Antique Mamluk Rugs

Antique Mamluk Rugs History

Mamluk Rugs and the Medallion Rug Design

The Mamluks are one of the greatest empires in the history of the world. They held vast territories, and they spread their cultural influences throughout the land that they ruled. They would eventually be overthrown by the Ottoman Empire, but their cultural and artistic influences can still be seen in carpets throughout the region today.

Who Were the Mamluks?

The Mamluks ruled from 1250 to 1517. Their dynasty is classified into two periods. The first period lasted from 1250 to 1381, and the second one was from 1382 to 1517. The word Mamluk translates into “owned.” They were not native Egyptians but were slave soldiers consisting mainly of Qipchak Turks.

Mamluk soldiers could not pass their property or titles to their sons, but their sons were denied the opportunity to serve in the Mamluk military. This means that the military force had to be continuously replenished from outside sources. The Mamluks encompassed peoples who were originally from the Caucasus, the Bahri from southern Russia, Syrians, and others from the area. The Mamluk soldiers had been taken from their families around age 13 and were taken into military service for the Mamluk Sultanate. It is not surprising that the art from the area also shows many different cultural influences, as the people brought their traditions and design influences with them.

Met Museum Mamluk Carpet Nazmiyal

A fragment of a Mamluk carpet from the early 16th century at the Met Museum.

Art of the Mamluk Period

From an artistic standpoint, the artwork from the second period of the Mamluk Dynasty is more important than that from the first. The Bahri period, or late dynasty, was marked by the expansion of trades, including silk and spices that traveled along the Silk Road. This was a time of great internal struggle, but it was also a period of growth in the arts and architecture.

Many of the artistic designs and techniques were inherited from the Ayyubids, but they also began to integrate the designs and cultural influences from the areas that they conquered. Refugees from the East also contributed culturally and artistically to the already diverse Mamluk artwork. Art produced at the time included gilded and enameled glass, woodwork, inlaid metalwork and textiles. Eventually, this would develop into a distinctive style that would later be passed onto other artists in other parts of the world, such as the Venetian glass industry.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Mamluk Carpet Nazmiyal

A late 15th century Mamluk carpet from Cairo, Egypt, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Mamluk Rugs

The Burji Mamluk sultans followed the styles of the previous Bahri Mamluks. The Mamluks continued to produce their artistic designs and to expand their territory. Unfortunately, we have few rugs in existence that can be definitively classified as Mamluk rugs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a few fragments, as do only a handful of other museums around the world.

One of the most significant clues that we have to Mamluk carpet designs is their representation in Venetian paintings where they began to appear in the 16th century. From what these paintings can tell us, Mamluk carpets are characterized by a central medallion design that is surrounded by smaller motifs. The smaller motifs are geometric, making the carpet appear as a kaleidoscope. Later, this design would be found throughout Persian and Turkish rugs, although neither culture would dare attribute this invention to the Mamluks.

However, from a historical standpoint, it did seem to have appeared in Mamluk design first. Mamluk carpets use a simple color palette consisting of blue, red, yellow, and green. The first center of Egyptian carpet weaving was in Cairo during the last quarter of the 15th century. They continued to produce carpets up until the mid-16th century, shortly after the Ottoman conquest. After this time, the medallion design, first found in Egyptian carpets, began to appear in Ottoman and Persian rugs.

Mamluk carpets appear to have a sophisticated design that was well thought out before the carpet was created. For instance, the corner designs are resolved, and the field has symmetry. It also includes formal corners and intricate designs in the field of the rug. One thing that distinguishes Mamluk carpets is their size. The carpets described in inventories of the time are said to be enormous. They also describe the medallions in the center and the “arms of the innocents” in the corners.

Simonetti Carpet Met Museum Nazmiyal

“Simonetti Carpet”, one of the most famous Mamluk carpets, owned by the Met Museum.

Examples of Mamluk Rugs

One of the best examples of a surviving Mamluk rug is held in the Bardini-textile museum in Italy. Only sections of the rug still exist, but there are enough fragments that the carpet can be pieced together, and the remainder of the design extrapolated from those pieces. The carpet was produced in Damascus in the 15th century. It is red with gold threads throughout the design. It has the medallion design that was described in contemporary inventories of the time. For this reason, it is considered to be typical of Mamluk carpets the period.

Museo Bardini Mamluk Carpet Nazmiyal

The Mamluk carpet at Museo Bardini in Italy.

One of the more interesting characteristics of Egyptian Mamluk carpets is that the carpets in existence were wider than the looms available in Egypt. Timber was in short supply at that ti,e and wood for the looms had to be imported. This means that larger pieces of wood were not available. The carpet is a mirror image, and upon closer examination, it was woven in two halves and then sewn together. The best representation of Mamluk carpets that we have were found in the Venetian courts.

Mamluk carpets are certainly an interesting class, and they have a fascinating place in carpet history. There is no doubt that they had a significant influence on Ottoman and Safavid carpet design. The design in Persian and Turkish carpets that are most familiar appeared first in Mamluk carpets, although due to a sense of pride, neither the Turks nor Persians would ever dare to admit it. Nonetheless, we do have a few examples of these extraordinary carpets.

Nazmiyal has an exquisite collection of medallion carpets that we are sure you will enjoy. Feel free to browse around and enjoy these beautiful pieces.

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