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Pair of shaped Mughal carpets

The pair of shaped Mughal carpets (81.49, 81.50) in the DDFIA collection belongs to a group of fine Indian carpets distinguished by an arched trapezoidal form, a pile of sheep’s wool, and rows of naturalistic floral bouquets oriented towards the left, upper, and right edges. Such carpets are attributed to Lahore or Kashmir and generally dated to the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58). Their original use is subject to speculation. Some scholars have suggested that they were ordered for the Amber Fort, the residence of the Kachwaha Rajputs, where, arranged in pairs, they perhaps enclosed a fountain or throne. Others have argued that they furnished tent complexes (Walker 1997).

In the late nineteenth century, the Amber Fort collection was transferred to Jaipur. In 1929, A. J. D. Campbell, a representative of the Victoria and Albert Museum, inventoried and photographed 16 shaped carpets in the Jaipur Collection. Before and after Campbell’s visit, many of these carpets made their way to American soil and entered collections in Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Boston and Honolulu (the pair considered here). While these examples remain largely intact, others were cut down for sale. One example photographed by Campbell was cut vertically into three parts, and its outer “arms” or “extensions” can now be found in Paris and Jerusalem. In some cases, these “arms” were cut off horizontally in order to transform the arched carpet into a rectangular one.

The shaped carpets were not included in Campbell’s 1929 inventory; like the Cincinnati example, they appear to have left India before this time. Indeed, in 1922, one of the carpets (81.49) was reproduced with a credit line reading “Mr. Lionel Harris,” owner of the Spanish Art Gallery in London, and described as having been recently “brought to England.” In 1931, 81.49 was again published courtesy of Lionel Harris.

At some point between 1931 and 1940, the DDFIA carpets were acquired by Hagop Kevorkian (1872–1962), a dealer based in New York who sold Doris Duke (1912–93) several important works of art, including the Veramin mihrab (48.327). In 1940, while negotiating Duke's acquisition of the mihrab, Mary Crane – a graduate student in Persian art history at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts – also began “haggling” Kevorkian about the shaped carpets, as well as an additional rectangular example. In a letter to Duke, Crane included a sketch of the three carpets with detailed measurements. In January of 1941, Kevorkian contacted Duke's secretary about his carpets writing, “I have a collection of the very finest of such rugs of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century looms of a great variety in pristine condition to be found anywhere, in fact the collection contains a number of historical carpets made for Shahs of Persia and Emperors of India (Mughal emperors) the history of which could be traced to the time they were executed in the looms under royal patronage.” For whatever reason, Duke did not purchase the shaped carpets at this time.

In 1966–7, the Kevorkian Foundation included the pair of shaped Mughal carpets in a traveling exhibition of the 41 carpets in the dealer’s collection. Among other cities, the show traveled to Dallas, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Kansas and Cleveland. In Dallas, the carpets were exhibited on a low platform around a coin pond. In Cleveland, they were displayed on a low platform around a small fountain topped with a plant. At Brooklyn in 1967, four potted plants were placed in the central void (see image).

The Kevorkian Foundation’s traveling exhibition was an important moment in the reception of Islamic carpets on American soil. The exhibition included 22 “Persian” carpets, 7 “Mughal” examples, and 11 “Turkish” ones. Kevorkian’s collection of seven Mughal carpets was exceptional. Besides the shaped pair now in the DDFIA collection, it included a 52-foot-long Deccani darbar carpet now in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, a 27-foot-long Mughal floral carpet dating to the eighteenth century, and three rectangular Mughal floral carpets of standard size dating to the mid-seventeenth century (see an example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In 1969 and 1970, a few years after the traveling exhibition, the Kevorkian Foundation collection was offered for sale at Sotheby’s in two parts. The shaped carpets were purchased by J. Paul Getty, and during their two decades at the Getty Museum (1969–1990), they were never exhibited and only one (81.49) was published. The carpets later became part of a major de-accessioning effort at the museum. They no longer fit into the museum’s overall collecting strategies, and their shape made them difficult to exhibit.

In 1990, the carpets were again auctioned at Sotheby’s, and five decades after she first learned of them through Mary Crane, Duke finally decided to purchase them. The carpets were shipped to Duke Farms, Duke’s childhood home in New Jersey, and they were displayed around a glass mosaic fountain that Duke had commissioned in Syria in 1938. In 2002, the carpets were transferred from Duke Farms to Shangri La, and in 2006, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation officially gifted them to the DDFIA. At Shangri La, in the midst of a collection particularly strong in Indian art, the shaped Mughal carpets finally found an appropriate and welcoming home. In 2008, they were exhibited in Honolulu at the East-West Center Gallery located on the campus of the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa.  

Mary Crane's sketch of the shaped Mughal carpets (81.49 and 81.50), November 1940. Doris Duke Papers on the Shangri La Residence, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Mary Crane's sketch of the shaped Mughal carpets (81.49 and 81.50), November 1940. Doris Duke Papers on the Shangri La Residence, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

The shaped Mughal carpets on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1966–67. Registrar’s Office Gallery Views box 36 folder 41, Cleveland Museum of Art Archives.

The shaped Mughal carpets on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1966–67. Registrar’s Office Gallery Views box 36 folder 41, Cleveland Museum of Art Archives.

The shaped Mughal carpets on display at the University of Hawai'i's East-West Center, 2008. (Photo: Ann Svenson, 2008.)

The shaped Mughal carpets on display at the University of Hawai'i's East-West Center, 2008. (Photo: Ann Svenson, 2008.)

Recommended Citation expand icon

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, “Textiles and Carpets: Pair of Shaped Mughal Carpets,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012, www.shangrilahawaii.org.

Further Reading and Resources expand icon

Online:

Exhibitions: Oriental Carpets from the Kevorkian Foundation,” Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Print:

Daniel Walker, Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997).

Maurice Sven Dimand and the Kevorkian Foundation, The Kevorkian Collection of Rare and Magnificent Oriental Carpets (New York, 1966).

Arthur Dilley, Oriental Rugs and Carpets (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931).

A. F. Kendrick and C. E. C. Tattersall, Hand-woven Carpets, Oriental and European (London: Benn Brothers, 1922).

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