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Prayer carpets share a distinctive iconography recognized by Muslims around the world. Developed over centuries and circulated through trade and religious pilgrimage (hajj), this set of images – including flowers, an arch, lamp and water pitcher – transforms each carpet into a sacred space where the worshipper can commune with God. Prayer and Transcendence will explore this iconography and its interpretation across time and artistic traditions, from Ottoman Türkiye to Safavid Iran to Mughal India.

Examples on display from western Anatolia, the Caucasus and Iran all share a central motif: an elegant arch surrounded by vegetation and flowers. One of the most iconic images in a prayer carpet, the arch often symbolizes the gateway to paradise, conceived in the Koran as a lush, walled garden. The exhibition will also explore the spiritual meaning of the lamp and water pitcher motifs that recur throughout prayer carpet design.

Spanning the 16th through 19th centuries, the works on display will be drawn from five collections – The Textile Museum Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cincinnati Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Markarian Collection – and will also include related examples from outside the Islamic tradition.

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