Flying haptic carpets

When he was poring over his Persian carpets, the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl (1858-1905) came up with the word “haptisch”, derived from haptein, a term borrowed from psychology, for a type of vision which ‘grabs’ (or is grabbed by) what it looks at. Those textiles, with their colorful multiform ensembles, don’t allow the eye to rest in one place, instead they invite the eye to “flight”, moving along the surface. Contemplating their patterns induces some sort of imersion of the subject’s mind in the object surface, fading away the separation limit between the two, a limit guarded by a state of conscient and constant vigilance. It is as if they magically conjured or invoked a dreamy state of thought.

Riegl’s history of art narrates the demise of tactility in art and the rise of figurative space. He argued that Ancient Egyptian art created an haptic space, while in Greek art the optical was paramount. These ideas would be adopted by Gilles Deleuze, especially in the book Francis Bacon.

safavid_rug-xvii-3Kerman vase carpet fragment, mid 17th century, Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyon.

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Persian vase carpet fragment, nr. T.57-1929, 17th century, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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Safavid ‘Shah Abbas’ rug, early XVII century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, McMullan Collection.

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