Vintage Moroccan Carpet Collection
Moroccan rugs date back to the Paleolithic era, and since then have been woven primarily for necessity and practical use rather than use as a decorative object. Rural Moroccan rugs are notable for their abstract, primitively modern design which is wonderfully unique from the more elegant and sophisticated Persian rugs, or even from Moroccan rugs produced in an urban environment. Beni Ourain--a tribe native to Morocco-- weave rugs that are typically colored with neutral hues, such as off-white and shades of brown and black. However, other Moroccan rugs can be more vibrant, colored with natural dyes such as henna, indigo, saffron, and madder root amongst others. Ancient designs have been passed down from generations of Moroccan weavers, which is especially intriguing considering Beni Ourain carpets were popularized by the mid-century modern designer Le Corbusier. The synthesis of rural, ancient rug designs beneath Le Corbusier's contemporary chrome and leather furniture made for a surprisingly pleasing and well-matched combination. Today, those who opt for a modern design scheme would generally choose a Moroccan rug over a Persian Tabriz or Turkish Oushak. Most Moroccan rugs found in homes across the world are vintage, rather than antique, as there was not much of a demand for Moroccan rugs before the twentieth century.
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Moroccan Rugs have become the rug of choice for many interior designers as well as private consumers. They don't have a long history and are most notable for their dynamic colorful modernist designs as well as for their strong sense of geometric structure (and abstract designs). None so far are datable to before the mid nineteenth century, when their production began as an adaptation of central and western Turkish rugs, whose repertoire Moroccan rugs followed closely. Rugs from Morocco are nevertheless distinctive in their bolder coloration, and in the more block-like geometry of their composition. The most famous of all were the rugs that were made by the Beni Ourain tribe in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The Beni Ourain Rugs from Morocco are easily recognizable - they are almost always Ivory background, shaggy pile and abstract geometric patterns. What makes Moroccan carpets so desirable these days is the fact that they are so modernist and simplistic - both in color and design -and are considerably less expensive than most of the other antique or vintage rugs in the market today. The vintage, mid-century rugs from Morocco were never made in large sizes - because they had to move from place to place, the people who wove them had to keep the width to under 7' (about), otherwise the loom would be too large and cumbersome to mount as they move from place to place. These rugs can be also used as transitional pieces by giving a youthful and whimsical feel to any room decor.
The ever-changing interior design trends are in constant demand of a type of rug that can withstand the changes of taste and preference that designers and home owners have. Moroccan carpets and rugs have proven to be just the style of rug that is needed to be versatile enough to be used in various home interior design schemes across the world. With a wide array of colors and styles, it is understandable that these rugs have been some of the most popular on the market for the last century.
Indeed, the amazing versatility of Moroccan rugs is part of what makes them so special. Because of the nature of Morocco’s geography and complex history, many different groups of people in Morocco have created rugs and carpets that fall under the umbrella term “Moroccan rugs,” but many of these pieces are as different from one another as can be. Thus, there is a large amount of styles and weaves of Moroccan rugs on the market today, meaning that there is a piece for almost every taste and style.
Most rugs from Morocco are hand crafted by skilled weavers who have been crafting these masterpieces through the generations. Rug crafting and techniques are often passed down through families and have been used for many years. Moroccan carpets range from the rich and deep color patterns to the very pastel and minimalist.
If you have been looking for the perfect way to accentuate the design of your home, Moroccan carpets are a fabulous choice. They work well in just about any room of the home and are considerably less expensive than most other types of rugs in today's mark - making them attainable and appreciated by people from all walks of life.
History of Vintage Moroccan Carpets
In the historic area encompassing the modern nation of Morocco, rugs have been produced for over a thousand years. Moroccan rugs can have a heavy pile useful for the snow capped Atlas Mountains, or they can be lightweight to suit the hot climate of the Sahara desert. These rugs were not always used solely underfoot. The nomadic Moroccans and Berbers tribes used these pile, knotted, and flat-woven carpets as bed coverings and sleeping mats, as well as for self-adornment, burial shrouds, and interior decoration, and some of these rugs were also used for more practical purposes such as saddle blankets.
The High Atlas region stretches across Morocco and is home to weavers who create beautiful flat-woven kilims that are characterized by lattice work, bands of thick pile, and reversibility. The designs are traditional and ancient, passed down from weaver to weaver. Elsewhere in Morocco, most major cities have a unique style or design characteristic that distinguishes their carpets. Perhaps the most important carpet-producing city in Morocco is the former capital -- Fes. Fes reached its golden age during the Marinid Dynasty of the thirteenth century. At that point, the city was home to over one hundred dye workers and thousands of artisan embroidery studios located in the city’s medina. The coastal capital -- Rabat -- is famous for carpets woven with floral and diamond-shaped elements, and a fairly bare field.
Moroccan rugs experienced a growth in popularity in the west with mid-century modern designers--such as Le Corbusier--who paired the thick piled Berber rugs with their sleekly designed furniture. Many of these Berber carpets are woven by the Beni Ourain peoples from the Rif Mountains near Taza. Colors vary from neutral shades to popping hues, with designs ranging from ordered geometric shapes to a more free-form, expressive pattern. Part of the appeal to the modernists was the primitivism in the carpets. Unlike the traditional antique Oriental rugs found in western interior decoration, there is little elegance about these rugs, yet they fit wonderfully with modernist décor. Vintage and antique Moroccan rugs are fairly popular today for their decorative flexibility and reasonable pricing as compared to other styles of antique rugs.
