Cairene Rugs

Antique Cairene Rugs Guide

In 1517 Sultan Selim the grim (Selim I) conquered the Mamluk Empire. From the fall of the Mamluk Empire until 1914 most of what is present day Egypt was the Ottoman vassal state of Cairo. Cairo stayed in Ottoman hands until 1914 even though the trench invaded in 1798 there was a revolt and a semi-autonomous Albanian dynasty and the British  invaded in 1882 treating Ottoman Egypt as a puppet state.. After 1914 the rugs of Egypt are properly called Egyptian Rugs.  Thus the rugs of Ottoman Egypt 1517 – 1914 are properly called Cairene Rugs. Mamluk rugs were primarily geometric but with the fall of the Mamluk Empire Cairene rugs quickly adopted the floral designs of Ottoman rugs.


Cairene Rug, Late 16th Century

6 ft. 3 in. x 4 ft. 3 in.
NOTE: In 1517 Egypt became part of the Ottoman Empire and all aspects of Egyptian culture became increasingly dominated by the Turkish style. Cairene carpets had previously displayed geometric Mamluk designs but during the 16th century their rectilinear drawing was replaced by a curvilinear Ottoman style introducing floral ornaments and saz leaves, motifs commonly seen on contemporaneous Turkish ceramics and architectural elements. Although the appearance of such carpets would seem to suggest an Anatolian workshop, their asymmetrically knotted structure and restrained palette are directly related to Mamluk production and to their having originated within an Egyptian workshop. For a related Ottoman rug see: Dimand, M. S. and Mailey, J., Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973, Cat. No. 109, Fig. 192, pp.204 and 234.

Two Cairene carpet fragments, Ottoman Egypt, mid 16th century

Measurements: 3 ft. 5 in. by 3 ft. 5 in. and 3 ft. 5 in. x 3 ft. 3 in.

The present two fragments belong to a group of carpets generally attributed to Cairo after the Mamluk sultanate in Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. The carpets which were produced in the workshops of Cairo from this time onwards were very similar in construction to earlier Mamluk carpets but were artistically influenced by Ottoman designs.

These two fragments have a yellow dyed wool foundation and the restricted Mamluk colour palette comprising of lac red for the field and golden yellow, moss-green and touches of ivory and blue for the design elements which was typical of Mamluk production. The design has, however, departed from Mamluk geometrical compositions to a floral style shared with other Ottoman arts and crafts of the period and particularly textile and ceramic art. In the second quarter of the 16th century this floral style became known as the ‘saz’ style.

Mamluk carpet fragment

8 ft. 4 in. x 5 ft. 10 in.

Mamluk carpets were usually attributed to Asia Minor or Damascus in the 19th century and it was Valentiner in 1910 who appears to first suggest an Egyptian origin for this group of carpets.

Mamluk carpets, and this piece is no exception, have design and structural characteristics which set them apart from other Eastern carpet weaving traditions. Their design consists of predominantely geometric forms in-filled with floral patterns. A limited palette is used with lac red, moss-green and light blue as the principal colours. The wool is characteristically soft and lustrous, almost silk-like in quality, and it is ‘S’ (clockwise) spun and ‘Z’ (anti-clockwise) plied, whereas in most other Eastern pile carpets wool is ‘Z’ spun and ‘S’plied.

Red Ground Tulip Rug

Size: 25 ft. 3 in. x 12 ft. 7 in.

This carpet is one of the distinguished group of often-termed “Cairene” carpets. These carpets were the product of Egyptian workshops, previously established under the Mamluk sultanate, after their conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. The subdued Mamluk color palette and unusual technique (see lot 63 in this catalogue) is employed for designs characteristic of Ottoman art. In this carpet, the overall design scheme and details such as the curling leaves, blossoms and Aintimani stripes typify the lush and floral patterns favored by the Ottoman court.

Mamluk carpet, 16th century

Size: 20 ft. 3 in. by 13 ft. 9 in.

Notes: Linen backed, extensive repiling, small cobbled repairs, and partial end guard borders.
The Egyptian attribution of Mamluk carpets is established by their unusual structure whereby the wool is “S” (clockwise) spun and “Z” (anti-clockwise) plied, unlike the majority of Eastern weavings.
Mamluk design is based on the interplay of geometric forms and the subtle layering and juxtaposition of a limited color-palette, creating ever more sophisticated and complicated aesthetics.