History of Antique Rugs
The origin of antique rug weaving is often disputed. The most common belief is rug weaving was believed to be first created by Cyrus the Great during his reign of the Persian Empire in 529 B.C. These carpets were made in very small villages for residential use with designs and weavings identifiable of the specific community or tribe they were created. The artistic weave, quality, and deign of antique rugs reached its pinnacle during the Safavid Dynasty (1499-1722). This was most likely because Shah Tahmasp and Shah Abbas of the dynasty created a weaving industry that focused on large commercial production including highly skilled and organized weaving workshops. Royal workshops were established specifically for designers and workers to create the best carpets with intricate designs. Silk with silver or gold thread are examples of the high quality fibers used. Highly skilled artists would sketch the carpet designs, and the most intricate designs would be used by the most talented weavers in the empire. The Shah’s full support made sure the quality of the product was unparalleled during these times. Trade was then established with Europe with Persian rugs as one of the products that spurred economic growth, and Persia had grown into its golden age. The majority of most sought after antique rugs were made during this time with arguably the two greatest rugs ever woven in the mosque of Ardebil in 1539. These rugs are now located in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the other one is in the Los Angeles County Museum.
The fundamentals of weaving antique rugs have not changed for centuries many of the earliest known techniques and materials are still in use in the major rug producing regions of the world today such as Turkey, China, Persia, India, Morocco, and Europe. Every antique rug tells story. This story gives us insight to the time period they were created and the lives of the weavers.
Techniques and design
Antique rugs can stand on their own for historical importance and cultural significance. Each culture ensures the longevity of their design iconography through the making of the rugs. Most high-end antique carpets, especially those from Persia or India, have traditionally been made in sophisticated urban settings where a high value was placed on such fine artistry. The more tribal and casual carpets were woven by nomadic tribesmen and women as they had access to coarser material and didn't have the advantage of an established rug loom. These men and women were inspired by cultural trends and historical events.
The golden age of rug weaving in India, Persia and Turkey occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to the Industrial revolution in Europe. For the newly emerged merchant class at the time, oriental rugs primarily functioned as beautiful status symbols of wealth and good taste. Most of the carpets and antique area rugs in the vast Doris Leslie Blau collection were produced during this period.
Antique carpets can vary in color, size, design, and material. Trends in utilizing antique rugs are constantly changing. One of the current popular trends in buying antique and vintage rugs is towards neutral colors which can be used in any environment. Although antique decorative rugs come in a myriad of colors, every rug has the potential to anchor a room and to create an inviting ambiance; after all a rug is the foundation of any great room. Edgar Allen Poe once wrote that "the soul of the apartment is in the carpet."
The Origins of the Antique Rug and its Continuity of Artistic Significance into the Present Day
What are the origins of the antique rug?
One culture may have artistically and creatively mastered and commercialized the process long before the others. Or such artistic weaving techniques for the creation of precious and antique rugs came into being in different and disparate cultures at near-simultaneous times, relatively speaking, in the annals of recorded human history.
Oriental rugs come from Iran, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Tibet, China and everywhere near or in between those countries. Antique rugs and carpet of similar such artistic and fabric grade are also created and developed in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
And while a precious woven rug or carpet may be classified as being oriental or art deco for example, only rugs that are aged 80 years or older can be considered or classified as being antique.
Each region developed their own weaving system and utilized wool, silks and dyes that were both visually striking and capable of standing the test of time. Bona fide antique carpets, which are recognizable to experts and collectors alike as fingerprints would be to a forensic scientist, age beautifully even as they fade. Ethnically identifiable artwork, symbols and colors, which evoked the culture and norms of the weaver, are usually incorporated in the designs and artistic layouts of the rug.
Most antique rugs, the fabrics used in their creation and even the weaving process utilized are usually named after the country, region or culture that they were developed and perfected in.
And if we are going to look at the history of antique decorative rugs, ancient Persia would be as good as most places to start.
