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Conserving the Emperors Carpet

The magnificent sixteenth-century Emperor's Carpet from Safavid Iran was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1941, but its condition was so fragile that it was only displayed for public twice over the next sixty years. This video documents the ambitious three-year conservation program that was launched in 2006 to stabilize the condition of the carpet so its lustrous wools and dazzling colors can be displayed the Museum on a regular basis.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

Are you an educator? Here's a related lesson plan. For additional educator resources from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, visit Find an Educator Resource.

Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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  • hopper cool style avatar for user maceden
    What's the advantage of using synthetic dyes instead of natural? Are there any side affects that may influence the quality of the carpet?
    (7 votes)
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    • mr pants teal style avatar for user Anthony Natoli
      Synthetic dyes are generally less expensive and more easily reproduced, since they are made by a chemical process instead of gathered from plants or animals or rocks. I would expect fewer side effects, since synthetic dyes would not have the organic acids which may be found in natural dyes from plants or animals or rocks (which may have plant or animal substances on them).
      (7 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    How does damage like that done to this carpet occur? Is this just part of the aging process? Or is this due to the movement of the carpet from place to place and daily use such as people walking on top of it?
    (3 votes)
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    • leafers seed style avatar for user lynnehubner
      Damage according to the video is the result of a multitude of factors. Silk deteriorating at a faster rate than the wool fibers, weakness developed at fold lines, travel from one country to another perhaps through trade, daily use as exhibited at the worn corners all contributed to its disrepair. Previous conservation efforts surely stressed the fibers.
      (5 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Wudaifu
    Who wrote the caption that appears below this video? Was it Khan Academy representatives or someone from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, because there are 2 separate glaring mistakes in diction. Very poor quality to an excellent video.
    (2 votes)
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  • leafers seed style avatar for user lynnehubner
    Although this is a magnificent carpet what factors are considered when choosing a candidate for conservation?
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Gabrielle Pantano
    In the about section it says the Metropolitan Museum bought the carpet in 1941 and in the video she says it was bought in 1943, which is correct? Also, does anyone know who it was purchased from?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

- We're standing in front of The Emperor's Carpet, one of the greatest Persian carpets in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. The carpet was produced in the 16th century, most likely during the reign of the great Shah of Iran, Shah Tahmasp. It is a remarkable carpet, and we can only imagine the impact it must have made on visitors to the Imperial Court. Somehow the extraordinary carpet made its way north to Russia, perhaps through trade, or as a diplomatic gift. Then around 1700 the carpet was given to the Hapsburgs in Vienna by Peter the Great. After various owners, it was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1943. As amazing as it was, it was also very fragile, and the museum only displayed the emperor's carpet to the public twice in the next 60 years. By 2006, we realized that we could only share the carpet with our public on a regular basis if we were willing to embark on an ambitious conservation program that would stabilize its condition. (music playing) - The conservators are always tempted to look pretty much in the details, if possible under microscope, so you see the condition of the fibers, you see the condition of the dye, the structural condition. However, if you look, overall, the condition of this piece, it's marvelous. Even so, we have problems, supported by patches. However, the warp and weft, the pile, the quality of the fiber, the quality of the dye, so high, tells us that it was made for a special owner. We had to start analyzing previous conservation. And looking mostly at the back of the carpet, you'll see the lining, first red and rich silk fabric covering the whole carpet, yet damaged. Remove that first level, you find another lining. Now, removing the two layers of fabric, you find other layers of conservation. Front and back of this large carpet. Photography had been done by the Photo Studio that gives us a clear record of the conservation previous to our time. - This the first phase after we remove the lining. It's covered with over 660 patches, which is the effort of the previous people who tried to conserve and preserve this precious carpet. And then we are removing it, because some of them are really tightly sewn, or textiles shrunk, and it's distorting the original structure. - There's no documentation as to when the patches were put on. And it's probably over different periods, because there are several layers of patches. And a lot of times we remove a patch and then find a whole bunch of other patches underneath. - And we collect everything that we lose from the carpet, which we will use afterwards to do dye analysis. And we also collect the warp and the weft, which is actually made out of silk. The pile is wool. That's actually one of the reasons why the carpet is fairly fragile, is because the silk deteriorates more than the wool. - And we end up by removing over 700 patches from this carpet. After relaxing the carpet, we need to stabilize it. - We'll back it with wool fabric, which we're in the process of dying. We're dying wool in four colors to match the original colors of the carpet-- the red, the green, a yellow, and a beige. The dyes of the carpet are natural dyes. And we're using synthetic dyes, so already that's a very big difference. And we went through a process of trying different colors to match as close as possible. And we write the recipes for each color so that we can duplicate it. And we actually give it out to professional dyers afterwards, because we need a lot of yardage, and we don't really have the facility to do that here. - The next challenge is to assure the perfect bonding between our new material and the carpet. The role of the fabric is to support the carpet. We are preparing for consolidating it. We have an example in this corner of damaged area that has been released from its previous treatment, and that's what we're left with. There are not many areas like this. Specific for corners. Also the center lines, where the carpet must have been folded. The next part of the process is to attach the fabric to the carpet. We have the fabric on the back of the carpet, preparing for consolidating it. After this, carpet will move to the loom, face up, and final stitches will be done from the front. (music playing) - I'm trying to document the structure of this partially preserved selvedge. Under microscope, I'm looking at the very small fragment of the selvedge. Selvedges are on the sides of the carpet, and they have a very important function, because they reinforce the entire carpet. Weavers treated the selvedge differently, so selvedge can tell us what specific area or perhaps even manufacturer the carpet was produced in. There are not too many selvedges survived to our time, so that's why it's a great source of technical information for us. - Finally, after a massive three-year project, it is laid out in full before us. The conservation work has consolidated the carpet, and we clearly see what has made it so dazzling. There are the beautiful, rich colors with the central field and a border in a contrasting color. The central field is a forest of animals, as if you have come across an amazing landscape of both real and fantastic creatures. In the borders are several layers of scrolling arabesques. And sometimes you find animal heads hidden away in the foliage. The Persian calligraphy reinforces the visual language we see in the carpet. Its verdant beauty is evoked with verses like the one that says, "Come, for the breeze of spring has renewed the promise of the meadow." Other lines praise the king, calling on him to enjoy eminence forever. A carpet of this complexity and beauty is really only possible by the 16th century in Iran, when technical innovations such as the cultivation of silk and the knowledge about dyes had developed alongside the extraordinary aesthetic sophistication of the Safavid court. It is so exciting that now, as a result of this conservation campaign, the public can experience the carpet as never before. (music playing)