints to existing THATLou treasure… The more you read, the more you’ll win. This Ardabil carpet, however, is an exception. Not only would it be too easy to find in a THATVA, it is too fine to take photos of. Something sacred to even the THATLou gods!

Except for the NY Times photo, all other photos were taken from the V&A.


12 thoughts on “Museum Musings at the Victoria & Albert

  1. Great post!
    If you’re ever in Istanbul, I’d recommend a visit to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Its not as sophisticated as some European Museums, but the works they have are amazing and the building itself (an Ottoman vizier’s palace) is as much a part of the collections as all of the pieces.

  2. Marissa,
    Thank you for the recommendation. It’s funny you should mention this, because we’re planning on going to Turkey this spring. Will certainly look up the museum — in the Vizier’s palace, no less!

  3. I love this blog. Thanks for sharing your musings. 🙂 I’m so impressed with THATLou – was just bragging to my friends here in California about how cool you are for setting it up! I hope one day to be able to do it with you! xxx

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