Volume IV No.3
It may well
be that merchants offer the best rug data, and the account of Jean
Baptiste Tavernier is one of the best. A dealer in jewels, he spent
forty years in travel to the East: 1631--1633; 1638--1643; 1644--1648;
1651--1655; 1657--?; and, 1664--1668. The Tavernier narrative is
digressive but has its logic, and appears in three pieces -- Nouvelle
Relation (Turkey) in 1675, Six Voyages (Persia and India)
in 1676, and Recueil (Far East) in 1679. These volumes have
been reissued over the years in various languages. But there is
no faithful text in modern French, and no accurate English version.
Indeed, the Tavernier volumes in French and English are to some
extent an edited pastiche with, for the rug student, serious flaws.
One must, therefore, deal with original versions published by Tavernier.
establishes that weaving was a component of a Shah's extensive textile
and non-textile product line: "The karkrone is the royal
manufacturing house, in which they work on handsome rugs of gold
and silver, of silk and wool, brocarts [silk fabric] of gold and
silver, velvets and taffetas of several sorts." (2) Since the
Tavernier accounts are not chronological, and many chapters have
no geographic referent, assignment of dates and locations is tenuous.
From the context, however, it seems to be the case that the royal
enterprise being described is at Ispahan fairly early in the reign
of Shah Abbas II. What matters most, however, is the range of textile
product and the details concerning carpets.
from time to time comments on the commercial weaving activity of
a particular location.
woolen carpets are made at Vettapour [Fatehpur, India], 12 coss
[23 mi.] from [WSW] Agra." (3)
in general] "...excellent workers for products of gold, silver
and silk, as are these rich rugs and these handsome brocarts [silk
fabric partly of gold or silver thread] where the gold and the
silver never blacken and lose any of their brillance to time."
wool] "...that the biggest part of these wools are to be
found in the Province of Kerman...[the best in the neighboring
mountains]...they do not dye these wools at all [which are]. .of
a clear brown [and] of an ash grey...[with] very little white...[much
more expensive], because the Moufis, the Mullahs, and other people
of the Law wear only white at their waists, and for the veils
with which they cover the head in their prayers..."(5)
"For what there is of work in silk and other manufactures,
it is not done at all, neither in the city nor in the surrounding
"But there is abundance of workers in silk [from Gilian]
that are skilled, and beautiful stuffs, and there are more of
those than any other type of artisan." (7)
"There is in Cashan an abundance of workers in silk who work
well, and who make all sorts of brocar[t]s of gold and silver,
the most beautiful that come out of Persia." (8)
"The principal artisans and who are the most numerous, are
workers in silk and those who make wool chamlets [fabrics]..."
"...a great quantity of damasks and fustians [cotton fabric],
which they transport to Cairo, and...particularly to Constantinople."
Mesopotamia] "...red Marroquins [sheepskin leather] that
they make at Diarbekir...as much as for color as for texture surpassing
all the others of the Levant."(11)
commerce of Smyrna] "...raw silk which the Armenians bring
out of Persia; thread and wool camelots which come from a little
village called Angouri fifteen or sixteen days from Smyrna; spun
cotton, leathers and cords or marroquins of several colors, cloths
of white and blue cotton, much wool for mattresses, rugs, quilted
exports] "Previously they shipped to Europe large amounts
of brocarts, velvet, and Persian taffeta, and the biggest part
of the velvet went to Moscovy and into Pologne, but today [c.
1675] all its good cloths are in Europe both beautiful and in
much better demand."(13)
spent time on the premises of Shah and Sultan, who, along with their
retinues, were his principal customers. Some observations about
the Ispahan palace are: "the floor covered with a rug of gold
and of silk" (14); "rooms covered with rugs of gold and
of silk" (15); "the floor...covered with rich rugs of
gold and silk made expressly for that place" (16); "three
tigers crouched on rugs of silk" (17); "seated on a square
of gold brocart [which was on] "a magnificent rug" (18);
"a large rug where there was neither flowers, nor figures,
but only several Persian letters which contained something of the
on the Constantinople palace identifies: "many rich rugs which
covered the floor, and squares of gold and silver brocard, of which
some showed an embroidery of pearls" (20); "the base [of
the Divan Hall] covered with a large rug" (21); "a black
velvet with an embroidery of large pearls" (22); "several
old leather rugs which they spread out" (23); "one walks
only on rugs of silk, and the paving-stones of the room are of marble
and also covered with another rug of spun gold, made a bit like
our straw mats and of equal thickness." (24)
concern floor coverings within the Sultan's apartment: "The
squares of marble were not at all visible being covered with a rug
of silk..." (25); "All of the platform is covered with
rich silk rugs..." (26); "one walks only on rich rugs
[in the mosque within the palace and in the Sultan's prayer chamber]..."
