Published: August 24, 2004
Floral motifs are represented in the arts of many cultures and are ubiquitous in carpet design.
“Floral Perspectives in Carpet Design,” at The Textile Museum August 27-February 6, examines this phenomenon from three perspectives – spiritual, cultural and artistic – as rendered in the designs of Seventeenth to Nineteenth Century Indian, Chinese, Central Asian, Persian and Turkish carpets.
The exhibition explores cultural preferences for the representation of flowers, the variety of floral motifs and their transfer from culture to culture. Included are 12 carpets drawn from the museum’s collections, many of which were collected by the museum’s founder, George Hewitt Myers. Most of the carpets were produced for the court and represent some of the oldest and finest examples of their tradition.
While certain treatments of floral motifs are often associated with specific cultures, the exhibit explores the cross-cultural influences that are also at work. For example, the lotus scroll is a motif commonly associated with Chinese art, but it is actually the culmination of influences from outside sources.
The leaf or vine scroll was well known and used in the Greco-Roman world and in the first millennium, some Chinese artists saw this undulating leaf scroll as an effective framework for placing a floral motif. It eventually became the foundation for the lotus and the peony, both popular flowers in Chinese art. Islamic artists and weavers used a similar leaf form, but arranged it differently – giving rise to the arabesque, a form of vegetal ornament unique to Islamic art.
From the mid-Seventeenth Century onward, flowers permeated Mughal art in India. The Mughal floral style is unique and born from an amalgamation of Mughal/Persian and European designs, most notably botanical drawings. European drawings often depict the full cycle of a plant in a single page, from buds to fully formed flowers.
Close inspection of floral motifs in the Mughal carpet tradition reveals a similar treatment of individual flowers. While this particular device was incorporated into the Mughal artistic tradition, artists took much license in small embellishments of flowers, leading to detailed images that did not always translate to botanically correct representations.
The passion for flowers and floral compositions in Ottoman art was also very strong, but where Mughal art displayed a preference for naturalistic floral representations, Ottoman artists showed a strong preference for more stylized, geometric compositions of common Ottoman floral motifs.
A related symposium, the 27th Annual Rug convention, “Indian Textile Traditions: Exchanges and Transformation,” will be October 15-17. Speakers include Dr Joseph M Dye III, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Steven Cohen, independent textile historian, London; and Jeff Spurr, cataloger for Islamic Art, Aga Khan Program of Islamic Architecture, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University.
The museum, at 2320 S Street, NW in Washington, D.C., is open Monday-Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday, 1 to 5 pm. Admission is free. For information, 202-667-0441.
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