‘Polonaise’ carpet, cotton warp, cotton and silk wefts, silk pile asymmetrically knotted; gilt- and silver-metal thread brocading, 236.2 x 143.5 cm (93 x 56 1/2 in.), The Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund, Inv. No. 1926.533.
Silk, Silver, and Gold: Safavid ‘Polonaise’ Carpets in Context
In the seventeenth century, Safavid carpets of silk, silver, and gold held places of honour from the palaces of Isfahan to the Danish throne room to the halls of Versailles. Today, these carpets still hold great esteem, fetching high prices at auction and featuring prominently in museum galleries of Islamic art. Despite their prominence in the history of the medium, so-called ‘Polonaise’ carpets have been subject to much misreading and misinterpretation due to conservation problems and sparse documentation of their production and use. Because of their distinct aesthetics and popularity across European courts, it is often suggested that these carpets were designed specifically to suit European tastes, an idea contradicted by their importance as palace furnishings and gifts to shrines in Safavid Iran itself. This lecture will present a critical reinterpretation of this significant group of carpets, considering both their Iranian contexts and their impressive reach as royal gifts and foreign commissions.
Margaret Squires is a PhD candidate at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she is writing her dissertation on the relationships between Safavid carpets and architecture. Prior to starting her PhD, she was the Curatorial Assistant for Art of the Islamic Worlds at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She holds a BA in Middle Eastern languages and literatures from the University of Virginia and an MA in the history of art from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.