This embroidery (from Dr. Shirazi’s collection) is Iranian. Note the vibrant colors. (Update: this is called “pateh” embroidery). I believe this depicts a cypress tree, which is a very important motif in Iranian culture.
The word for cypress is “sarv” (it includes several species of tree). According to Dr. Shirazi, when a woman is compared to the beauty of sarv she is called “sarv e naaz” which roughly translates as graceful and beautiful like the sarv tree. A tall Sarv gracefully bends to the right and left when the wind goes through it and this movement is used as a metaphor of a woman walking gracefully. Internet research indicates that the cypress is also a symbol of freedom. And it’s an important feature of gardens representing paradise. Zoroaster legendarily planted two cypress trees, later destroyed.The Sarv-e Abarqu is a 4,000 year old cypress in Iran and a national monument. Anyway! It shows up a lot!
What I found most interesting about this piece is that the artist deliberately avoided fully covering the ground fabric in the embroidered areas. If you look at the close up photos below, you can see that quite a bit of the fabric shows through, creating a textured surface and a color-mixing effect. If the stitching was solid, this piece would look very, very different.
Finally, here is the back of the work:
This is one of a special series of posts based on the embroidery collection of Dr. Faegheh Shirazi, from The University of Texas at Austin. Her research is on “textiles, dress, gender identity discourse, and material culture in the Middle East; the meanings of veiling; rituals and rites of passage as they relate to material culture.” Over the years she has collected a number of examples of embroidery from around the world, and has very kindly allowed me to photograph them for my blog.