Asia in Aragón: Carpet Production in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain

Heather Ecker, Detroit Institute of Arts,

The carpet production of the Iberian Peninsula never matched that of Turkey, but it was important enough for its products to be exported around the Mediterranean and beyond, and especially for the Murcian production to come under Christian patronage, both royal and noble. From the surviving examples, and our understanding of their historical progression, it is clear that carpets produced in Spain were made at various levels, some rustic, others urban. What is also clear and truly remarkable is that, despite the disruptions of war, displacement, and forced religious conversion in the late medieval and early modern periods, carpet making remained a quintessential Islamic craft, transmitted over hundreds of years from mother to daughter in an unending chain until the expulsion of the Moriscos in the early 17th century.
            This paper will address the production of carpets (13th-16th c.) in the region of Murcia and Albacete. Prior to the 16th century, documentation is mostly limited to the appearance of such carpets in inventories, which provide valuable data on the volume of production and geographical distribution. However, they do not help to locate the carpets in their context of production, design transmission, craft traditions or mechanisms of patronage. For these, we must turn to the surviving carpets themselves, as well as to extrapolating from later documentary evidence—with the understanding that the means of patronage and design transmission changed over time—and from the parallel masculine industry of luster ceramic production, also in the Kingdom of Aragón.