Asia – The Caravan to Mecca
Van der Borcht Workshop, Brussels
Carton attributed to Maximilien de Hase or Nicolas De Haen
Composition: wool & silk
330 x 597 cm
This tapestry is originally from the prestigious tapestry series – “Continents” (4 tapestries in total), woven in Brussels in the early 18th Century.
This tapestry depicts a caravan to Mecca as the symbol of Asia. A country from the Ottoman Empire is represented by a caravan leaving for Mecca. In the centre, we notice the camel which wears the palanquin or the “Mahmal” according to the Encyclopedia of Islam. In the “Encyclopedia of Islam”, Bro. Buhl and J. Jomier wrote the following in regards to the “Mahmal”: “The Mahmal is a type of richly-decorated palanquin perched atop a camel and used in the olden days for transporting people – especially noble ladies – in Mecca. In a stricter, more precise sense, the word refers to such palanquins as they have become political symbols which, since the 7-13th century, have been felt by their caravans of pilgrims from Mecca as a testament to their prestige.”
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Mounajjed, from King Saud University, has also published a study on this topic: The Caravan of Mecca. He indicated that “from the early days of Islam until the mid-19th century, Damascus and Cairo, were the main starting points for the caravans that led the pilgrims in Mecca… A convoy of twenty thousand pilgrims was forming from all corners of the Muslim in the world. They are grouped by ethnic and geographical origins”. Dr. Al-Mounajjed also cites, “the immense cortege lead by forty horsemen brandishing silk banners, and followed by armed men either on horseback or on their foot. The size of janissaries preceded the Mahmal, the sanjak, and the standard of the Sultan.” At the beginning of the 18th century, the Sultan, protector of the Holy Places and the pilgrimage, ordered the governor of Damascus to accompany the caravan in person.
In fact, this subject of the caravan of Mecca was chosen to symbolise “Asia” indicates its importance in the second half of the 18th century. The Mahmal, and it can be reasonably stated that for the courses at the same time, the religion was the great religion of Asia. Appointed for the occasion, Emir El-Hajj (leader of the Pilgrimage, he drew a great prestige and the advantage of not being forced to make war with his master.)
The series of tapestries “The Four Continents” is constituted of five panels including Europe, Africa, Asia and America and a panel depicting the Four Continents reunited. The different versions seem to have been forged equally by the family Van der Borcht, one of which is in the Austrian state of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Collection in Vienna.