Carpet with dragon and phoenix
Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Hegira mid-9th / mid-15th century
Length 172 cm, width 90 cm
This fragmented carpet is one of the most important animal-carpets of the early Ottoman period that have become known to the present day. Two highly stylised animals, a dragon and a phoenix, are depicted fighting, against a yellow background and within two octagonal spaces. The phoenix is swooping down onto the dragon from above. The image is clearer in the lower octagonal casing than in the upper. The outer border is composed of semi-palmette tendrils, which are framed on both sides by an edging of little rosettes. The original border appears to be missing on both the left and right sides. It is possible that the carpet was originally wider in shape, featuring a greater number of octagonal compartments. This would make it more akin to the animal-carpets that were reproduced in paintings. The dragon and phoenix motif, which originated in China – where yellow was considered to be the colour of the sovereign – was introduced into Islamic art in the AH 7th / AD 13th century with the arrival of the Mongols, as is demonstrated by its ubiquitous presence on a number of works of art, made in a variety of materials.
Animal-carpets often appear in the paintings of Italian artists, but only a few of the actual pieces survived. The painter Domenico di Bartolo depicted a similar dragon-phoenix carpet in his fresco ‘The Wedding of the Foundlings’, which he painted in the Spedale della Scala in Siena in 1440–4. An animal-carpet featuring stylised birds on trees was found in a church in Sweden. The wide distribution of animal-carpets in Europe demonstrates that they were among the early types of carpets to be exported to Europe from the Ottoman Empire. This carpet allegedly comes from a church in central Italy and, from the results of Carbon-14 analysis, is dated to be from the AH mid-9th / AD mid-15th century.
This Ottoman carpet with the pattern of a dragon being attacked from above by a phoenix is one of the most famous carpet designs. Introduced from the Far East, carpets with animal designs already occurred in numerous paintings from the European masters in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Museum of Arts and Crafts, Berlin
Carbon-14 analysis has dated the carpet to the mid-9th / mid-15th century.
Acquired in Rome by Wilhelm von Bode in 1886 and bought by the Museum of Arts and Crafts, Berlin. Given on loan to the Museum of Islamic Art in 1906, after which it was included in the Museum’s inventory.
The carpet’s Turkish knot and its unique motifs and colours place it within the Ottoman era.
Bode, W. v., Vorderasiatische Knüpfteppiche aus älterer Zeit, Leipzig, 1901, p.109.
Enderlein, V., Wilhelm von Bode und die Berliner Teppichsammlung, Berlin, 1995, p.23, no. 9, p.29, pl. 9.
Erdmann, K., Die Geschichte des Frühen Türkischen Teppichs, London, 1977, pp.56–7, ill. 52.
Rageth, J., “Dating the Dragon & Phoenix Fragments”, Halı 134, 2004, pp.106–109.
The Eastern Carpet in the Western World from the 15th to the 17th century, London, 1983, p.49, cat. no. 1, p.34, fig. 1.
Jens Kröger "Carpet with dragon and phoenix" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;34;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 44
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Geometric Decoration | Geometric Decoration in Textiles
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)