A Highly Important Timurid Voided Velvet, Late 15th century, Herat, Present day AfghanistanSilk velvet, 140.5 x 198 cm (55 x 78 in.). Price available upon inquiry. Courtesy MULLANY at TEFAF Maastrich 2023

ProvenanceJoseph Soustiel, Paris, 1960s
Private collection, UK, 1969–70.

This important late 15th century Timurid voided velvet floor spread comes from Persia at the time of when its most important artist, Kamal al-din Bihzad (c. 1455/60–1535) was creating masterful miniatures with a representation of the most exquisite textiles and carpets. What is evidenced in the present voided velvet is “…the Timurid predilection for delicacy and refinement, their inherent love for gardens with flowers, and their genius handling minute detail…”

In its overall scheme, we observe interlocking arabesque patterns, which literally and figuratively interconnect with the natural order of things, namely floral motifs; their consistency of spatial and delicacy confirms the ancient belief in the arabesque as the great union of art and science: mathematically precise, aesthetically pleasing, and symbolic; the form has a long history in Persian ornament and was subsequently taken up by artists of the Mughal and Deccani courts.

An internal rectangular register, executed in a rich crimson chromatic with quatrefoil sections of peonies in bloom clearly exemplifies the density and tightness of Timurid ornament, it is separated from the main vivid ochre border of the floor spread by a narrow silvery cream border also displaying an interconnected row of floral spirals with the character of a vine. Within its carefully organized borders and central field, we observe in this textile the same approach to geometry and balance that exemplified the masterpieces of Bihzad in using geometry and architectural elements as the structural or compositional context in which the figures are arranged as elements flow in scrolls and arabesques like calligraphic waves.

The scrolling design and arabesque pattern developed in this floor spread as well as the assured line and execution of the cloud bands in the border extraordinarily fine and rigorous. The intricacy and complexity of our velvet textile reflects the delicate ornate arrangement of the domes and portals of Timurid architecture, the pinnacle of Islamic art in Central Asia, when turquoise and blue tiles formed intricate linear and geometric patterns to decorate the facades of buildings such as the sanctuary of Ahmed Yasawi in present-day Kazakhstan and culminating in Timur’s mausoleum Gur-I Mir in Samarkand, the 14th-century mausoleum of the conqueror covered with turquoise Persian tiles. It is recognized that Timur’s dominance of the region strengthened the influence of his capital and Persian architecture upon India.

Within this masterful velvet floor spread we also observe allusions to the theme of the great gardens of the Timurid empire. According to Sharaf ad-Din, the analysis of the Central Asian architectural gardens depicted in some miniatures of the fifteenth century demonstrate that the XV century was the epoch of the highest development of the landscape art in the Central Asia, when the architectural type of the regular garden was formed, which included two or more axes originating from a single centre—the palace. This magnificent garden was characterized by planting spectacular variety of flowers and fruit trees within the boundaries of the char-chamans.

According to Suzan Yalman, textiles, and particularly silk velvets, were among the most treasured objects in Timurid and, later, Safavid Persia. Timurid art and architecture provided inspiration to lands stretching from Anatolia to India. Through the patronage of Timur’s descendants, the eastern Islamic world became a prominent cultural centre, with Herat, the new Timurid capital, as its focal point. Timurid rulers were sympathetic to Persian culture and lured artists, architects, and men of letters who would contribute to their high court culture.

A 15th-century Persian textile fragment in the MET, New York (Inv. 36.42) depicts a similar level of refinement and precision, this time through a pattern of repetitive ogival medallions.