(27); "Every three months they clean this room [the Sultan's
bedroom] and change the rug..." (28); "...and the bottom
is covered only with big wool rugs which come from Persia, but which
are richer and.. .value[d] much more than those that are made of
on Persian manufactures includes a religious note:
who make only rings of silver, even though they know also to make
it of gold, because the Persians are not able to make their prayers
when they have gold on them, they wear neither band nor ring of
gold, because it would be too inconvenient to them to take them
off and put them back on several times a day." (30)
of the prayer practice of Mollahs clearly describes prayer artifacts:
spreading out a felt, or if they are poor a simple mat. This felt
is five or six feet long and three wide, and the mullah places
himself at one of the ends for prayer, one sees at the other the
representation of a niche of a different color from that of the
felt, in which he puts a flat stone carried from Mecca, of the
size more or less of the palm of the hand. These mullahs carry
always on them one of these stones, because it being ordained
that they often kiss the ground in their prayers, they prefer
to kiss a stone brought from a place which they hold so sacred
than kissing ordinary earth. They also have for the most part
a little compass which marks precisely the location of Mecca,
so that all mosques face Mecca, as all the Latin christian temples
are turned toward the Levant." (31)
also notes that "in each house there is a basin of water"
to be used for prayer ablutions. (32)
He also visits
and describes the Arbebil Shrine: "It is kept covered with
a red brocart, and the other tombs which accompany it are covered
with the same rich stuff." (33) The shrine complex is also
described, with its mosque and numerous buildings.
Even though space is given to the religious activity of the especially
prayerful Mahomet IV, Turkish religious practice is more weakly
described, largely in terms of prayers and ablutions, with no mention
being made concerning objects on which to pray. The one clear specific
has to do with the nature of the Sultan's annual gift to Mecca"the
rich rug and the superb tent that he sends to the Sheik [of Mecca]
each year to honor the tomb of Mohammed." (34) India's Grand
Mogul similarly sent a "rich rug" as gift. (35)
a textile product is described in some detail:
is in Amadabat [Ahmadabad, India] where, as I have said, there
is made a large amount of these stuffs of gold and silk, silver
and silk, and purely of silk, and carpets of gold, and of silver
and of silk, but the colors of these carpets do not last so long
as those of the carpets which are in Persia. For craftsmanship,
it is good enough. It is for the eye of the Courtier to notice
the size, beauty, and fineness of the work in the carpets worked
with gold and with silver, and he must judge if it is fine and
rich. Finally, as to carpets, and to other stuffs worked with
gold and silver, it is necessary to withdraw several threads to
test them, and to see if they are what they say they are."
"...that on the face [?] of the principal pieces of cloth
the Indians imprint with a block [?] and leaves of gold an Arabesque
flower which occupies the entire piece. If these fabrics are destined
to be carried to France, it is necessary to prevent the workers
from rendering this flower which costs a half paistre, and to
economize this amount from the price of the piece." (37)
utilitarian felt rain hats and cloaks used in Lars province and
made of Kerman wool] "...there are whites, blues, greens,
browns and reds." (38)
is a richly detailed source. While there is some probable hearsay,
for example, an account of Yazd weaving, much of the content is
first-hand observation. Many items can be cross-checked with other
good accounts, for example, Chardin's prayer rug description of
roughly the same time, similarly revealing the use of felts and
mats. Tavernier offers, in brief, a benchmark account.
is the narrative as entity which is perhaps of greatest value. Tavernier's
syntax and diction are almost always clear and his punctuation usually
unambiguous. When he identifies a rug as "of gold and of silk"
he can be taken literally. If he says such rugs are made in India,
it is likely to be so, as is his quality comparison of equivalent
Persian and Indian products. Since he knows in detail the textile
products of the East and consistently speaks in terms of specifics,
Tavernier offers one of the few opportunities for the evidence of
omission; that is, since he describes well, what he does not say
can be given some weight if within a limited context. Carpets are,
unsurprisingly, not a noteworthy item of Persian exports, and are
a subcategory only in an extensive state product line. The implication
is that high grade carpets, while esteemed, were not numerous. And
in his world, where Kabala stones were certainly a feature, pile
rugs are not used for prayer by the priestly class.
de plusiers Relations, bound together with Nouvelle and
Exacte Relation du Serrail du Grand Seigneur, Paris, 1679;
Les Six Voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Paris, 1678,
two volumes. Textile terms rendered from Gottel's Dictionnaire
Universel, 3rd. edition, Paris, 1819, and Richelet's Dictionnaire
Francois, Geneva, 1680. Research Report's translations
Voyages, Vol. I, p. 654.
- Six Voyages,
Vol. II, p. 301.
Voyages, Vol. I, p. 673.
de, p. 418.
Voyages, Vol I, p. 654.
de, p. 498.
Voyages, Vol II, Bk II, Ch 7.
Voyages, Vol I, p. 143.