Bessarabian Antique Rugs
and Carpets from Romania
Antique Bessarabian rugs in pile and tapestry technique occupy a unique place among European carpets. Produced during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries under late Ottoman Turkish rule in an area corresponding to modern Bulgaria and Rumania, they stand right on the cusp of European and Oriental carpet weaving. Many of the designs are floral patterns made in a naturalistic western style utilizing brown or black ground, not unlike certain Karabaghs from the Caucasus. But others, particularly flatweaves, reflect the tradition of Turkish kilims from nearby Anatolia, although in a distinctive Bessarbian palette. In either case they are supremely decorative pieces.
Knotted-pile carpets from Eastern Europe and Russia have for years been referred to as “Ukrainian,” with their flatwoven counterparts being “Bessarabian,” and their precise origins remaining unknown, although it can most likely be attributed to Romania. Carpet production in Russia is believed to have begun under Peter the Great (1682-1725) in the Imperial Tapestry Factory near St. Petersburg. Knotted-pile and flatwoven carpets were woven there in the 18th and 19th centuries most often in the court-favored “French” style.
Carpet weaving in Russia flourished during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) who commissioned carpets for many of her palaces. These carpets often featured a deep brown-black ground and a dense overall floral design, as in the carpet offered here and that from Leeds Castle in Kent sold Sotheby”s London, 16 October 1996, lot 179.
The floral cartouche design and vivid coloring of the present carpet closely resembles Victorian needlepoint carpets that were produced throughout England and Europe, including Russia, in the 19th century. The trompe-l'oeil draping border of this carpet recalls those found on the earliest Louis XIV Savonnerie table carpets, illustrating the continuum of fascination with French style by the Russian nobility.