World Carpet Treasures at the Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the preeminent museum of art and design. It is also home to one of the most extensive historical carpet collections in the world. The collection houses some exquisite pieces, including examples of some of the oldest rugs in the world. The V&A museum collection presents rare carpets from many regions of the world, but its most significant group is its 1,170 carpets from the Middle East and North Africa. This collection is a real treat that brings in visitors from around the globe.
Islamic Middle East Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum
The most extensive collection of Persian rugs and Oriental carpets is housed in the Islamic Middle East gallery. If you plan to visit the V&A museum, this collection is in Room 42, the Jameel Gallery. This museum gallery has a rotating display of approximately 19,000 items from the Middle East and North Africa, including its antique carpet collection. Pieces in the collection encompass the early beginnings of Islam in the 7th century up through the early 20th century. The collection includes works in the mediums of calligraphy, illumination, art and architecture, jewelry, ceramics, carpets and other textiles.
Notably, the collection houses an extensive selection of early carpets produced during the height of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires. It has one of the most comprehensive ranges of designs and old carpets from significant rug weaving centers from the 16th century on wards. The Victoria and Albert museum antique rug collection houses Persian carpets from major production centers such as Tabriz, Kerman, Kashan, and Khorassan. This collection also houses Persian rugs from some of the minor cities and carpet production areas, such as Kazvin. While browsing the collection, you can see the development of many traditional rug patterns that are still used today. You can also get a feel for the colors and patterns that distinguish carpets from different cities and regions.
Typically, there are approximately 100 early carpets on display at any one time, and the display rotates continually. Sometimes special exhibitions are held that focus on a specific region or type of carpet. The collection features carpets made from cotton, silk, wool and a combination of these fibers. Perhaps its most exquisite and impressive pieces are those that are made from metal-wrapped silk silver from the Middle Ages. These pieces are a sight to see and some of the rarest pieces in the world. The Victoria and Albert Museum contains one of the largest collections of them. The range and scope of this collection are what make it one of the most essential carpet collections in the world.
The Ardabil Carpet at the Victoria and Albert Museum
No visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum would be complete without the Ardabil carpet. This is perhaps the most famous carpet in the world, and many people come to see this piece alone. This carpet is the oldest in the world for which a specific date of production is known. The early carpet was made in Ardabil, which is located in the northwestern section of Iran. It is the burial place of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili. The Shaykh was a Sufi leader and a direct ancestor of Shah Ismail, who founded the Safavid Dynasty in the 16th century.
This is an exquisite carpet with a millefleur design over the entire field superimposed onto a formal geometric medallion design. The medallion became popular during the 16th century and is still a traditional pattern that is used today. The exact origins of the carpet are not known, but it is believed to have been commissioned by the Court to be used on the shrine of the Shaykh.
As such, it is one of the most outstanding examples of Safavid Court carpets in existence. By the 16th century, the Shrine became a place of pilgrimage. The carpet is accurately dated thanks to an inscription located on one edge. The inscription reads, “The work of the slave of the portal, Maqsud Kashani.” It has a date of 946, which in the Muslim calendar is the equivalent of 1539 to 1540. The maker of the was more than likely not a slave in the traditional sense, but one who was in service to the Court and officially charged with producing the carpet.
The carpet has about 5,300 knots per 10 square centimeters and is made from dense silk. This allowed the designers to include an incredible level of detail. The carpet was produced by a large team of weavers and would have taken several years to complete. The Victoria and Albert Museum acquired the piece in 1893 for about £2,000. Now, it is considered one of the most priceless treasures in the world, and it is worth the trip to the museum just to see it.
Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles at the V&A Museum
If you are a student of antique textiles or Oriental carpets, the Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion is something that you will want to plan into your visit. This Center offers visitors a unique opportunity to inspect and study some of the most important textile pieces in the world up close and personal. The collection includes archaeological fragments of heavy antique tapestries and antique rugs.
The Center can be found at Blythe House, Olympia in West London and is separate from the main museum. It is a state-of-the-art facility with a quiet, large, comfortable study room for individuals or groups of up to three people. You can study the object of your choice, as well as have access to reference books and the collection database. This is a unique experience open to researchers that is unlike any other in the world. It is indeed a treat to be able to have access to such an extensive and rare collection of antiquities.
Entrance to the Centre is free, but you must make an appointment first. It is open to individuals from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. It is only available to groups during certain hours. It is closed throughout August for inventory and resetting the collection.
Visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection
The Victoria and Albert collection stands out as one of the most important carpet collections in the world for many reasons. It is unique in both the range and scope of its carpets. It also offers several unique opportunities to see exceptionally rare pieces. If you are a researcher or student, visiting the Center for Study and Conservation is a treat that cannot be missed. A visit to the museum is something that everyone should try to do at least once in their lifetime. Plan to make an extended stay because this museum cannot be explored in a single day.
Admission to both the main museum and the Centre for Study and Conservation is free. The main museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and on Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The main museum is located on Cromwell Road in London, SW7 2RL.
Below we are including a selection of textiles, tapestries and antique rugs worthy of being part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection:
This rug blog about the Victoria and Albert Museum was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in NYC.