Antique Persian Rugs – A Comprehensive Guide

Antique Persian Rugs – A Comprehensive Guide top hr

Guide to All You Need to Know About Antique Persian Rugs

In this section we will cover pretty much every question we have ever gotten about Persian rugs. We will be covering different aspects such as their history, how they were constructed, the different materials that were used, what makes them Persian and so forth. If, after reading the information provided below, you happen to have a question that we did not cover here then please email us. We research and publish as part of our never ending commitment to educating the public about these breathtaking (yet at times - misunderstood) art works.

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Antique Persian Rugs And Carpets By Nazmiyal

Antique Mohtashem Kashan Persian Rug

Antique Mohtashem Kashan Persian Rug

Perhaps the most important cultural contribution to the world of art that way given by the people of Persia is the Antique Persian Rug Indeed, antique Persian rugs -- that is, rugs from Persia (modern day Iran) and are vintage - at least 80 years old -- represent some of the very finest examples of art from the time and place from which they originate. The complex methods and high-quality ingredients employed by the master rug makers ensured that each piece was a beautiful and unique work of art and a matchless piece of craftsmanship. Natural dyes, silk and wool yarn and hand weaving all ensured that each piece was like no other, and would last for decades—and in many cases, centuries. Antique rugs from Persia are works of art. They imbue their surroundings with warmth and beauty in a unique and powerful way. Today, the finest antique rugs from Persia are appreciated around the world for their fine weaving, beautiful colors and supreme tradition. Simply standing in the same room as a genuine antique Persian rug can be a powerful experience -- these gorgeous works of art have the unique ability to instantly transport us through time and space, to take us on an exhilarating journey to the exotic, faraway lands of bygone eras that are the stuff of some of the most colorful stories ever told. Historically, nomads, clerics and kings alike utilized the rugs from Persia as furniture and decoration.

Today, the vintage carpets from Persia are appreciated as artworks as well as investment pieces. This trend is fueled by an ever-expanding number of collectors and scholars. The inherent beauty of an antique Persian rug, it's unique compositions and rarity make it extremely desirable. The sheer variety of masterful these weaving made over the centuries, is a strong testament to the rich cultural tradition from which they have emerged.

Learn About The History Of Rugs And Carpets From Persia:

Antique Persian Bakshaish Rug

Antique Persian Bakshaish Rug

Persia, now modern day Iran, was an ancient and powerful empire which stretched from Africa to India. The time period between 1500 and 1736 A.D. was considered by many to be its artistic pinnacle similar to the European renaissance. The ruling class at the time, referred to as the Safavid Dynasty, encouraged arts of many kinds, including painting, calligraphy and intricate waving. During this period, the modern day cities of Tabriz, Kerman, Herat and Isfahan became major producers of fine carpets.

Hand-made rugs with intricate designs inspired by Persian culture were so well crafted that many have survived for hundreds of years. Passed down from generation to generation, they have become a living history. Evidence of a rich heritage and culture, each antique Persian rug has its own story.

17th Century Silk and Wool Esfahan Rug

17th Century Silk and Wool Esfahan Rug

During the 16th century these carpets were exported all over the world, and in the 1850's, especially to European countries like England and Germany. These Europeans encouraged the development of additional rug producing factories in the major cities of Tabriz, Kerman, Mashed and Sultanabad. The ruler at the time, Reza Shah Pahlavi, built royal carpet and rug factories to produce the highest quality rugs in the region. Persian rugs are an important part of the modern Iranian culture. Passed down from ancestors, and representing a dying art form, they are priceless heirlooms cherished more than any other possession.

Today the rug industry in Persia (modern day Iran) is currently experiencing a rebirth, with production rivaling that of any time it its history. Although, the craft has moved from large industrial factories to small work-shops and homes, some believe this method of production is much more detail-oriented and adds to the uniqueness of each hand-made rug.

This uniqueness is what separates the antique rugs and carpets that were produced in Persia, from all others. The intricate designs and colors a are exotic to say the least, representing the rich history and origins this art form has evolved from over the past two thousand years. Not only is each rug unique, but each region has its own color palette, recurring themes, and weave pattern stemming from a mixture of its indigenous and nomadic ancestry.

