"Miel virgem destilan tus labios, esposa; miel y leche hay tu lengua... Tu plantel es un vergel de granados,de frutales los mas esquisitos,de cipreses y de nardos. De nardos y azafran,de canela y cinamono,de todos los arboles aromaticos,de mirra y de aloe y todos los mas selectos balsamos."
Cantar de los cantares 4:11.13-14 (Song of Songs)
It is a cold afternoon, my sister calls me on the phone asking me if I would like to go with her at the Fuller Building. Apparently there are a few of our friends from Brussels who have art galleries and are exhibiting for Asia Week.
I say yes, I have seen many people this week and I am feeling a little tired but yes, I say yes. On the seventh floor, while my sister is socializing with a friend of my mother, I hear from afar the distant sound of a guitar, almost as if it was coming from a garden in Granada. Intrigued by that music I leave quietly without telling anyone, not that my presence there made much difference anyways...
The sound leads me to a very dark room with the following sign on the door: 'The garden of the pomegranates'. Roberto and his brother Enzo, both from Rome, are the owners of this beautiful showroom filled with magic and carpets from Samarkand. Roberto, the eldest, explains that each and every carpet has a fascinating story behind its motif and design, mostly discovered by unthinkable coincidences, serendipity and extraordinary events.
The carpets are from Uighur textile workshops which were very active in the early 18th Century in the oasis of eastern Turkestan on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert on the silk road, namely the oasis of Khotan, Kashagar and Yarkand. In the west they were known as Samarkand.
By examining the compositions of the main motifs Roberto says tells us to bear in mind that the carpets appear to be the result of a coherent graphic design to portray actual botanical tables. " What we see before us is a pomegranate garden reproduced within the space of a carpet, a Pomegranate carpet. " This is how Samarkands were called, ...there were to express a longing for the mythical original garden," adds Enzo, who was finished with a client.
In all cultures of the near east, the pomegranate has always been seen as a symbol of fertility, fecundity, and thus prosperity. In kabbalah, (Jewish Mysticism) the pictorial motif of the tree of life and its repetitious multiplication in the carpets, prior of having a decorative function, it represents the expansion of an important idea, whose symbol conceals the potential to link people around the same meaning, an experience which can be shared even by people of different generations so as to create a bridge, a commonality of feeling and a spiritual affinity.
The music is relaxing me. Roberto in his calm voice, wearing an impeccable Italian suit, carries on talking almost to himself. "A garden is a fantastic place in which to contemplate beauty and the mysteries of nature. A magic and safe haven where man, by tending flowers, plants and trees, nurtures the most intimate and delicate part of his being: a garden is a place of the soul."
I wonder where my sister is. I certainly am not moving from here. "A carpet is the reflection of this ideal place..." He is right, I feel trapped by the music, darkness and the captivating energy within those symbols and multi-colored outlines, tracing myths, legends and principles of life forces being and becoming the cycle of cosmos.
I am not leaving, she will have to look for me. Please Roberto could you carry on?
He nods. "The carpet-garden allows man to satisfy his aesthetics and his spiritual sensibility and set aside a place for meditation and prayer. A place where the stories of the world can be read, a small bounded and decorated space just like a garden, is thus itself a garden of the soul."
Roberto and Enzo's father was from Izmir, Turkey like my grandmother, a Sephardi Jew. (Jews whose origins came from Spain). As any of the Sephardi Jewish merchants who over centuries traveled from the desert of Judea to Sefarad, from Granada, to the lands of the Ottoman Empire and all the way to the far East spreading these ideas through the art of carpets, in 1930, Giuseppe Danon traveled to Italy with carpets he brought from Turkey opening the Danon Company in Rome.
With galleries in New York, Rome and Paris, today the Danon gallery is widely recognized as one of the leading companies for antique carpets in the world. It is known for the extraordinary quality and beauty of its pieces, including notable collections of carpets from China, India, East Turkestan and Tibet.
Among Danon's clients are museums, prestigious institutions and international collectors. The gallery collaborated closely in exhibitions and publications with The National Museum of Oriental Art, The National Ethnographic and Prehistoric Museum "Luigi Pigorini", and The Israel Museum of Jerusalem.
Enzo was then telling me about how historical sources gave him and Roberto detailed pictures of Sepahardi merchants. The pictures provided by the archives of the Genizah, of the Ben -Ezra synagogue (My mother's maiden name) in Fursat, gave them an extraordinary general overview, describing the complex profile of these men, who were not only merchants and travelers, but also kabbalistic and philosophical scholars, botanical enthusiasts and passionately interested in astrology and astronomy.
Who but someone with all this knowledge could have invented such complex products, as multi-faceted as a diamond?
The Sephardi merchants who reached the oases of Eastern Turkestan in the 18th Century on their way to the East in search for opportunities were following in the footsteps of this intensely dynamic spiritual and trading traditions. Motifs such the pomegranate began to appear in Turkish carpets after 1492 -- the year of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Both motifs are connected to Jewish symbolic and liturgical apparatus. The arch resting on two pillars similar to palms in the desert of idea, is depicted on the cloth which still today in synagogues covers the aron-ha-kodesh the cabinet in which the holy books are kept. Almost as if the worshipper were invited to see it and imagine the curtain protecting the Arc of the Convenant in the desert at the time of the Exodus.
An hour has passed; my sister is nowhere to be found. Enzo, Roberto and I recognize between each other the strong hierarchic bond coming from our fathers and grandparents. Surrounded by reclining Buddhas and Tantric Himalayan gods during Asia Week, we still contemplate in silent and prayer-like fashion the echoes of our ancestors' kabbalistic teachings in a garden of pomegranates, accompanied by the sound of a guitar while quietly sitting on carpets sold on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
My sister comes in and without even looking around she aims with surreal confidence at a yellow carpet in bright light over a wall. "How much is that 'Tree of Life' carpet over there?
She then sees me, looks, pauses,.... understands.... laughs, invites Roberto and Enzo for Shabbath at eight o clock sharp!
The Source: "Il Giardino dei Melograni" Botanica e Kabbalah nei tappeti Samarkanda , Enzo e Roberto Danon Maurizio Piconi, 2004
The Gallery: Danon New York Gallery
41 East 57th Street New York NY 10022 t+ 1 212 813 0700 m+ 1 347 223 9939 Tue - Sat 12 - 6 firstname.lastname@example.org