Volume VI Number 2
field ought to have a venerated icon or two, all the better with
a dollop of mystery. Ergo the twin Ardebil carpets of c. 1540: too
many, too big, too uncertain a provenance. Inquiry into the Victoria
and Albert's acquisition documentation (1) is perfectly fair
game, as is archeology, the standard in this latter regard having
been set some time ago by A. H. Morton. (2)
The two flying Dutchmen, Cornelis De Bruyn and Jan van Struys,
are among the players in the Shrine story. Both have written accounts
which are inaccurately translated, especially into English. (That
of Struys is particularly so in its textile terms.) They bear further
inspection in the Dutch.
On September 15, 1703, in Ardebil, De Bruyn extended his list of
shrine visits by viewing the mausoleum of "Sefi", that
part of the Ardebil complex containing the tombs of several Persian
Shahs. He placed rugs and mats throughout, and noted a large apartment
which had a floor covered with rugs: "This place is 52 feet
[voeten] long, and 34 wide". (3) A central fact about
De Bruyn was a compulsion for measurement, and he measured most
of the architecture which he described. The dimensions of this particular
room are straight-forward, and it is large.
Struys was in Ardebil at a somewhat earlier date, and offers a detailed
description of the Shrine complex, per a visit on November 13, 1671.
Some key observations of his walking tour are "striking carpets"
in the first of the two rooms with green and blue mosaic floor,
a "gallery which was covered with carpets", and a hall
with a "vaulted roof" with dimensions of "eight fathoms
[48 feet] long and five [30 feet] broad." (4)
A trouble is Struys plagiarizing of Adam Olearius's description.
But the primary issue is the reliability of the Struys tale, for
it is by an order of magnitude the wildest, grisliest, and luridest
of the 17th century travel accounts. Flamboyant events -- his slavery,
executions by beheading and flaying, and the like -- and ordinary
matters both, however, do have an authentic ring. While there may
be question about the relative mix of observation and imagination
flowing from the Struys pen, on balance it is necessary to conclude
that he did in fact visit the places he describes.
It is useful to pay attention to the Netherlanders' dimensions,
especially De Bruyn's, and to their textile artifact citations.
Room sequencing (manfully struggled with by Morton) and thus locations
of particular objects are best put aside. The accounts apparently
indicate the existence of both a space large enough to accommodate
a large carpet, and of high grade carpeting. But there are, of course,
complications. Observer error heads the list, and ambiguity is not
far behind. It is the case, for example, that the big arched roof
room is the one place where Struys did not mention floor furnishings.
Oversight? Cramped fingers? No carpets?
The accounts also must be balanced against an archeological inference
that a room of appropriately large dimension was lacking, and the
fact that an 18th century inventory seemingly does not include the
There is also the matter of the apparent need to collocate the two
carpets. The Dutchmen were indefatigable visitors and De Bruyn went
to the near-by shrine of Safavid progenitor "Seid Ibrahim",
itself no minor place. Here is a particular from this description:
"...a nice room...large and roomy, laid with carpets and in
a second antechamber "a beautiful apartment...all over the
ground there being carpets, striped cloths or mats." (5) He
does not give a room dimension, only that of one of the buildings
(not a likely carpet site) which, on the interpretation of the word
schrede as a pace consisting of a single step, is 100 feet
by 77 feet.
The existence of another major shrine nearby suggests a possible
alternative to the simple assumption that both carpets had to have
been in the Ardebil complex.
An occasional element in the mists shrouding the Ardebil carpet
is speculation. There is, for example, the assertion that such valuable
items would not have been made in nor intended for the Ardebil Shrine
inasmuch as it was then a war zone. So to assert is to assume the
burden of knowing the nature of 16th century Middle East warfare.
Research Report is lacking in this department, but it does
have a datum, John Chesneau' s account of the Turkish expedition
against Tabriz in 1548, which he accompanied. He reported that the
Shah and the Persians fled the city "with their furnishings
and merchandize" and left behind only "the poorest workers
". Looting started but was stopped by the Sultan. (6)
To the extent to which struggles between Shah and Sultan were
spasmodic the assertion that war precluded the weaving of quality
items commissioned for major religious shrines in the Safavid fountainhead
is a little suspect. As with most things, it does not do to project
a modern concept into a different context.
Dutchmen and digs and their strengths and imprecisions aside, in
the end it is Ockam's Razor which is central, for the simple explanation
is the most powerful. Mention in the 1840's of a dated carpet --
"the faded remains", not, as some would have it, "fragments"
-- at the Ardebil Shrine must control with respect to the carpet
in the Victoria and Albert. The mystery remains as to what could
have been in Ardebil in the 16th century; the Dutch accounts suggest
that in the late 17th century there were rooms and stuffs enough.
Martin E., "The Ardabil Puzzle", Textile Museum Journal,
1984, p. 47-49.
A. H., "The Ardabil Shrine in the Reign of Shah Tahmasp I",
IRAN, Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies,
first part, 1974, continuation, 1975.
- De Bruyn,
Cornelis, Reizen, Amsterdam, 1721, p. 119. Translation
Jan J., Drie Aaninerkelijke en seer rampspoedige reysen...,
Amsterdam, 1676, pp. 307/309. Translation C. Kruytbosch.
- De Bruyn,
op. cit., p. 110. Translation, C. Kruytbosch.
John, Le Voyage de Monsieur D'Aramon, annotated by Chas.
Schefer, Paris, 1887, p. 83/4. Research Report translation.
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