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The Design of the Ardabil Carpet

Detail of showing the central medallion, Ardabil Carpet

Detail showing the central medallion, Ardabil Carpet

The entire surface of the Ardabil carpet is covered by a single integrated design - an impressive feat in view of the great size of the carpet. The basic design is relatively simple, and its components are well-balanced. Richness and variety are added by the use of contrasting background colours and the subtle differences between the filler patterns.

The border is composed of four parallel bands. It surrounds a huge rectangular field, which has a large yellow medallion in its centre. The medallion is surrounded by a ring of pointed oval shapes, and a lamp is shown hanging from either end. This centrepiece is matched by four corner-pieces, which are quarters of a similar but simpler composition, without the lamps.

The two lamps

The lamps shown hanging from the centrepiece are of different sizes. Some people think this was done to create a perspective effect - if you sat near the small lamp, both would appear to be the same size. Yet there is no other evidence that this type of perspective was used in Iran in the 1530s, when the carpet was made. What is more, the lamps themselves are shown as flat shapes rather than as three-dimensional objects.

Another view is that the difference is a deliberate flaw in the design, reflecting the belief that perfection belongs to God alone.

Detail showing the filler patterns in the Ardabil carpet

Detail showing the filler patterns in the Ardabil carpet

Detail showing the central medallion, Ardabil Carpet

Detail showing the central medallion, Ardabil Carpet

The filler patterns

Each part of the design is filled with one or more types of scrollwork set with fantastic flowers or leaves. In some there are also symmetrical snaking forms that represent clouds.

The largest and most complex of these patterns covers the dark-blue background of the main field. Here two sets of scrolls are laid one on top of the other. As with the lamps, however, there is no attempt to create a sense of depth.

The flatness of the pattern matches the flat surface it decorates. This harmony between shape of an object and its decoration is characteristic of Islamic art, and it is something that the founders of the V&A greatly admired.

Comparisons with other carpet designs

Chelsea carpet from Iran is a little older than the Ardabil carpet, and it is also very beautiful, but its design was created in a very different way. The Ardabil carpet is covered by a single, integrated design, whereas the pattern on the Chelsea carpet was loosely assembled from many different elements.

The main field of the Chelsea carpet has two X-shaped arrangements of medallions with dark backgrounds. The large gap in the middle is filled with a round fish pond flanked by two huge Chinese-style vases. Half of this composition is repeated at each end of the main field. The rest of the field contains many relatively small motifs: trees in flower or in fruit, pairs of animals in combat or grazing, and sections of a fantastic scrollwork pattern.

The presence of animals in the design suggests that the Chelsea carpet was made for a secular setting. There are no animals in the design of the Ardabil carpet, which we know was made for use in a religious building.

The large Uşak carpet from Turkey is a little older than the Ardabil carpet. The medallions in its design are so large that they have become the dominant element.

The design of the Ardabil carpet is more successful. The ring of pointed ovals and the two lamps increase the size of the centrepiece, allowing it to fill the available space. At the same time, though, the gaps within it ensure that the centrepiece does not become so dominant that it overwhelms the rest of the design.

The Chelsea Carpet. Museum no. 589-1890

The Chelsea Carpet. Museum no. 589-1890

Uşak medallion carpet. Museum no. T.71-1914

Uşak medallion carpet. Museum no. T.71-1914

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