World’s oldest carpet to be unrolled

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum will this week unroll what’s billed as one of the largest, most beautiful and historically important designs known to man – the world’s oldest carpet.

Said to be commissioned in 1539 by Iran’s then-ruler, Shah Tahmasp, the Ardabil carpet will get its first public showing in the UK when the museum opens its doors on Thursday.

Originally designed as one of a pair, the Ardabil has undergone a process of re-design so visitors can see it how it was originally intended – laying horizontally at floor level.

It measures an impressive 10.5m by 5m. Aside from size alone, its single unified design spanning its whole surface will easily make it the centrepiece of the V&A’s new Jameel Gallery.

The gallery, made possible thanks to a donation from the Jameel family, intends to raise awareness of Islamic art after a three-year long renovation of the museum’s Islamic Gallery, which contains 10,000 objects from the Middle East.

The Jameel Gallery, which was officially opened by Prince Charles on Monday evening, will raise the offering even further.

Led by the Ardabil, it will open to the public to showcase over 400 objects including carpets, ceramics, textiles, metalworks, glass and woodwork, which date from the days of the Islamic caliphate of the 8th and 9th centuries.

The collection stretches up to the First World War, and geographically, it spans from Spain in the west to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in the east, “taking in important centres of artistic production in the Arab lands, Turkey and Iran,” V&A said.

Though the world’s oldest known carpet will be the highlight for most visitors, an array of precious objects will be exhibited – such as an exquisite rock crystal ewer from 11th century Egypt, and an ivory casket made in 11th century Spain.

Such designs will spotlight the sophistication of the Islamic courts, while other displays will show the prowess and ingenuity of Islamic craftsmen, and illustrate the region’s religious life.

The curators confidently cited an “outstanding example” in the form of a richly decorated 6-metre high minbar, commissioned for a mosque in Cairo by Sultan Qa ‘itbay - Egypt’s ruler in the late 15th century.

But buried among the displays are cultural expressions that will surprise even the most avid collector of Islamic art & design,

One example comes in the form of a basin made for Sultan Qa’itbay, at a time (thought to be 1468) when the production of inlaid metalwork had stopped.

In addition, a brass ewer was made for the Sultan’s wife and is inscribed with her name, Fatimah.

As the V&A reminds its visitors, naming a female patron was rare; while the decoration, too, is unusual for the period, as it shows animals.

Mark Jones, museum director said: “The Jameel Gallery will provide a showcase for the V&A’s acclaimed collection of Islamic art in all its beautiful and varied forms, religious and secular. We hope it will help people to appreciate one of the world’s great cultures and spread a deeper understanding of Islamic art.”

Already, the treasures in the Islamic Gallery have lured over 250,000 people to the V&A, from cities as random and wide as Tokyo, Texas and Sheffield.

Mr. Mohammed Jameel, President of the Abdul Latif Jameel Group, whose headquarters are in Saudi Arabia, said he was “delighted and honoured” the V&A’s new Islamic Gallery was paying tribute to his parents.

In keeping with his family’s tradition of promoting understanding of different cultures, he said the treasures will “delight and educate” more people than ever before.


19th July 2006

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