Prayer and Transcendence




February 18-July 1, 2023

In the Muslim faith, carpets create physically and spiritually “clean” spaces during the daily ritual of prayer. Drawn from five collections, this exhibition introduced the purpose and iconography of classical prayer rugs from across the Islamic world, as well as design comparisons from the Jewish tradition.

About the Exhibition

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 explored 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 also explored 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 were drawn from five collections – The Textile Museum Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cincinnati Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Markarian Collection – and also included related examples from outside the Islamic tradition.

Prayer and Transcendence is accompanied by a gallery guide.


Support for this exhibition and related programming was provided by Aramco Americas, the Bruce P. and Olive W. Baganz Fund for The Textile Museum Exhibitions and Publications, the David Berg Foundation, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and the Markarian Foundation. Additional support was provided by Tina M. deVries, Helen K. King, Mary Jo Otsea and Richard H. Brown, Roger and Claire Pratt, and David M. Sloan.



Prayer carpet with design of three arches

Prayer carpet; Türkiye, western Anatolia; Uşak; 18th century. The Textile Museum Collection R34.22.1. Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1925.

Colorful prayer carpet with abstract archway design

Prayer carpet, Caucasus, 1890-1910. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum 1977.166. Gift of Elizabeth Gowing, Harborne W. Stuart, Peggy Coolidge and the Estate of W. I. Stuart in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby H. Stuart, Jr.

Prayer carpet with archway design

Prayer carpet; Türkiye, western Anatolia, Gördes; 19th century. The Textile Museum Collection R34.3.2. Acquired by George Hewitt Myers prior to 1929.


Elaborate prayer carpet with arch design and script


Prayer carpet; Safavid Empire, Iran, Qazvin or Tabriz; 16th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art 17.120.124. Mr. and Mrs. Issac D. Fletcher Collection, bequest of Issac D. Fletcher, 1917.


Prayer carpet with arch and lamp motif

Prayer carpet; Ottoman Empire, Türkiye, Istanbul or Egypt, Cairo; 17th century. The Textile Museum Collection 1967.24.1. Museum purchase.

Torah curtain with motif of hanging lamps

Torah Ark curtain; Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Cairo; early 17th century. The Textile Museum Collection R16.4.4. Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1915.



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