In 1893 the Museum of Fine Arts acquired its first important carpet: an action-packed pictorial rug woven during the reign of Mughal Indian emperor Akbar (1556–1605). Donated by the widow of Boston capitalist Frederick L. Ames, this carpet had been selected for Ames’s house by the architect H. H. Richardson and approved by William Morris, illustrious leader of England’s Arts and Crafts Movement. In a letter to Richardson heartily recommending the purchase, Morris declared the carpet “a very rare and fine work of art.”
As important as they once were in their places of origin, the Museum’s oriental carpets have also enjoyed varied and colorful histories in the West. Many, like the Ames carpet, spent time embellishing great homes. Others—particularly the Persian and Indian fragments donated by art theorist Denman Waldo Ross—have instructed future artists in the principles of good design. The Museum has purchased still others—such as a spectacular, 450-year-old Persian hunting carpet —as outstanding exemplars of Asian textile art.
Spanning a geographic range from Spain to India, “Ambassadors from the East” featured rare, pre-1800 carpets and carpet fragments from the permanent collection and highlighted the roles these woven masterpieces have played as distinguished visitors to the West.