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6 Aba, Iran, before 1877. Woven silk and metal-wrapped thread. Victoria and Albert Museum

93 Iranian art

◀ The Salting Carpet Iran, 1550-1600. Silk warp and weft, knotted wool pile, areas brocaded with metal thread, 1.65 x 2.31 m (5' 5' x 7' 7"). Victoria and Albert Museum, T.402-1910, Bequeathed by George Salting

The Salting Medallion Carpet was brought to London in 1883 by M.M. Marks of Durlacher Frères, from whom it was acquired by George Salting (1835–1909), a major benefactor to museums in London. It is extremely finely woven with up to 10,000 wool knots per square decimetre alongside areas woven with silver thread-wrapped tapestry. The carpet gives name to the whole group of similarly made fine central Persian rugs, 28 of which have similar medallions and 21 of which were probably part of a gift from the Safavid Shah Tahmasp I (r. 1524–1576) to the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman I in 1566 or part of further gifts from the shah to Sultan Selim II in 1567. Among these gifts were also a number of prayer rugs with Shi’ite dedications. Many of these rugs were put away in the stores of the Topkapı Palace, and subsequently sold or given away in later centuries. Their almost untouched condition and association with Istanbul led for many years to an erroneous attribution to late 19th-century Turkey

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Shi‘ism became the state religion. The exhibition’s section devoted to the change of faith features such remarkable objects as parade armour (from the V&A) and the Horoscope of Iskandar Sultan (1411) (from the Wellcome Collection), the latter a reminder of science’s importance at the Iranian court.

In the 10th century, Persian written in Arabic script emerged as a literary language. Poetry became an important feature and ornament of the visual arts, as represented on a variety of objects—ceramics, metalwork, paintings, but also carpets. One, with verses by Hafiz in its border (left), was bequeathed by George Salting to the V&A in 1910 and has acquired significant fame. Poetry was not only a way to celebrate enigmatic imagery and philosophical ideas, it was also employed to praise the ruler and as a means of acknowledging royal power.

The Shahnameh offers a glorious and legendary version of past events, rooting Iran’s pre-Islamic history in the minds of its populations

After the Islamic conquest, traditions of kingship were reborn in different forms. The exhibition seeks to recreate architectural features from Isfahan under the high ceiling of the V&A’s North Court. Three impressive ten-metre-long paintings that replicate tilework patterns from Isfahan’s major domes, including the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, will be suspended in arcs. These architectural paintings, as well as drawings from the V&A collections, will be complemented by tiles from the 13th to the 19th century. The art of the court and Iranian royal patronage will also be illustrated by the

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