History of Persian Rugs
The first official mention or reference to the existence of an oriental carpet, a Persian carpet, occurred within an ancient Chinese text during the Sassanid Period of the Persian empire and world. The Sassanid period lasted sometime between the 3rd to the 7th centuries and is notable for being the era of a Persian history before the ascent of Islam.
Until 1935, the Islamic Republic of Iran was referred to as Persia, which is why woven rugs from that culture still carry that moniker to this day.
Persian rugs and carpets are notable for their intricate and elaborately detailed designs, outdoors and wildlife motifs and vibrant, pastel and sepia soft color tones. They are also notable for the expert use of regional, political and culture specific symbols, designs and weaving processes to decode and tell the ancient and storied history of the ancient Persians.
Multiple regions and creative centers of rug weaving warranted the naming of particular kinds of rugs and weaving techniques to be named after the region they were produced in.
Persian Rug Designs and Appearance
Persians are known and identifiable for the use of high quality wool in the weaving process. They are also identifiable by the wide ranging palette of colors used in designs. Most notable are the natural abashment color striations, a natural fading side effect from using natural dies, evident is some of the rarer and beautiful pieces.
Most antique Persian rugs were woven by nomadic tribespeople, village artisans and even manufactured in commercial centers. They mostly of a pile woven technique variety of rug, though a few Persian villages have produced rugs of the flat woven variety.
Sultanabad rugs are identifiable via the creative and artistic use of overall palmette, vine-scroll and floral themed curvilinear designs. Sultanabad antique color tones are eye- popping in vibrancy. Sometimes the colors are chromatic and striking or subtly faded and subdued.
Sultanabad is now current day Arak in Iran. The region was founded in the early 1800’s and was purposely developed to mass produce artisanal-level antique decorative rugs and carpets designed for the western market.
Kirman rugs and carpets are notable for using the lattice-work visual style techniques of visual designs. Notable Kirman rugs use a visual lattice-work design field technique that holds together all-over design of floral patterns, palmettes, and vases. Kirman carpets can also be identified by the frequent use of no-traditionalist and broken guard or main borders, though such discernable features are not an absolute.
Kirman, also alternatively spelled as Kerman, is an ancient city in Iran that has been producing these expertly made rugs and carpets since perhaps the 15th century.
Tabriz is an ancient city in Iran and is perhaps the titleholder of being the city with the oldest confirmed linked to the art of rug weaving.
Tabriz rugs demand attention dues to the use of muted, pastel color tones, either by design or the result of natural abrashed color striation. They are known for the use of Herati or fish-themed, curvilinear and majestic emblem designs and patterns utilized in the fields of the rugs. Look for the intricate, all-over ornamental patterns against chromatic, vibrant, pastel and striking color tones.
Tabriz are also known for field or medallion dominant designs of intertwined floral, bush, branch and tree designs known as, “tree of life,” designs.
Meshad, also known as Mashad, is an eons-old region of Iran that has manufacturing antique carpets just as long
Meshad antique decorative rugs are usually a little larger in size than most traditional antique rugs. They also tend to have unique center medallion designs and creatively intricate curvilinear, floral and outdoors-themed emblems and motifs. They are usually made the finest in soft wool. In fact, Meshad rugs are notable for their softness in relative comparison to other woven rugs.
The ancient Iranian region known as Khorassan has been producing room-sized antique rugs on a commercial level since the 19th century, though its history with the art form extends back even further.
Khorassan rug and carpet designs feature expertly designed and woven arabesque shapes and patterns, curvilinear designs of a floral theme, woodland animals, people and tree-of-life medallion emblems. Many rugs feature lushly earth-tone green background and designs. Many Khorassan rugs feature striking and arresting monochromatic background color tones.
Khorassan rugs are widely known for their dependable durability and quality of weave fabric, usually wool.
Bidjar rugs were sometimes colloquially and locally referred to as the, “Iron Rug,” of Persia because of the coarseness, toughness, heaviness and durability of the rug. Bidjar rugs and carpets feature a tightly packed pile weaving and produced through a highly elaborate artisanal process called wet-weaving. The fabric is kept wet throughout the weaving process and is hammered throughout he weaving and fabric tightening process.
