Persia Felix: the art of the Persian carpet in a Brescia from… A Thousand and One Nights


By John

You say Persia, and you are already in magic, in Ali Baba's cave. If you add Felix, the enchantment of the Arabian Nights has now bewitched you. Brescia, a city that has become a leader due to its wealth of cultural events, had already ventured there last year, with the exhibition of MITA – International Antique Carpet Museum – “The knots of the garden of paradise”, a naughty title that makes you jump on the first train available. This year, in collaboration with the Tassara Foundation (Elisabetta Raffo, Brescia), the Bruschettini Foundation for Islamic and Asian Art (Marco Galateri, Genoa) and with Nur Islamic Metalworks Collection (Milan), MITA offers – until 14 July – Persia Felix, Carpets, metals and miniatures of ancient cities edited by Professor Giovanni Valagussa.
MITA, (in the Quechua language it meant a compulsory public service in the society of the Inca Empire), also translates into the format of the exhibition activities an originality which aims to enhance the extraordinary heritage of Islamic art, which extends from the Pillars of Hercules to China , and to make its fundamental role usable.
So here we are on the flying carpet ready to leave for Persia Felix. The carpet has always been the most iconic element of the fabulous Middle East (the Tassara Foundation makes use of the exceptional collection donated by Romain Zaleski): around 40 artefacts. They were originally made to decorate palaces and high-ranking homes, imaginative creations often elaborated on the theme of the garden. Weavings of silk and wool fabrics become branches, trees, ponds and streams inhabited by a fantastic bestiary. Bears, jaguars, camels, horses, deer, bulls and lions biting a bull and you can even surprisingly discover a cat (?) riding a camel intent, it seems, on licking an ice cream! All together, they tell stories of the great Persian literature. Not only in the setting, in the design, in the color but almost in every node. Carpets with a high geometric or flowered border and a central field where the theme of the product is concentrated. Rugs that have a “reading” direction (i.e. a base from which to look at them) such as “prayer” ones, a destination usually suggested by a mosque dome.
On display, a fragment of a Kirman carpet arouses great admiration: a riot of colorful flowers of gigantic proportions and the central area occupied by geometric designs, slanted stripes of Arabic writing composed of geometric and naturalistic details typical of the production of Kirman, in the south of Safavid Persia , evolved in particular between 1501 and 1736, a sort of Persian Renaissance.
It is in this period that a journey took place which became famous thanks to the volumes of Jean Chardin (1643-1713) “Voyages de monsieur Chardin en Perse et autres lieux de l'Orient” considered among the most reliable documents on oriental society of the time. An example from 1686 with drawings by Grelot is exhibited in the exhibition. A video by Wladimir Zalesy was dedicated to him with music by Zöj, an Australian-Persian duo that produces contemporary music. On Chardin's journey, from the mythical Isfahan, where the flowered garden carpets come from, we move to Heritz, with its geometric silk carpets, to Kirman which develops a more essential vegetal decoration, up to Tabriz with its more geometric taste , which is close to that of the Caucasus.
Everywhere, even in the exhibition, you can sense the presence of water, a fundamental element in Islam (doesn't the Alhambra say anything?) which suggests moments of daily activity. Here, jugs and an octagonal basin with very rich and flowing decorations, with curlicues and arabesques (precisely) evoke her peremptorily. Nor is there any shortage of humorous ideas, such as that zoo-shaped oil lamp: a hare with very long pointed ears (an indiscreet witness to private conversations?) or the handle with leonine features which is supposed to discourage unwanted guests.
Along the way, among the precious objects made of different materials (textile, metal or paper), the extraordinary use of color stands out, and the evident ability of the artists to adapt to more recent styles almost up to Art Nouveau, with similar naturalistic triumphs to multicolored aviaries enlivened by hundreds of unexpected zoomorphic presences (the human figure, as we know, is not allowed).