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The Rugs of Seljuqs

The Met’s spring exhibition, “Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs,” runs from April 27 to July 24, and it explores the artistically and culturally verdant period when a Turkish dynasty ruled in West Asia. An exclusive, limited run of rugs embodies the cross cultural exchange that the empire fostered from 1038 to 1307.

Typically culture moves from the invader to the invaded, but when the Turkish Seljuqs moved into what is today Iran, they didn’t have an Islamic tradition or literary heritage of their own. So instead of imposing their own, the Seljuqs adopted the cultural language of their Persian instructors in Islam. This lead to the Persian language spreading across what today is Iran, edging out  Arabic, which would live on in works of religious scholarship.


But the transition was neither instantaneous nor uniform, and its legacy can be seen in art on display at the exhibition. A stonepaste bowl from the twelfth to thirteenth century bears both an abstract pattern and also an inscription in Arabic, which states “Glory, power, prosperity, victory and triumph, happiness and safety until the last day to the owner of this bowl.”


The pattern has been recreated on a rug, which was hand loomed in India in a limited edition of just 250. Designer Barbara Barran has recreated the bowl’s painterly pattern here in vegetable-dyed wool. In the spirit of its artistic forbear’s inscription, it is dubbed the Mina’i Good Wishes Rug.


The other rug commissioned for the exhibit is also inspired by mina’i ceramics. In a limited run of just 100, New Zealand-sourced wool and natural silk accents form a zigzag design that was inspired by a gilded ceramic bottle. Once again Barran’s design harkens back to the highly skilled artisans working during the period.


Just as present day Iran still carries linguistic markers of the Seljuq era, the artistic legacy lives on. Its history is on display now, at The Met.


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