This rare fragment of a large knotted wool medallion carpet was woven in the town of Ushak in western Turkey in about 1600. From the beginning of the 1500s the town supported a vibrant carpet making industry in which organised workshops produced large works (around 6 x 3 m) for the local and export markets, both for sale and on commission for wealthy patrons. Two types of Ushak patterns emerged during this period, the 'star' and the 'medallion'.
The fragmented nature of this Ushak medallion carpet suggests it may have come from the deepest layer of carpets in a mosque. It has been common practice for centuries in Islam to cover the floor of mosques with carpets and, since new rugs were customarily placed on top of the older and more worn rugs, fragments of very fine early carpets still exist, as exemplified by this example, that would not otherwise have survived. Until their replacement in the early 1970s, these layers of carpets in the mosques of Istanbul could still be seen. It was considered respectful to use good quality rugs within the mosques, like this knotted wool example, with the result that the products of the town craftsmen or court workshops have a better survival rate than early domestic village or tribal rugs.
Sumptuously decorated, Turkish carpets such as the medallion and star Ushaks attained great popularity in European courts and the houses of the nobility in the 1500s. Henry VIII is illustrated standing astride a star Ushak in a well known portrait of him by the court painter Hans Holbein in 1537 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England). King Henry owned a large number of Turkish carpets, many of which were distributed around his palaces after his death in 1547. The Medici family also owned examples, as did Richard Sackville, the third Earl of Dorset, who is illustrated standing on one in a portrait by William Larkin in 1613. With a similar design, the 'Turkey carpet' became a feature of fashionable households during the Edwardian period, and Ushak carpets continued to be made well into the 1900s, although they lacked the quality and magnificence of earlier carpets.
Christina Sumner, Principal Curator Design & Society, 2008