Issued: 28 March 2019

The Ashmolean has acquired a beautiful 19th-century Persian embroidered textile which is now on display in the Museum's Islamic Middle East Gallery.  The acquisition has been made possible by the generous support of Art Fund; the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and National Lottery; Richard and Adeela De Unger; and the Patrons of the Ashmolean.

The hanging was brought to England from Persia (modern Iran) in 1845 by George Joseph Bell, an Oxford graduate and physician, who had worked at the British Embassy in the 1830s.  At the time, Persia occupied a key location in British foreign policy: good relations with Persia maintained a buffer zone around India, Britain’s most lucrative colony.  Bell was made a Knight Commander of the Imperial Order of the Lion and the Sun - the order for foreign officials who had made a distinguished service to Persia.

The stunning object, measuring 1.5 by 2 metres, is made of tightly woven woollen cloth, enriched with appliqué work in polychrome silk.  The design echoes the layout of carpets, with a lobed central medallion set within three frames of repeating rosettes, floral sprays and scrolling vines.  Rather than a floor covering, the textile was likely used as a decorative lining for a tent of the Qajar-era (1789–1925).  Tents were used as comfortable shelter during military campaigns, seasonal travel and for ceremonial occasions and could be furnished with luxury materials such as this elaborate embroidery.

Curator of Islamic Art, Dr Francesca Leoni, says: ‘The Ashmolean’s Iranian collections are world-renowned and this gorgeous textile adds to a rich group of Qajar-era works.  We are enormously grateful to the funding bodies, private individuals and patrons whose generosity has made this acquisition possible.’




Claire Parris, Press Officer | T+44 (0)1865 278 178 | M+44 (0)7833 384 512 | @AshmoleanPress

Sarah Holland, Press Assistant | T+44 (0)1865 278 285



An image for editorial use is available to download at

Banner image:
detail of Embroidered Hanging
Iran, first half of 19th century
Wool, felt applique, embroidered with silk, 200 x 150 cm
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford



Art Fund

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators. Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 151,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions and subscription to Art Quarterly magazine. In addition to grant-giving, Art Fund’s support for museums includes Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by Tate St Ives in 2018) and a range of digital platforms. Find out more about Art Fund and the National Art Pass at

The Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the National Lottery

  • The Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund that helps regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales to acquire objects relating to the arts, literature and history.
  • It was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881 and continues to be part of its nationwide work.
  • The annual grants budget, currently £724,000, is provided by Arts Council England National Lottery Funding.
  • Each year, the Purchase Grant Fund considers some 150 applications and awards grants to around 100 organisations, enabling acquisitions of over £3 million to go ahead.
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