THREE'S A LOTTO PAINTED CARPETS
Three rugs do not an exhibition make, except when
surrounded by paintings by Lorenzo Lotto.
Through March 1, 1998, the National Gallery of Art
in Washington, DC, will have on display some fifty-one paintings by the Italian
Renaissance artist Lorenzo Lotto and three rugs of the types appearing in his
Although Lotto (1480 - 1556) portrayed oriental rugs
in only six of his works, his name is associated with a particular group of
Anatolian rugs having an infinitely
repeating field pattern. Since those six works also included carpets that
we refer to as "re-entrant" (or
"Bellini") and "para-Mamluk" the
moniker "Lotto rug" is a trifle misleading.
Lotto Painting With "Bellini" Rug
Oriental rugs found special favor among the aristocrats in
Europe during the Renaissance and became a symbol of affluence. They are
invariably shown as part of an important event, a religious scene, or as
decoration in the homes of the commissioning subjects. Lotto painted them in
meticulous detail, capturing the essence of their texture.
Lotto is the only Renaissance painter known to have owned
an oriental rug, although it is not known whether he himself owned any of the
carpets that we see in his paintings.
In an interesting entry in the catalog, we are informed
that Lotto, then in Venice, pawned a "large Turkish carpet with a thick pile"
for a period of one week during January of 1548. A Turkish carpet then cost
roughly the equivalent of what Lotto was paid to do the family portrait in
which the rug appeared.
Of the three rugs in the exhibition, two are in the
"re-entrant" prayer rug format often referred to as "Bellini." One is a
fabulous example on loan from the Museum fur Islamische Kunst in Berlin.
The complexity of the green-ground Kufesque border perfectly frames the stark
red field, in the middle of which is a compelling light-blue ground medallion.
This rug alone makes a trip worthwhile.
The Berlin "Bellini" Rug
The other re-entrant rug is from the Ballard
collection at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A marvelous rug
itself, its border system seems crowded and undistinguished in comparison to
the Berlin rug.
The Ballard "Bellini"
The third rug (the "Lotto") was loaned by the
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Of the Anatolian style described by
Charles Grant Ellis, it has a well-executed field and green Kufesque
border. Although I find the "ornamented style" Lottos to be the most
interesting (see R. Pinner, Multiple and Substrate Designs,
Hali 42), this example provides a sufficient
introduction to the genre.
The author, his wife Diane & Robert Torchia in front of the Lotto
By the way, don't fail, as I almost did, to look at some
of the paintings in this exceedingly rare exhibition. Most of the works are
from European lenders and are likely not to return to the United States during
1. In The Oriental Rug
Lexicon, Peter Stone defines "Bellini Rugs" as
Anatolian prayer rugs of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries. These are rugs with a pointed mihrab and open field except for a
distinctive idented or lobed quadrilateral medallion. The main border may be
Kufesque. An inner border may have a reentrant octagon or 'keyhole' at the
bottom. This design is shown in rugs in paintings in northern Italy of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The earliest representation of this prayer
rug is in a painting in the National Gallery, London, by Gentile Bellini made
Stone's Lexicon defines "para-Mamluk" rugs as
A group of fifteenth and sixteenth century rugs. Their
field design is usually a 2-1-2 medallion arrangement, each medallion
containing a complex, central star. The ground is red and most other design
features of the field are green, blue, brown, yellow, and purple. In
construction, these rugs have an asymmetric knot open to the left with "Z" spun
yarn (Mamluks have "S" spun yarn). These rugs have been attributed to Cairene
workshops, Damascus, and Anatolia.
To comment on this review,
e-mail Wendel R. Swan.