The pashmina Mughal millefleurs prayer rugs are amongst the most revered and sought-after of all classical Indian carpets. Distinguished by their elegant compositions of finely drawn floral stems and luminous, jewel-like colours; fewer than fifteen examples of these exquisite rugs are known and half of these are housed in important museum collections. Woven using pashmina, the short, silky soft wool from the underbelly of Himalayan goats found in Ladakh and Tibet, it seems most likely that these beautiful weavings were the product of a specialist workshop in Kashmir, where there was a ready supply of pashmina wool due to the established shawl industry. These extraordinary weavings would have represented the height of luxury and would have have most probably been woven as special commissions for the Mughal court. In his publication of the present prayer rug in Seltene Orientteppiche IX, Munich, 1987, p.8, Eberhart Herrmann listed eight additional prayer rugs in the group, the Habsburg prayer rug in the Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna; The Textile Museum prayer rug; the three rugs formerly in the Joseph V. McMullan collection now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, respectively; the two rugs from the George W. Vanderbilt collection at Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina; the Dubernard rug in the Musee Historique des Tissus, Lyon; The Marquand/Benguiat/Kevorkian rug. To this list should be added the prayer rug offered at Sotheby's New York, 19 September 2003, lot 84 and the Rippon Boswell rug sold 1 December 2007, lot 133 (Hali 155, p.147).
The origin of the design of the millefleurs prayer rugs can be traced back to the magnificent pashmina shrub niche rugs created during the reign of Shah Jahan in the mid 17th century. These earlier weavings, such as the famous Aynard rug formerly in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, have very similar design elements to the millefleurs prayer rugs, such as the cusped arch, two bisected cypress trees at each side and a central hillock or vase from which issue the floral stems. Many of the carpet designs created during the reign of Shah Jahan continued to be popular under the reign of his heir Aurangzeb and his successors, however one can witness a tendency towards reducing the scale of ornamentation. The millefleurs carpets developed out of this tendancy towards miniaturisation and, Dan Walker suggests, from the European influence on Mughal floral patterns (Daniel Walker, Flowers Underfoot; Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, New York, 1997, pp.119-129). In his article 'Ten Thousand At A Glance', ibid., Steven Cohen suggests that the designs of Mughal Kashmir shawls may have also influenced the development of the designs of the millefleurs prayer rugs. The correlation between the composition of the millefleurs prayer rugs and the boteh design of mid 18th century Kashmir shawls is undeniable (see Steven Cohen, ibid., figs. 2 and 3, p.75) but it does not follow that the design originated with the shawl industry.
Historically the Habsburg prayer rug has been considered the earliest of the millefleurs prayer rugs, dated by most authorities to the late 17th century or early 18th century. It is this prayer rug that most closely resembles the earlier prototype of the Aynard rug. It is the only millefleurs prayer rug in the group not to depict a vase, instead the floral stems rise directly from the hillock, which contains individual shrubs and is seen as the prototype for the present rug. The present prayer rug is most closely related to the magnificent Marquand/Benguiat/Kevorkian rug. Both rugs have a wider profile to the cusped arch and to the field due to the much smaller cypresses to each side. In each rug the drawing of the vase is very similar, it is ramed by the curled sickle leaves and flanked on each side by miniature secondary vases. The beautiful and sinuous border of the present rug is shared by the Metropolitan Museum rug, one of the Vanderbilt rugs at Biltmore and the Dubernard rug; these are the four examples that relate most closely to the border of the Habsburg rug.
The present prayer rug is unique amongst the group of pashmina millefleurs prayer rugs, being the only example to have an elegant similar palette in the field and spandrel design. All the other examples in the group are woven with strongly contrasting spandrel and field colours. The subtle colouration of our rug softens the prominence of the prayer arch whilst simultaneously creating a sense of depth and three-dimensionality across the field, distinguishing it as one of the most extraordinary of these rare and beautiful weavings.
THE DOUGLASS MUGHAL 'MILLEFLEURS' PRAYER RUG
THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
18th Century, prayer, rug, Rugs & Carpets, rugs & carpets, wool, India, Mughal (1526-1858)
Ancient Art & Antiquities
5ft.4in. x 3ft.11in. (163cm. x 119cm.)
Eberhart Herrmann, Seltene Orientteppiche, IX, Munich 1987, cover and pp.7-9
‘Auction Reports - Mughal Mania’, Hali 87, July 1996, p.161
Steven Cohen, 'Ten Thousand At A Glance', Hali 88, September 1996, pp.74-77
John M. Douglass and Sue N. Peters Collection
Joseph R. Ritman Collection
Purchased by the present owner at Sotheby’s New York, 12 April 1996, lot 78
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