The Economist tells the whole story behind the record-setting carpet sold at Christie’s Islamic sale. That’s a record for carpets and Islamic art:
At the beginning of this year Christie’s received a call from a European dealer. He had a suspicion that a carpet he had recently bought was no ordinary Persian rug, but one of the famed “vase” carpets from Kirman. Made in the city that dominated the rug-making industry of south-eastern Iran for centuries, “vase” carpets are easily identifiable by a pattern of swirling branches, foliage and flowers arranged in vases.
This particular carpet, though, had no vase on it; only a continuing pattern of intricately joined leaves that gave the design an unusual energy and charm. But it was the weaving technique that alerted the dealer to the fact that it might be a “vase” carpet all the same.
Marco Polo, travelling through Persia in 1270, praised the carpets of Kirman as a particular marvel. By the 17th century, when this carpet was made, Kirman’s designers were at their most inventive and their weaving techniques of a sophistication not seen in other parts of the Persian empire. The weavers had learned to set their looms so that the cotton warps were on two different levels. They then threaded the wool wefts, leaving some tight and others sinuous, giving an immediately recognisable wavy finish to the surface of the carpet.
The magazine also provided a window into the drama of the sale room:
On the day of the sale, a collector of Islamic art in the room was matched by six bidders on the telephone, from Britain, continental Europe, America and the Middle East. Only one museum featured among the seven; the rest were all private collectors. Bidding opened at £150,000. The collector who was present raised three fingers to signal £300,000, and then four fingers when raised by another bidder. He soon pulled out, though, and another bidder on the telephone entered the fray at £1.8m. […] By £5m, bids began jumping ahead in increments of £500,000, which proved too much for one of the two remaining bidders, who put the phone down at £5.5m, too upset to continue. The rug finally sold for £6.2m (including commission and taxes)
Prices Fly for a Persian Carpet (Economist)