What Is The Difference Between an Antique Persian Rug and a "regular" Oriental Carpet?

Antique Persian Bakshaish Carpet

Antique Persian Bakshaish Carpet

"Oriental Carpet" is a broad, all-encompassing term that describes a wealth of different art forms. As such, there is a good amount of misunderstanding and confusion in the general population as to just what the term means. In general, "Oriental carpets" or "Oriental rugs" are almost always pieces that are are handmade, either knotted with pile or woven without pile. Further, Oriental carpets and rugs were woven by master weavers who lived in a massive geographical area: Oriental carpets and rugs are those that were made in an area that extends from Cyprus and Iran in the west; to Turkey, China and Vietnam in the East; to the Caucasus in the north; and to India in the south.

Naturally, each of these regions has its own distinctive culture, religious traditions, and aesthetic ideals -- but each produced rugs that are, in the Western world, referred to as "Oriental," which is simply the Latin word for "Eastern." Because this term is so broad, the distinctive types of Oriental rugs made throughout the Eastern world are often referred to by the specific region from which they emerged. So an "Oriental rug" might be referred to as an "antique Persian rug," a "Central Asian rug," a "Turkestanian rug," a Chinese rug," and so forth, depending upon the specific region where it was made.

Thus, all antique Persian rugs are Oriental rugs, but not all Oriental rugs are Persian rugs!

How were the Persian carpets made? Are the Persian carpet designs unique to that region?

Antique Persian Tribal Rug

Antique Persian Tribal Rug

The construction of these rugs is also important: the traditional Persian carpet is tied with a single looping knot (Persian or Senneh knot). The vertical strand of thread in a Persian carpet has one loop. This use of a single knot is essential in establishing the identity of the place where the rug was made and the artisans who made it.

The design of a rug can be misleading since some rugs may feature a 'Persian design' but were woven elsewhere. An example of this convention would be Indo-Persian rugs: those woven in India with Persian design elements. It's a surprising fact that, despite the tribal wars, migrations, and commercial influence and rebellions that have influenced the Eastern world over the past two thousand years, the methods of rug construction used by different cultures has changed very little over time.

Antique Persian Khorassan Rug

Antique Persian Khorassan Rug

The weaving Persian rug patterns are recognizable to the trained eye and have existed for many generations. When comparing carpets the way to identify the knot used is to splay open the pile by bending the rug against itself and looking at the base of the knot. Historically, the largest carpet producing centers that flourished in Persia are in Tabriz (1500-1550), Herat (1525-1650), Kashan (1525-1650) and Kerman (1600-1650). Many of the older persian carpets from Tabriz have a central medallion, quartered corner medallions appearing over a field of scrolling vine ornaments, accented with single animals or birds, animal combat scenes and mounted hunters. Carpet grounds were red, blue and sometimes white but colors tended to be muted, partly because the sheep in the Northwest have coarse wool but mainly because of the salt quality of the water used in the dyeing process.

What would be considered the peak of the Persian carpet production?

The carpet production in Persia peaked during later nineteenth century. By this time, these carpets had become virtually synonymous with the concept of the Oriental rug. During the late 19th century, the Persian rug weavers recaptured much of the range and quality of their predecessors. This hold true for both the older weaving centers like Tabriz and Kerman, as well as in many new areas of Production like Sultanabad or Kashan.

Since that time, Persian carpets have been made in an almost dizzying array of styles from the finest urban productions to the boldest village and nomadic pieces.

When did the carpets production in Persia begin?

Among the carpet producing regions of the Middle East, none is as varied and extensive in its output, or perhaps as ancient, as Persia. It is possible that fragments of ninth century pile carpets discovered at Fostat near Cairo were imported from Iran. In any case, large-scale carpet weaving is attested in Iran by the Mongol or Ilkhanid period c. 1300, as well as for the subsequent Timurid period up through the late fifteenth century. But the golden area of Persian carpet weaving really begins after 1500 with the foundation of the Safavid dynasty by Shah Ismail.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Persia produced many of the great masterpiece carpets that are still extant today. Major centers of production were (and some still are) Tabriz, Kerman, and Isfahan, although there is no firm historical documentation for attributing carpets to the last site. During these periods Persian carpets were exported all over the world, from Japan to Western Europe. It is perhaps as significant that the lavish carpets captured as booty from the Ottoman Turks after the Battle of Vienna in 1683 consisted primarily of Persian pieces even though the Turks were themselves major producers of pile carpets.

