From Caravans to Courts: Textiles from the Silk Road
April 1–August 21, 2016
Gallery 100, Main Building


Carpets and other textiles from various parts of Asia have long been traded on the Silk Road, an ancient and historically important trade route. It fostered travel and commerce between China, India, Central Asia, and Europe, and was central to cultural interaction. By the 15th century, Oriental carpets made in major carpet-weaving centers in Turkey captured the interest of the Western world were exported to Europe and, later, to the Americas.

It was not until the 20th century that Western collectors turned their attention to the vast number of traditional carpets and textiles made by nomadic, village, and workshop weavers throughout regions along the Silk Road. These textiles were produced under several different settings and conditions: tribal weaving; cottage-industry weaving; carpets made in town and city workshops using complex and intricate patterns; and very fine carpets made for the nobility and royalty. The textiles shown here were functional items in daily life, but they also embody high levels of technical skill and aesthetic beauty. Traditional and sacred patterns were often incorporated into these works, making them part of the very fabric of life and identity. However, the exact origins of certain design motifs are often difficult to determine, since contact and migration between multitudes of tribes and cultures occurred over a long period of time.

The ten textiles in this gallery complement the special exhibition, The Carpet and the Connoisseur: The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs, on view from March 6 to May 8 in the Main Exhibition Galleries of the East Building.

Caravans and Courts: Textiles from the Silk Road is curated by textile conservator Zoe Perkins in collaboration with Philip Hu, associate curator-in-charge of Asian art.