This leaves behind a dense, stiff and very durable rug. The colors used in production are chromatic, vibrant, deep and saturated
Bidjar rugs are more identifiable by weaving technique than artistic design, as they notoriously difficult to fold or roll.
Indian rugs feature an intense color palette, but are also clearly inspired by the Persian style of rug weaving. The art of antique decorative rug weaving was probably introduced to India in the 16th century via Emperor Akbar.
Indian rugs are most noticeable for their use of asymmetrical design and use of vibrant, chromatic, soft earth-tones and muted color backgrounds. A lot of Indian rug designs are intricate and expertly weave but of minimalist style in overall design.
Though Indian rug weaving began through the inspiration and borrowing of Persian influence, over the centuries, Indian rug weaving artisans have managed to develop a style that is all their own.
Amritsar rugs are the creation of Indian rug weaving talent and eminent colonial influence. These are Indian rugs that were designed to cater to the international Western market.
Millefleur floral designs and arrangements dominating the field, subtle and muted color tone palettes and curvilinear designs are the creative giveaway of an Amritsar.
International commercialization of the rug weaving craft did not get full underway until the late 19th with the advent of English rule and colonialism.
Agra Rugs are recognizable for the artistic use of smaller sized central medallions and the employment of open field designs relative to more traditional designs. All-over designs, curvilinear and tiled emblems and tiled patterns make expert use of this artistic weaving format.
Agra rugs are the perfect artistic merging of Persian and Indian rug-making crafts. They feature strikingly vibrant, chromatic and subtle color tones.
North Indian Rugs
The quality and caliber of North Indian antique rug making has been nurtured and protected by the original families and companies of artisanal weavers who long ago originated the style. These carpets feature minimalist but creatively intricate and pattern dense designs and patterns that are a testament to the techniques and weaving making crafts developed in the region.
They are notable for tiled, all-over designs featuring open fields with muted color tones and abashed dye striations.
Dhurrie rugs have no pile-weave backing. They are very flexible, can be reversible and are relative easier to care for than most traditional artisanal and antique rugs. Dhurrie rugs are a flat weave rugs that are woven with durability in mind.
Dhurries were prized for their colors and pattern arrangement. They were used as bed coverings, threshold covering and as mediation mats.
Dhurries can be larger in size than most other similar rugs. They were of ideal use in political demonstrations and social gatherings as they are relatively lighter and foldable due to their manufacturing design.
Turkish rugs are usually hand-knotted and pile-woven. They are also alternately referred to as Anatolian rugs as the city of Anatolia is the most renown and main center of antique rug making in Turkey.
Rug making is a traditional and cultural art form in Turkey which reaches back into its history to a time before the ascent Islam in the country. History, tradition, cultural pride and societal identity can be traced, with the right discerning eye, in the myriad of designs, colors and patterns found within an antique Turkish rug.
Turkish rug making is also notable for being the artistic bottleneck that introduced the arts of Oriental weaving and rug making to the continent of Europe.
Turkish rugs are notable for their pillar designs, intricately stylized center medallion designs, regal arabesque patterns and striking, muted colors.
Also known as Ushak rugs, Oushak rugs are identifiable by the lush, silky fine wool used to create them. These variety of rugs uses designs in the veins of centralized medallions with minimalist fields, tiled patterns and floral emblems and motifs.
Oushak carpets utilize luminous and muted color tones, scattered vine scroll spray designs, rectilinear designs and the strategic use of palmettes. They are famed for their mood enlightening colors and light visual appeal.
Turkish Sivas rugs are more widely known to employ Persian artistic designs. They are largely creative style copies of earlier Persian designs, symbols and patterns.
You can spot a Sivas antique decorative rug by looking for curvilinear, millefleur and non-medallion open field designs. Sivas rugs also feature artistic repeating tiled patterns, monochromatic, pastel-light or gleaming color backgrounds.
Tulu rugs are expertly woven with a long pile, large knot technique. They are woven with coarse fabric and were originally used as sleeping mattress covers.
Tulu rugs feature decidedly non-traditionalist, experimental, minimalist and abstract medallion and all-over designs.
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