A Tale of Two Persian Carpets: The Ardabil and Coronation Carpets

Los Angeles County Museum of Art 

Curator Linda Komaroff

November 14, 2009–January 18, 2010

Dating to the first half of the 16th century, LACMA’s two spectacular Persian carpets, both the gift of J. Paul Getty, have only rarely been exhibited, due in part to their size and their sensitivity to light. Now, for the first time, these large and sumptuous carpets will be shown together, affording visitors the opportunity to see two of the world’s most renowned Persian carpets and to learn something of their fascinating history before and after they left Iran. 

About Ardabil Carpet:
LACMA’s spectacular Ardabil carpet was made as one of a matched pair; its mate survives and belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Brought to England sometime in the late nineteenth century, the two carpets were reported to have come from the Safavid shrine at Ardabil in northwestern Iran. LACMA’s carpet is slightly smaller than its twin; its outer borders and a section of the lower field were likely removed in order to repair the carpet now in London, perhaps after the two were acquired by Vincent Robinson & Co. Robinson’s sold the larger carpet to the V&A in 1893. Shortly thereafter, the smaller carpet was purchased by Charles Tyson Yerkes, an American multimillionaire. The carpet was subsequently sold but remained in America until 1919 when it was acquired by the London-based art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen. In 1938, Duveen sold the carpet to the American oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, who kept it in his New York apartment. He subsequently brought the carpet to California and in 1953 donated it to LACMA. According to their signatures, the Ardabil carpets were made in 1539–40 by a certain Maqsud of Kashan, who prepared the designs and oversaw the project. They were almost certainly royal carpets, probably commissioned for the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76), presumably for his ancestral shrine at Ardabil.

Inscribed just above the signature and date of each carpet is a Persian couplet from a ghazal, or ode, by the renowned fourteenth-century poet Hafiz; it was likely chosen for quotation because the carpets may have been intended for a place of prayer. The verses heighten our appreciation even today:

“I have no refuge in this world other than thy threshold
My head has no resting place other than this doorway”

(LACMA 2009)