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Ottoman Small Pattern Holbein Knotted Carpet – 16th Century

Ottoman Small Pattern Holbein Knotted Carpet - Pergamon Museum

Ottoman Small Pattern Holbein Knotted Carpet – 16th Century

This small patterned Holbein knotted carpet from the 16th century belongs to a group of carpets with a similar pattern, which is named after the Renaissance painter Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), as they often appear in his paintings.

There is also a separate group of large patterned Holbein carpets. The field patterning of this small-patterned “Holbein” carpets consists of braided-band octagons arranged diagonally, combined with rhombic shapes arranged offset to the octagons.

Oriental Carpets in Renaissance Paintings

Carpets of Middle-Eastern origin, either from Anatolia, Persia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Levant, the Mamluk state of Egypt, or Northern Africa, were used as decorative features in Western European paintings from the 14th century onwards.

More depictions of Oriental carpets in Renaissance painting survive than actual carpets produced before the 17th century. Therefore, comparative art-historical research has, from its onset, relied on carpets represented in datable European paintings.

When Western scholars explored the history of Islamic carpetmaking, several types of carpet patterns became conventionally called after the names of European painters who had used them.

Some of these design types ceased to be produced several centuries ago, and the location of their production remains uncertain, so obvious alternative terms were not available. Some of the kinds of carpet design named after artists include:

  • Holbein carpets,
  • Bellini carpets,
  • Crivelli carpets,
  • Ghirlandaio carpets,
  • Memling carpets, and
  • Lotto carpets.

Oriental carpets were depicted in the art during the Renaissance for many reasons but most notably because of their perceived rarity, preciousness, and strangeness.

Oriental rugs were depicted as a background for saints and religious scenes. Later on, the religious iconography was taken over by politically influential persons to assert their status and power.

Holbein Carpets

Holbein carpets are a type of carpet taking their name from Hans Holbein, the Younger, due to their depiction in his paintings.

The carpet designs in Holbein’s paintings are among the most common designs of Anatolian carpets seen in Western Renaissance paintings. 

All are purely geometric and use a variety of arrangements of lozenges, crosses, and octagonal motifs within the primary field.

Holbein frequently used carpets in portraits, on tables for most sitters, but on the floor for Henry VIII. There are two kinds of Holbein carpets.

The “Small-pattern Holbein” type is defined by an infinite repeat of small patterns, with alternating rows of octagons and staggered rows of diamonds.

This style can be as seen in Holbein the Younger’s Portrait of Georg Gisze (1532), or the Somerset House Conference (1608).

The “Large-pattern Holbein” type has motifs in the field inside the border consists of one or two large squares filled with octagons, placed regularly, and separated from each other and the edges by narrow stripes.

The carpet in Holbein’s The Ambassadors is an example of this type.

The “Large-pattern Holbein type” in The Ambassadors has large, square, star-filled compartments, which are combined with secondary, smaller squares containing octagons.

In contrast to the other types, which only include patterns of equal scale, this type shows subordinate ornaments of unequal size.

Ottoman Small Pattern Holbein Knotted Carpet - 16th Century

The carpet in Holbein’s The Ambassadors

Anatolian Carpets

Anatolian carpets refer to rugs and carpets woven in Asia minor and its adjacent regions. It denotes a knotted, pile-woven floor or wall covering.

Together with the flat-woven kilim, Anatolian rugs represent an essential part of the regional culture. The origin of carpet weaving remains unknown, as carpets are subject to use, wear, and destruction by insects.

Rug or carpet weaving represents a traditional craft dating back to prehistoric times. Carpets were woven much earlier than even the oldest surviving rugs would suggest.

During its long history, the art and craft of the woven carpet have absorbed and integrated different cultural traditions. For example, traces of Byzantine design can be observed in Anatolian design.

The arrival of Islam and the development of Islamic art had profoundly influenced the Anatolian carpet design.

Its ornaments and patterns thus reflect the political history and social diversity of the area. Traditional Anatolian carpet production started by the mid-15th century and continued to be produced for nearly two centuries.

Ottoman Small Pattern Holbein Knotted Carpet

  • Name:                    Small Pattern Holbein Knotted Carpet
  • Date:                      16th century
  • Location:                Ushak, Turkey
  • Type:                      Carpet
  • Culture:                  Ottoman
  • Material:                 Wool, symmetrical, V 39, H 32 per 10 cm
  • Dimensions:            Height: 274 cm; Width: 142 cm
  • Museum:                Pergamon Museum

Europe and the knotted carpet

Ottoman – Turkish Handmade Antique Carpets

Explore the Pergamon Museum

Carpet making knots


“When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.”
– Rumi


Photo Credit: 1) JOM Sources: Museum material and Wikipedia. 

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