Carpet with flowering tree motif
Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Hegira 8th century / AD 14th century
Wool, knotted carpet.
Length 385 cm, width 95 cm
Acquired by Wilhelm von Bode, this fragmented carpet is thought to have first come from a church in Tyrol before finding its way into the hands of Munich art dealers. Its shape is long and narrow, and its patterns are clearly divided. Along its red centre lies a thin tree trunk, whose evenly spaced branches stretch out at a right angle, holding up large blossoms. A yellow border frames the carpet’s central area, and features an Arabic word in kufic script, which is repeated throughout the border. Along the top edge, the word is shortened to just two letters that are joined together. This stylistic depiction of the Arabic script could be an incorrect representation of the Islamic confession of faith. Small rosettes are used as partitions. A second border runs along the outside edge, patterned with a row of repeated double pearls. Both borders are additionally framed by thin blue stripes.
Friedrich Sarre was the first to suspect that this carpet came from a Spanish synagogue, and that the repetitive blossom-like geometric pattern represented a stylised depiction of a Torah shrine. Similar representations of a Torah shrine can be found in mosaics on the floors of synagogues in Palestine built in Late Antiquity. This conjecture over the carpet’s origin has not yet been supported by examples from Spain. The six-pointed star (known as the Seal of Solomon) also features frequently within Islamic ornamentation, but this motif cannot conclusively be interpreted as signifying the Star of David.
As depictions in paintings frequently testify, Arabic inscriptions written in kufic were commonly employed in the Medieval Christian realms in architecture and on carpets and textiles. Even though there are as yet no known carpets that can be compared to this one, it is believed that it could still represent the oldest known example of a Spanish carpet.
This unique and earliest known Spanish carpet has a design of a central tree with branches bursting into large flowers. These have been interpreted as depictions of a Torah shrine, giving the carpet the name Synagogue carpet. Of special interest is the stylised repetitive Arabic inscription.
Wilhelm von Bode
In the absence of carpets that have been dated, it is thought that this carpet is earlier than the group of carpets featuring coats of arms that have been attributed to the 15th century. The reason for this lies in its different ornamentation and in the archaic calligraphy of its inscription, executed over a monochrome background. These differences justify the hypothesis that this carpet could have been woven in the 14th century.
Acquired by Wilhelm von Bode in 1884 from a Munich art dealer and later transferred to Berlin’s Arts and Crafts Museum, from where is has been on long-term loan since 1906.
The technical peculiarity of the use of Spanish knots for the knotted weave, as well as the inscription and the ornamental details, point to the carpet having a Spanish origin.
Bode, F., Vordersasiatische Knüpfteppiche aus älterer Zeit, Leipzig, 1901, p.117.
Enderlein, V., Wilhelm von Bode und die Berliner Teppichsammlung, Berlin, 1995, p.23, no.8, p.28, plate 8.
Mann, V. B. et al., Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, Catalogue, New York, 1992, pp.246–7, no. 107.
Sarre, F., “A Fourteenth Century Spanish Synagogue Carpet”, Burlington Magazine 56, 1930, pp.89–95.
Jens Kröger "Carpet with flowering tree motif" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;16;en
Prepared by: Jens KrögerJens Kröger
Jens Kröger is a historian of Islamic art and archaeology. He studied European art history and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology at the Free University of Berlin and obtained his Ph.D. in 1978 on Sasanian and early Islamic stucco (Sasanidischer Stuckdekor, Mainz: von Zabern, 1982). As a curator at the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, he has participated in numerous exhibitions and published on the subject of pre-Islamic and Islamic art, including Nishapur: Glass of the Early Islamic Period (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), and edited Islamische Kunst in Berliner Sammlungen (Berlin, 2004).
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: GE 21