In Focus

Holbein Carpet

In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote of the great Seljuk Turkish carpets of Anatolia. This weaving tradition continued even after the decline of the Seljuks and the rise of the Ottomans in the 14th-16th centuries. European scholars, uncertain of the names of the sites of Near and Middle-Eastern carpet manufacture, called them by the names of the artists in whose paintings they appear. Hans Holbein's 1533 double portrait, known as The Ambassadors, shows a table covered with a carpet that has large octagonal medallions. This type of carpet is called Holbein, as are those with a smaller octagon pattern even though their earliest appearance in Western art is in a 1451 fresco by Piero della Francesca. Holbeins appear in more than fifty paintings, mostly Italian, and usually dating from the early 16th century. After 1650 they are absent, for it was then that the arabesque-patterned Ushaks known as Lotto carpets became fashionable, their design and color was more stereotyped.

Large and small pattern Holbein carpets made in Anatolia were copied in Spain and are distinguished by the single warp Spanish knot with guard stripes in Spanish designs. Both Lotto and small pattern Holbein rugs have borders whose designs derive from Kufic writing. Spanish borders often have pseudo-Kufic writing facing outwards on three sides so that a person walking around the rug may read it. On Anatolian borders, the writing faces inward so that it may be read by a person seated in the middle of the rug.

Excerpt from

Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1985), 206.