Classical Carpets – Berlin’s War Losses at the Old Mint
Among the add-ons during the recent BARE antique carpet and textile art fair at the Old Mint in Berlin was an evocative special documentary photo exhibition, ‘Schicksalsnacht im Tresorraum der Alten Münze – Das Ende der bedeutenden Sammlung Bodes’ (Fateful Night in the Vault of the Old Mint – The End of the Important Bode Collection).
The underground vaults in the Alte Münze are of historic significance. The imposing metre-thick steel doors, massive concrete pillars, and the dank, humid atmosphere brought to mind the tragic loss of a major part of the Berlin Museum’s world-famous Islamic carpet collection, much of which was associated with Wilhelm von Bode.
During the latter days of World War II, on 11 March 1945, seventeen large classical carpets, including the iconic white-ground Safavid medallion carpet that had for so many years been the centrepiece of a series of arrangements in the Islamic galleries on Museum Island, were stored in the ‘deep vault of the Reich mint’, which was considered to be especially safe. However, following an Allied bombing raid, they were destroyed by fire – all that survived was a pile of charred fragments, and, elsewhere in the Museum’s archives, a collection of superb glass-plate photographs. These were first published by Kurt Erdmann in his essays on the lost carpets in the classic work Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets, and the captions used below follow Erdmann.
Inv. Nr. I 1. White-ground carpet (604 x 365 cm). North Persia, first half of the sixteenth century. Acquired about 1890 from a synagogue in Genoa by W. von Bode.
(Detail). White-ground carpet (604 x 365 cm). North Persia, first half of the sixteenth century.
Prints from these glass plate slides were shown in a 1993 exhibition at the Pergamon Museum, organised by the then director, Dr Volkmar Enderlein, during the Hamburg/Berlin International Conference on Oriental Carpets (see HALI 68, p.127). On that occasion, surrounded by the surviving wonders of the Berlin Collection, they attracted only muted attention, but here at BARE, in situ, as it were, they assumed a different dimension.
Inv. Nr. I 13. Fragment of a Caucasian or North Persian carpet (228 x 228 cm), seventeenth century. Acquired 1905 as a gift from Bode.
Inv. Nr. I 3. Dragon carpet (678 x 230 cm), Caucasus, early sixteenth century. The carpet is reputed to have come from a mosque in Damascus and passed into the Graf collection in Vienna from which, in 1905, it was acquired for Berlin.
Inv. Nr. KGM 81,1018. Dragon carpet (572 x 268 cm), Caucasus, about 1600. Acquired 1881.
Inv. Nr. I 2840. Caucasian carpet (313 x 187 cm), end of the eighteenth century. Acquired 1917.
Inv. Nr. I 3089. Garden carpet (630 x 300 cm), North-west Persia, eighteenth century. Acquired 1920, probably from a mosque in Iraq.
Inv. Nr. I 1313. North Persian carpet (490 x 265 cm), first half of sixteenth century. Acquired 1909.
Inv. Nr. KGM 87,974. ‘Portuguese’ carpet (500 x 252 cm), Persia, seventeenth century. Acquired 1887 in Paris.
Inv. Nr. I 2656. South Persian carpet (540 x 235 cm), first half of the sixteenth century. Acquired 1875 in Munich.
Inv. Nr. I 33. So-called Isfahan carpet (265 x 180 cm), East Persia (Herat?), about 1600. Acquired 1906.
Inv. Nr. KGM 88,330. Fragment of a carpet (350 x 260 cm), probably from Central Persia, about 1600. Acquired 1888 in Bologna.
Inv. Nr. KGM 73,1195. White-ground carpet (506 x 256 cm). North Persia, second half of the sixteenth century. Acquired 1873 from a church in the Tyrol.
Inv. Nr. I 5055. Persian carpet (306 x 230 cm), sixteenth century. Acquired 1927.
Inv. Nr. KGM 99,315. East Persian carpet (410 x 294 cm), seventeenth century. Acquired 1899 in Paris.
Inv. Nr. I 10. Ottoman carpet (290 x 217 cm), Cairo about 1540-5. Acquired 1905 as a gift from von Dirksen.
Inv. Nr. I 19. Ushak carpet (436 x 229 cm), Asia Minor, sixteenth century. Acquired 1905 as a gift from Bode.
Inv. Nr. I 7. Ushak carpet (430 x 268 cm), Asia Minor, sixteenth to seventeenth century. Acquired 1905 as a gift from Bode.
Inv. Nr. KGM 90,90. Spanish carpet (293 x 165 cm) Alcaraz, end of fifteenth century. Acquired 1890 in Paris.
Inv. Nr. I 946. Kurdish carpet (192 x 116 cm), seventeenth or eighteenth century. Acquired 1908 in Konya in Central Anatolia
Inv. Nr. I 30. Ottoman carpet (415 x 287 cm), Cairo or Istanbul about 1600. Acquired 1905 as a gift from Bode.
Inv. Nr. KGM 90,10. North Persian carpet (545 x 212 cm), beginning of the seventeenth century. Acquired 1890.
To add to the resonance of the 2013 event, in a vault adjacent to that showing the photographic reproductions of the lost carpets, a faithful full-scale copy of the Safavid medallion carpet was displayed on a low platform. Woven in Tabriz for the German carpet manufacturer and importer Petag during the 1920s, the carpet was on loan from one of the exhibitors in the fair above, the Antwerp-based firm of N. Vrouyer.