Antique Austro-Hungarian Needlepoint, Dated 1870-1874 – While the overall cartouche and medallion format and naturalistic floral elements of this sumptuous antique Austrian needlepoint rug are all closely related to French Aubusson designs, the coloration is much richer, and it has much more subordinate detail. The textile-like patterning in the background areas of the frame has an almost medieval sense of ornamentation, giving the piece a highly distinctive effect and quality.
Historically the piece is also quite distinctive and important. The blue cartouches in the four corners are all inscribed. In the lower right is the date. The opposite upper left cartouche is inscribed Slovenia, the northernmost region of the former Yugoslavia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, newly consolidated in 1867. The upper right cartouche celebrates Vienna as a the sancta civitas, ‘sacred city,’ while the lower left one has a motto in French, ‘Dieu en soit garde,’ or ‘May God guard it.’ The inner, larger cartouches have heraldic emblems. The one next to the sancta civitas inscription has the Royal Hapsburg Austrian eagles. The opposite heraldic cartouche adjacent to the ‘Dieu en soit garde’ inscription may well be one of Slovenian origin.
The two other cartouches have shields with the monograms NL and CL. One may tentatively identify these as the initials of a bride and groom and see the piece as a commission to celebrate a wedding, very probably between Austrian and Slovenian nobility or members of the official class of Hapsburg bureaucrats. The wedding occurred not long after the foundation of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and celebrated as well the importance of Slovenia within this new organization. The exceptional quality of the embroidery technique is evident in the costly nature of the silk used throughout the piece, as well as in the fact that it was produced over the space of three or four years.