How did the rugs from Persia make it to other countries and the rest of the world?

Following the Silk Road, the rugs from Persia also made their way west to Europe. In Spain, the Islamic insurgence brought rug weaving traditions from Northern Africa and Morocco to Southern Europe while Mediterranean trade routes transported rugs from the Caucasus and Transylvanian Balkans to the Renaissance painters and Italy’s upper class. In the Caucasus, the bottleneck of rug weaving traditions intensified as displaced ethnic groups from Romania, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia shared cross-cultural designs that were transported north to Eastern Europe. With various points of entry, including longstanding Viking trade routes through the harsh Arctic Sea, these carpets as well as the weaving techniques thrived throughout Europe, Scandinavia and Great Britain.

What would be considered the most famous antique carpet from Persia?

As many authorities believe, the best known of the Tabriz works are the twin Ardabil carpets in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Los Angeles Country Museum. Herat carpets are characterized by a wine red field. They also depict scrolling vine ornaments and palmettes with dark or light green or deep blue borders. They are known for their large ornaments arranged round the middle of the field. The Herati pattern and Herati border with its linked palmettes, clear outlines and accurate symmetry indicate the work of skilled craftsmen. Kashan is known for its silk carpet production (pile as well as ground weave). But it's most famous for the three silk hunting carpets. These carpets depict a classic pattern of medallions, corner pieces and a leafy field through which huntsmen on horseback pursue lions, leopards, wolves and other animals. (Currently in the collections of the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Stockholm Museum). Both silk and wool carpets are classically designed with medallion patterns with floral field decoration; and repeated flower-vase or wreath patterns.

What are some of the best styles and types of Persian carpets?

Antique Persian Kerman Rug

Antique Persian Kerman Rug

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, an importer of merino wool conceived the notion of re-launching the industry. The greatest ustadan, or weaver, Mohtashem, is responsible for these finely woven carpets made in both wool and silk. Mohtashem Kashan's are characteristically known for their purple or less often ruby red silk bindings used for the selvedges. These are the most highly regarded of all the Kashan weavings. Kerman carpets have a unique structure called the 'vase technique'. Garden carpets (ornamented with formal gardens and water channel) and ogivallattice carpets are examples of this technique. Designs of fantastic complexity were executed. The most popular design in recent years employs a medallion of roses and a dense floral border that often flows over straight lines into the field, which is a rich single color, most commonly red. Kerman carpets are noted for their lightness of their shades.

Are the Persian rug designs pretty much the same or do the vary?

Overall, antique Persian rugs are among the most diverse and the most beautifully made of all antique Oriental rugs. The rich story of the cultural and historical background of antique Persian rugs is one of the most interesting in all of art history, shedding light on a truly wonderful art form. There is a Persian carpet out there for anyone who seeks one, and that quest is sure to be one rich with exciting and edifying experiences. The world of antique Persian rugs is dynamic and as exciting as any in the art world and stories are still being written today.

The 16th-century Shah, named Humayan, found two painters after being exiled to Persia for 10 years. When he returned to India and regained power, he directed weavers to translate the painters' style into rugs. These rugs can still be found today. Their unique beauty and inherent history is a paradigm example of what makes antique Oriental rugs so valuable.

Are Persian and  Iranian rugs the same thing?

Yes - Persia was the name of the Empire who's territory included what is modern day Iran.

What would be considered an "antique" Persian rug?

Antique carpets are rugs that were made at least 80 years ago. So for a Persian rug or carpet to be considered "antique", it needs to be at least 80 old or older.

What makes the Persian Antique Rugs so valuable? Aren't there a lot of these carpets around?

The number of Antique Persian Rugs will only decrease over time. This is one of the reasons why they are of such great value.

