Some of the earliest vase designs are extremely intricate, with a plethora of blossoms, leaves and trees in brilliant colours. One example is the spectacular fragment exhibited in Milan in 1981 (Il Tappeto Orientale dal XV al XVIII secolo, London, 1981, no.26, p.88), which closely relates to the Corcoran "vase" carpet (Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl.1234). Two fragments of a carpet with a slightly later version of a similar design, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the Burrell Collection Glasgow, were exhibited in 1976 (May Beattie, Central Persian Carpets, exhibition catalogue, Birmingham and Sheffield, 1976, nos 18 and 19). From these extremely complex designs various elements appear to have been used in later carpets to create different effects.
The designs on these two carpets were simplified and clarified in a spectacular carpet now in the Gulbenkian Collection (Persian Art, Calouste Gulbenkian Collection, Lisbon, 1972, no.30; Le ciel dans un tapis, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2004, no,52, pp.188-9). This has spectacular swirling scrolling saz leaves enclosing palmettes on a near black ground. Further related examples are known where the palmettes have greater prominence, becoming more static in appearance, such as one now in the Khalili Collection (Il Tappeto Orientale, pl.25, p.87 and cover; J. M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam, Masterpieces from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, Abu Dhabi, 2008, no.400, pp.336-7), and the carpet formerly in the collection of Mrs Brown (Pope, op.cit, pl.1236).
An interesting feature of these last three carpets is that they all split the curving serrated leaves into two or three colours, running longitudinally. The de Behague carpet uses exactly this tripartite division of the leaves, but the designers have worked out an arrangement that makes the blossoms completely secondary to the leaves. It is no longer the powerful scrolling of individual leaves that creates the energy of the design; here it is the rhythm set up by the interlocking leaves. Their stems and the drawing of the individual plants growing from each end of the carpet create one rhythm, but the colouring, which makes facing leaves from two different plants still have the same colours, creates the counterpoint. It is an apparently simple but wonderfully satisfying design.
It is also a carpet which can claim to be the earliest design which can clearly be demonstrated to be a prototype for the most popular Persian carpet design of all - the so-called herati pattern. A comparison of the design on this carpet with that on the field of the early Qashqai rug in this sale, lot 136, shows leaves with very similar tripartite division, but with the extra section where the stem joins which makes them look like fish - hence "mahi" design. In both versions they flank a small rosette flowerhead. The stems alternate small palmettes and rosette flowerheads. Even the little two leaves are there below each of the palmettes on the main stems. Here then is an example of yet another Kirman "vase" design which was to be come hugely influential in later carpet design.
Martine Marie Pol, Comtesse de Béhague, formed a renowned collection which included spectacular Antiquities, a very good selection of Islamic Art, and a number of both European and Oriental Carpets. Much of the collection was dispersed in two sales at her death in 1927 and 1928, but this carpet was not included. Pope seemed to think that it was still in the family collection, which had been passed on to her husband the Marquis de Ganay. Indications are that this outstanding carpet was sold from the collection at some stage between the 1930s and 1950s.
This carpet provides yet another piece of evidence for the theory that the weavers of Kirman in the seventeenth century were the most inventive and influential of all carpet designers in the history of the Persian carpet. Its design is a wonderful synthesis and distillation of some of the earlier "vase" designs into something that has huge charm, subtelty and balance, combined into a deceptive simplicity.
A KIRMAN 'VASE' CARPET
Please note that the present carpet is illustrated in Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl.1232.
THE COMTESSE DE BEHAGUE VASE CARPET
17th Century, overall, carpet, Rugs & Carpets, rugs & carpets, wool, Persia, Safavid (1506-1722)
Rugs & Carpets
11ft.1in. x 5ft. (339cm. x 153cm.)
Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl.1232