The Ardabīl Carpet

A 16th Century Masterpiece

Persian carpets are at once exotic and welcoming. As such, I harbour hazy visions of buying an substantial amount of these warm yet cooling furnishings, filling a large and airy building, complementing it with books, plants and serving fresh coffee with homemade cake to happy patrons, thus encapsulating a life ambition.  This is the kind of environment I can see myself languishing in all day and enjoying every living moment.  Is a feasible business? Who knows.  People can be fickle and essentially bills need to be paid, but really, I would love to do this.

So, after wandering thoughts and subsequent internet searches, I stumbled upon a fascinating carpet which traverses its conventional function of adorning the floor or perhaps a wall, and has a duly elevated position in the Islamic Art Gallery in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  The Ardabīl Carpet, one of the largest and oldest Islamic carpets worldwide, it was one of a pair, its separated partner was presented to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1953 by the late J. Paul Getty.  Woven from silk and dated through an inscription on one edge, ‘which contains a poetic inscription, a signature – ‘The work of the slave of the portal, Maqsud Kashani’, and the date, 946 in the Muslim calendar, equivalent to AD 1539 – 1540. Maqsud was probably the court official charged with producing the carpet and not a slave in the literal sense.


Coming upon the carpet, after it had been sold to an English carpet company, renowned designer William Morris ‘reported it of “singular perfection … logically and consistently beautiful”. The Museum acquired the carpet for £2,000 in March 1893.’  Prior to its residency in the V&A, its provenance binds it with one of the most significant dynasties of Iran, the Safavids. Made for the shrine of Safi al-Din Ardabili, although following an earthquake in the late 1800s the carpets were sold and found their way into Britain through Ziegler & Co., a Manchester firm.  An inscription on one end of the carpet reads:

‘Joz āstān-e to-am dar ǰahān panāh-ī nīst sar-e marā be-ǰoz īn dar ḥawāla-gāh-ī nīst ʿamal-e banda-ye dargāh Maqṣūd Kāšānī sana 946.’  Translated by E. Stebbing in The Holy Carpet of the Mosque at Ardebil, ‘I have no refuge in the world other than thy threshold. My head has no protection other than this porchway.’


Imitating its beauty and intricate design, there is also an Ardabīl in 10 Downing Street, there was even one in the Berlin office of Hitler.  Reflecting on the importance of design and attention which was poured into this masterpiece, which is estimated to have taken ten years to make, signifies a survival of effort and attention.  From the people who commissioned the piece, to the hands that weaved the materials and dyes, designed the patterns and collectively produced something which has a lasting poetical message embedded into material and textile, thus resonating with a vast array of people, successfully transmits a message of quality and appreciation of poetry, translating the precise purpose of artistic expression.



E. Stebbing, The Holy Carpet of the Mosque at Ardebil, London, 1892.

Hillyer, L. & Pretzel, B. “The Ardabil Carpet – a new perspective”. Conservation Journal. V&A Museum (49). Retrieved January 29, 2007.

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