Why have the designs in Persian carpets changed over time?

As Western influence expanded across the Middle East throughout the 20th century, primary cultures began to lose their autonomy. People's abilities to sustain traditional crafting techniques faded and original motifs were slowly lost. The divide between antique carpets and all those that follow shows, over time, that the quality of these pieces diminished on all levels.

Are the older rugs from Persia considered works of Art?

There are few avenues in the art world that offer as much rich cultural and historical context as those found in the antique rugs of Persia. The rugs that were woven in Persia were literally woven with the aesthetic and cultural ideals of an entire people, and, perhaps most importantly, rug-making was the art form that the people of Persia took more seriously than any other. They took much pride in the textile art they created. Thus, it is in the antique carpets from Persia (modern day Iran) that we find the very finest and the most important examples of Persian art in general. To know the antique Persian rugs is to know a people and a culture in a way that is rare in the art world.

Antique Persian Rugs are regarded as one of the highest levels of artistic sophistication accomplished by humankind. As such, designers, artists and collectors covet these masterpieces. Today, Iranian carpets, both modern and antique, have found an ever expanding home within the art world. As Jason Nazmiyal, says, "rugs seem to me to focus most effectively on the convergence of color, texture and design in perfect balance and harmony."

There is no doubt that Persian rugs are among the most beautiful and enduring artistic creation ever crafted. The beauty and complexity of Persian carpets that are antique, is timeless, inspiring, exciting and edifying. To behold the finest Persian Sultanabad or Tabriz rugs from the nineteenth century is to behold some of the most remarkable artistic achievements ever realized.

Like the feeling of intimacy that one experiences when one sees the brush strokes in a painter’s finest work, so too does one feel a connection to the master rug-makers of Persia when one sees up close the meticulous weaves of a gorgeous rug. Persian carpets and rugs are a great treasure of humanity, and to know them as such is to know the limitless nature of fine art.

Why Would Persian Master Weaver Sign The carpet? What was the Master Weavers do?

Antique Persian Tabriz  Haji Jalili Rug

Antique Persian Tabriz Haji Jalili Rug

A master weaver's signature and method can help in determining where the carpet was made. It can also assist with what style the carpet exhibits, and naturally, who the weaver was. Urban cities have traditionally facilitated Persian rug weaving as a commercial industry. Any manufacturer's production would have been greatly influenced by the market demands of the time. At the helms of such production companies were the master rug-weavers. These individuals were the ones who chose the colors and organized the weavers. These master-weavers designed with a personal identity that superseded group identity. Therefore, in such instances, the vernacular craft gave way to conscious visual art form. Today these masterworks can be found in museum collections such as The Metropolitan Museum. They can also be found in the inventories of fine antique carpet galleries.

Do the older Persian Rugs Make For a Wise Investment?

In addition to being beautiful works of art, Persian carpets have been collected throughout history. They are also collectible today by individuals as investments.

Historically, the rugs from Persia have been referred to as 'Iranian stocks and shares'. Iranian market places are full of underground vaults where businessmen keep their precious pieces. Persian carpets of museum quality would be considered on par with the investment potential of a master painting. That said, they are relatively less expensive and can serve a more practical use. Today, Persian carpets still remain a viable commodity.

*Note: Relative to market demand, unless damaged, the best antique Persian rugs will not, for the most part, depreciate in value; therefore making them valuable investments. Prices will reflect and fluctuate with market demands.

What do the names that dealers use for Persian carpets mean? How did the rugs get their names?

Antique Persian Rug

Antique Silk Persian Heriz carpet

With the introduction of varying cultures' commodities and art (in all its varying forms) at the market place, came the inevitable copying and constant modifications of designs and motifs. A rug's design, in and of its self, does not necessarily identify where it was made. Nor does it tell us who the people who authored it were.

In general, Antique rugs from Persia receive their names from either:

  • The tribes or people that wove them(Ex: Kurdish rugs were woven by Kurdish people and since they were mostly nomadic, they are not assigned a specific city or region.)
  • The region (city, district, town, villages) in which they were crafted.(Ex: Tabriz rugs were woven in the city of Tabriz.)
  • In rare instances the weaver's name will be given to a specific production.

