The art of the knotted wool carpet is not indigenous to India, where the climate discouraged the use of any but the lightest cotton floor-coverings. Carpet-weaving, which had developed among the nomadic peoples of Central Asia and Iran, was introduced to India by the early Mughals, who swept down through the Khyber Pass in 1526. They established an empire that lasted until the removal of the last Mughal emperor by the British in 1858.
The pile of this very finely knotted millefleur carpet is goat hair, taken from the underside of the throat and neck, which accounts for the particularly fine, silk-like texture. In its main field, floral sprays, blossoms, leaves, and palmettes are connected by scrolling vines in a repeating pattern. The border reveals a more typically Indian inspiration with a scrolling pattern of lotus buds and flowers. The lotus is used throughout Indian art, both as a decorative element as in this case, and as a symbol of the energy of nature, of purity and (in Hindu-Buddhist contexts) the realisation of Enlightenment.
Millefleur (‘thousand-flower’) carpets are so called because their exclusively floral patterns incorporate a profusion of tiny blossom clusters. This style developed in Mughal floral design from Eastern decorative influence, together with a tendency towards smaller, more intricate ornamental elements.
New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 20 November 1997-1 March 1998, Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era, Daniel S. Walker, ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997), no. 34 on p. 172, p. 121, illus. p. 126 fig. 123
Barnes, Ruth, Emma Dick, and Jon Thompson, Textiles Through the Ages (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2002), cat. p. 25, illus. p. 24
London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 21 April-22 August 1982, The Indian Heritage: Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule, Robert Skelton, ed. (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), no. 204 on p. 76
Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 100 on pp. 89-90, p. xiv, pl. 24 (colour) & p. 89
Piper, David, and Christopher White, Treasures of the Ashmolean Museum: An Illustrated Souvenir of the Collections, revised edn (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1995), no. 40 on p. 42, illus. p. 43 fig. 40
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