April 19, 2009– Alberto Boralevi

Renaissance Italy and the Oriental Carpet

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Renaissance Italy and the Oriental Carpet: Documents, Paintings and Survivors
Lecture by Alberto Boralevi, Florence, Italy

The Study of Antique Oriental rugs has been based on various sources: by comparison with the rugs reproduced in Western painters, by the investigation of ancient archive documents and by the analysis of the technical and stylistic features of surviving examples.

Since the beginning of modern Carpet Studies in the second half of the 19th c. surviving examples of Oriental Carpets have been referred to those often portrayed in Western paintings from the beginning of 15th century and even earlier. In the second half of the 15th century the Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) portrayed several rugs in his works and nowadays a 15th century rug, now in the Black Church in Brashov, is called after him “Ghirlandaio”. Another rug portrayed by the same painter, is called instead Small Pattern Holbein (SPH), after the famous German Painter Hans Holbein the younger (1497-1543) while another Italian, Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), in his St. Zeno Polyptych, 1457-1459 has possibly left the earliest evidence of a SPH Rug in Italy. Similarly we can easily notice that Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556) … did not portray only “Lotto” rugs

Further information can be found in written documents like the carpet descriptions that appear in Court Inventories. We know, for instance, that Mamluk Carpets were very popular in Italy in the 16th century. In a forthcoming article entitled: Carpets at the Medici Court in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century, Prof. Marco Spallanzani will publish the first results of recent investigation in the Medici Archives, showing the origin and development of a great collection that has been almost entirely lost. An inventory compiled in 1553 listed 96 carpets. In 1587 a new inventory described 169 examples and around 1590 the Oriental Carpets listed in the Medici Wardrobe numbered 216. Among these, the carpets described as Cairene were clearly dominant.

In a few lucky circumstances we can compare surviving examples with those described in inventories or portrayed in paintings. At least two Cairene carpets from the Medici Collection survive: the so-called Medici Cairene Carpets, found in 1982 in the Pitti Palace of Florence, where they had been stored and forgotten for centuries. One of them is a Mamluk, while the other shows the floral style of the Ottoman Court in Cairo. They are among the very few surviving examples that can be traced back in inventories since their first appearance in the late 16th century (Mamluk) and in the early 17th (Ottoman).

Another interesting example is given by the very famous and extremely beautiful Emperors’ Silk Mamluk, preserved in the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts (MAK). Apparently this carpet has nothing to do with Italy, even if Cairene Carpets with silk are quoted in the Medici inventories. Curious enough, in a painting dated 1776 by J.Zoffani, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo of Tuscany, who became later Emperor of Austria, is portrayed with his family in the Pitti Palace, proudly standing on that Silk Mamluk.

Showing the importance of the role played by Oriental Rugs in Renaissance Italy, Alberto Boralevi will demonstrate that the History of Oriental Rugs should not be studied only by comparing the extant examples with paintings, but combining all the different sources of information that is available.

The complete presentation can be seen here

Alberto Boralevi, an architect and dealer born and residing in Florence, stems from a family of art dealers that have been in the Antique Carpet and Textile business in Venice and Florence since the beginning of the twentieth century. From 1986 to 2001 he ran a large gallery, The Carpet Studio, organizing several exhibitions. Since 2001 he moved to a new location in the heart of Florence, where he works mainly by appointment, specializing in tribal weavings, early classical and rare carpet fragments, Islamic textiles and embroideries, Italian peasant rugs and textiles.

In addition to dealing, Mr. Boralevi lectures on Oriental Rugs and works as appraiser and consultant. Moreover he organizes Study Tours to rug producing countries and to visit important Rug Collections worldwide. From 2002 he led groups of carpet lovers to the discovery of Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania and in May/June 2009 he will take a new group on this trip. In 1982 he rediscovered the now famous Medici Cairene Carpets in the Pitti Palace of Florence, and since then he has found many other historical carpets, e.g. the so called ‘Stroganoff’ medallion Ushak, possibly the earliest surviving example of its type.

In 1999, as Chairman of ICOC Academic Committee, Mr. Boralevi organized the Lectures Program of the 9th Conference in Milan, and while in Florence he was the curator of an exhibition of Classical Carpets from the Bardini Collections (Oriental Geometries). Since 2003 he has been a member of ICOC Executive Committee and Chairman of the International Academic Committee. In this role he organized the lecture program of Istanbul ICOC in 2007 and is now working on the next Conference that will be held in Stockholm and Saint Petersburg in June 2011. Alberto Boralevi has published about 40 articles on Oriental Rugs, and several books and catalogues.

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