Note: There are exceptions to this general rule, as is the case with Serapi Rugs. In the case of Serapi carpets, the term Serapi refers to the older and "better" rugs that were made in the city of Heriz.

What dyes were used to make rugs in Persia?

Dyeing wool for persian carpets

Dyeing wool for persian carpets

The dyes used when weaving antique Persian rugs were generally natural. This served to create lustrous, animated works with great depth of field. The recipes used to dye the fibers were commonly comprised of berries, insects, minerals and seeds. The combinations were unique to the tribes. The weaving techniques they employed and the recipes were guarded as precious tribal secrets. The first chemical dyes were introduced to the rug markets during the mid 1800's. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see such dyes in late 19th century pieces.

Are the Persian rugs woven as a family business? Would the designs be passed down from generation to generation?

Family weaving a persian carpet

Family weaving a persian carpet

Design styles were passed down through long lineages of craftsmen within a tribe or group. Family members wove alongside one another. Weaving first for the household then for the market. For the common designer, individual identity was not important. What was important, was to accurately execute the traditional style. Thereby ascribing the signature patterns and motifs of the"tribe" to each carpet.

Who is the best dealer of antique Persian rugs?

Naturally, we believe that Nazmiyal is the best dealer to antique Persian rugs from. That said, we urge you to do your due diligence. The more antique rug galleries people visit, the more educated they become. Since we stand behind everything we sell 110%, an educated consumer is the best buyer.

How long does it take to weave a Persian Rug?

Typically, a single carpet could take months and even years to create. The actual time depends on the size and quality of the carpet. The finer the carpet the longer it takes to create. Often times many people would work side by side on the same carpet. This is part of the deep appeal and the timeless quality of antique Persian carpets!

What are the different Persian knotting techniques?

Knot types used in antique Persian rugs include:

Persian carpet knot techniqueTurkish carpet knot techniqueJufti Knots

The two most commonly used knots in Persian weaving are the Turkish (used in the Caucasus, some Turkish and Kurdish areas of Iran, Turkey and East Turkmenistan) and Persian knots (Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, China and India). The Persian knot is commonly used when weaving finer rugs. Simply because it is generally a much smaller than its counterparts. Wrapping around one warp, then passing behind the neighboring warp so that it divides the two ends of yarn, makes the knot. The Turkish knot is made by passing between two neighboring warps, looping under one, wrapped around both, then pulled through the center. Both ends will come out between the two warps. (Diagram of Turkish knot.) Double Knotted: The second knot sits in front of the first knot. With the double knot technique, the second knot is not visible from the back.

It is important to note that if a rug is machine made (including hand tufted), it is not a genuine antique Persian rug!

Why do people decorate their homes with antique carpets from Persia?

Decorating With Antique Persian Rugs

Decorating With Antique Persian Rugs

Antique Persian rugs are a timeless rugs that fill a room with a beautiful combination of old world tradition and style. Many of the major taste makers as well as the biggest names in the field of interior design incorporate them into their projects. The rugs are a unique manifestation of the rich Persian culture and art which date back hundreds of years to as far back as the Bronze Age.

The older Persian rugs will mainly feature abstract pictures of geometric and / or floral shapes. This is mainly a result of the fact that many of the Persian people are Muslim and Islam does not allow living beings to be duplicated through imagery and art. But what may seem like random shapes and abstract designs, are, for the most part, anything but! The patterns and designs have been passed on from one generation to another and many of these motifs have pretty profound meanings (such as lucky charms, wishes and messages).

The buying of an antique Persian rug offers more than just a pretty decorative piece for the home. The better and more rare examples, offer great investment potential which usually grows as the rugs age. Buying an antique Persian rug will make you an owner of a valuable, priceless and timeless piece of textile art. Needless to say, the rugs add a classy and an exquisite touch to any project.

If a person wants to decorate the interior of their home or workplace, these rugs should be placed high on the list of items to get. They serve their purpose exactly the way you expect while enhancing the overall room décor. They are a prized possession that will always be cherished.