"Holbein" Pattern Rug

c. 1550–1625
244 × 105 in. (6 m 19.76 cm × 2 m 66.7 cm)
Decorative Arts and Design
Wendy and Emery Reves Collection - Dining Room, Level 3
Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

Turkey has had an important weaving industry for centuries. In the 13th century, Marco Polo traveled through the region and praised its rugs as the most beautiful in the world. By the 15th century, traders were importing Turkish rugs into Europe, where they were extremely expensive and valued as symbols of high rank. For example, Turkish rugs are often depicted in 15th- and 16th- century Italian religious paintings of the enthroned Virgin and Child. In domestic life, these rugs generally were felt to be too precious to serve as floor coverings, and were instead used as exotic tablecloths. This style of rug and those with closely related patterns became so associated with the concept of Middle Eastern rugs in the European consumer's mind that they were copied and adapted in Western weaving centers, especially Spain.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, European artists depicted Turkish rugs with such frequency that collectors have named specific patterns after famous artists, including Hans Memling and Lorenzo Lotto. The Reves rug is of a type known as "Small-Patterned Holbein," named after the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). This variety is characterized by a central field composed of small octagons. This emblem, or "gul," is believed to be a tribal symbol and is, as here, frequently decorated with Islamic-style strapwork. In the "Large-Patterned Holbein," the central field contains large octagons aligned vertically. Both "Holbein" types often have Kufesque borders, as in this example, which has patterns along the outer edge resembling the geometric Arabic script called Kufic. Although these patterns are not actually inscriptions, they closely link these rug designs to their Islamic origin.

Excerpt from

Dallas Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 27.

Web Resources

The Met Museum
Watch a video about the Conservation and Display of Islamic Textiles and Carpets in the Met Collection