Included in the exhibition are 12 carpets drawn from The Textile Museum's collections, many of which were collected by the Museum's founder, George Hewitt Myers. Most of the carpets were produced for the court, and represent some of the oldest and finest examples of their tradition.
Floral Perspectives in Carpet Design will be on view at The Textile Museum August 27, 2004 - February 6, 2005.
Cross-Cultural Influences on the Representation of Floral Motifs
While certain treatments of floral motifs are often associated with specific cultures, Floral Perspectives in Carpet Design explores the cross-cultural influences that are also at work. For example, the lotus scroll is a motif commonly associated with Chinese art, but it is actually the culmination of influences from outside sources. The leaf or vine scroll was well-known and used in the Greco-Roman world, and in the first millennium, some Chinese artists saw this undulating leaf scroll as an effective framework for placing a floral motif. It eventually became the foundation for the lotus and the peony, both popular flowers in Chinese art. Islamic artists and weavers used a similar leaf form, but arranged it differently - giving rise to to the arabesque, a form of vegetal ornament unique to Islamic art. From the mid-17th century onwards, flowers permeated Mughal art in India. The Mughal floral style is unique and born from an amalgamation of Mughal/Persian and European designs, most notably botanical drawings. European drawings often depict the full life cycle of a plant in a single page, from buds to fully-formed flowers. Close inspection of floral motifs in the Mughal carpet tradition reveals a similar treatment of individual flowers. While this particular device was incorporated into the Mughal artistic tradition, artists took much license in small embellishments of flowers, leading to detailed images that did not always translate to botanically correct representations.
The passion for flowers and floral compositions in Ottoman art was also very strong, but where Mughal art displayed a preference for naturalistic floral representations, Ottoman artists showed a strong preference for more stylized, geometric compositions of common Ottoman floral motifs - the tulip, rose, hyacinth, and carnation. For easy recognition of any stylized motif, artists tend to focus on the most distinguishing attributes of any object. Similarly, for weavers, the exact replication of flowers as seen in nature is not necessarily the ultimate goal. In Ottoman carpets flowers with distinct profiles, such as tulips and carnations, are typically presented in profile, while a fully-formed rose is usually depicted from above from a "bird's eye view."
Symbolism of Floral Motifs
Depending on the context, a specific flower as a symbol in a given culture might carry a whole succession of secular as well as religious meanings. Within an Islamic context, the key elements of flowers in perpetual bloom, flowing water, shade of trees, and copious leaves convey ideas of both spiritual and physical refreshment and imply Heaven - considered a celestial garden in the Islamic tradition. The basic design elements seen on many prayer rugs are floral motifs and a niche. Even if stylized beyond recognition, the flowers in these carpets convey abundance and imply an ever-blooming garden that a person might enter after death. Symbolic interpretation can also depend on the context in which a floral motif is used.
The lotus, when first introduced into the Chinese artistic repertoire, symbolized the Buddhist notion of purity. In response to Taoist influence, it also gradually took on a meaning of summer, fruitfulness, and offspring. When combined with other symbols, the lotus can convey wishes of happiness and long life.
The Textile Museum is located at 2320 S Street, NW, Washington, DC. Hours are Monday through Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Admission is free; suggested donation $5.00.
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