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Among the lesser-known and rarely exhibited treasures in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is a group of more than 40 carpets from Iran, India, Egypt and Turkey. From April 5 through July 6, the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will present “The World at Our Feet: A Selection of Carpets from the Corcoran Gallery of Art,” showcasing six of the finest examples of Persian, Indian and Turkish carpets from this collection—most of which have not been seen for 60 years.
A bequest of William A. Clark (1839–1925), a senator from Montana who made a fortune in copper mining, railroads and other enterprises, these rare carpets were first displayed among European paintings, ceramics and tapestries at Clark’s New York City mansion.
The exhibition coincides with the International Conference on Oriental Carpets held from April 17 to 21 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. “The World at Our Feet” is curated by independent scholar Julia Bailey.
Particularly strong in Persian carpets from the Safavid period (1501-1722), the Corcoran collection includes several important examples of the so-called Herat or Herat-group of carpets, including the 44-foot-1-inch-long by 14-foot-2-inch-wide example on view here. Notable for their red fields with scrolling vine-and-blossom motifs, the origin of this style of carpet has been a subject of considerable debate among contemporary scholars; some assigning them to Isfahan, the capital of Iran in the 17th century and others to Herat, a major city in the northeastern province of Khurasan. Variations of their vine-and-blossom motifs also appear on a group of 17th-century carpets in the collection that have been assigned to Lahore. Their structure and palette, however, differ from the Isfahan/Herat examples.
Among the other unusual pieces on view at the Sackler is an octagonal Cairene carpet, which is 8 feet in diameter and was probably produced in Ottoman Cairo in the second half of the 16th century. Cairene carpets were popular export items and this particular example may have been made to cover a round table in Europe. Its design, comprising carnations and tulips in a central medallion, represents an abrupt transition from the more geometric “Mamluk” carpet motifs of earlier Egyptian examples to the floral motifs preferred in Iran and at the Ottoman court of Turkey.
The most celebrated Persian carpet in the collection, on view here, was probably made in the first half of the 17th century and features dynamic, boldly articulated sickle-shaped leaves and palmettes on a red ground. This carpet shares the structure of the so-called “Vase” carpets, a group now generally assigned to Kirman in southeastern Persia. Arthur Upham Pope—one of the first experts to write on the Corcoran “sickle-leaf” carpet—claimed that it deserved to rank as a great work of art and represented an “outstanding example of Persian carpet weaving” because of its “luxurious and enticing rhythms,” “symphonic splendor” and “magical potency.”
Concurrent with the exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Textile Museum in Washington, will host “Mamluk Rugs from Egypt: Jewels of the Textile Museum’s Collection” (March 28—Sept. 7) and “Carpets from Andalusia” (through Aug. 10).
This exhibition is supported by Mary and Farhad Ebrahimi/The Ebrahimi Family Foundation, and other generous donors.
The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries’ Web site at asia.si.edu.