Since the invention of the first simple tools, the Berber tribes and nomadic tribes of Morocco and North Africa have been producing a variety of knotted, flat-woven, and pile carpets. Although the Moroccan textile industry has ancient origins, the majority of dated carpets of the region are less than three hundred years old. Due to geography, the country’s carpets have many unique characteristics and influences.
In North Africa, the climate includes arid desert in the Sahara, snow-covered peaks in the High Atlas region, and the humid Mediterranean weather near the coast. The rugs from Morocco can be defined in broad terms as urban or tribal. However, there are many carpet subs-types produced by tribes across the country that reflect influences from Jewish artisans, who fled the rule of King Solomon in 950 B.C., Moorish Arabs who dominated Northern Africa until the 15th Century, and the nearby Ottoman Empire that became a major influence in the later Moroccan carpet design.
Unlike many antique Oriental rugs and vintage area rugs with heavy wool pile, traditional rugs from Morocco are exceptionally lightweight and long. In the warm climate of Northern Africa, lightweight, flat-woven carpets were often used as comfortable bed coverings along with thick-pile sleeping mats. In some cases, traditional Moroccan carpets can be more than 14 feet long and six feet wide or large enough to cover the entire family. Moroccan carpets were used as wedding shawls, burial garments, wall hangings, horse saddles, and utilitarian items. In tribal regions, border-less patterns comprised of intricate diamonds and motifs woven in horizontal bands dominated carpet designs.
The Beni Ourain people, who inhabit the Rif Mountains near the fortified city of Taza, are known for their unique shaggy Berber carpets popularized in the 20th Century by Le Corbusier and other Mid-Century Modern designers. The tribe’s black and white carpets, diamond-shaped grids, and ancient abstract motifs have become classic Mid-Century furnishings.
Weavers in the High Atlas region are famous for producing reversible flat-woven Kilims and pile rugs as well as rugs that include mixed weaving techniques.
Traditionally, mixed-woven rugs from the High Atlas region include thick pile bands, borders, and lattice grid work surrounding flat-woven designs. Tribes living in the rugged terrain of the Middle Atlas region, High Atlas region, and Rif Mountains passed down ancient designs from generation to generation. Common motifs used in Moroccan tribal carpets bear an uncanny resemblance to cave paintings found throughout Europe. In the 20th Century, tribal carpet weavers in Morocco produced a carpet that was almost identical of fragments of linen found in Italy that were more than 5,000 years old.
In Morocco, cities located on major caravan and trade routes produced carpets with diverse designs influenced by African tribes, Ottoman traders, and traditional Anatolian carpets. Rugs produced in coastal cities like Rabat, Medina, and Salé, receive the most international exposure. Carpets produced in Rabat after the 18th Century incorporate Anatolian carpet designs originating in Turkey. Carpets from Rabat are known for floral elements and diamond-shape lozenges with pronounced borders and a relatively plain field.
The historic city of Fes was one of the most important cities in Morocco’s textile industry; according to historical evidence from the 13th Century, there were more than 100 dye workers and approximately 3,000 artisan embroidery studios located in the important trading center. In addition to black and white fibers from sheep and goats, carpet weavers used cochineal insects, madder root, indigo, henna, saffron, and native plants to produce their signature shades. Colors, patterns, and overall style can vary greatly by city, tribe, and era. The combination of local tradition and outside influence is the reason traditional Moroccan carpets are so unique.
Within the world of fine rugs, the rugs of Morocco are among the most celebrated and desirable rugs of all. It is difficult to overstate the contributions to the world of rugs made by the craftspeople of Morocco, who have consistently hand-made gorgeous rugs in challenging and ways. What is perhaps most intriguing about Moroccan rugs is the tremendous variety in both style and execution that may be found in the best pieces: because of Morocco’s uniquely disparate, heterogeneous geography – which features a vast range of snow-capped mountains as well as a massive, arid desert – rugs have been crafted by different groups of Moroccans to suit different needs. Historical Moroccan weavings were used as saddles, blankets, and as items of clothing. And while collectors and experts appreciate Moroccan carpets and rugs in all their iterations, it is the pieces made by the Beni Ourain people – a group of seventeen different tribes of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains – that are perhaps the most popular today, due to their abstract compositions and heavy pile. Hugely popular with mid-century designers, Beni Ourain rugs are admired all over their world for their vibrant and exciting designs. Moroccan rugs are as collectible and as beautiful today as ever, and there it is a rare rug that boasts all of the qualities possessed by the best Moroccan rugs.
Moroccan Rugs and Modern Decor:
The term tribal or nomadic rugs immediately conjure up images of exotic Middle Eastern or Central Asian ethnography. In terms of design we tend to think of nomadic rugs as having a complex ornamental repertory of intricate geometric patterns, expressed in a palette of dark, deep colors. One group of rugs and carpets, however, challenges all such assumptions and pre-conceptions – the rugs produced by the nomadic Berber peoples of the Atlas Mountain region of Morocco.
In terms of geography Moroccan rugs can hardly be classed as Middle Eastern or Oriental. While the Berber tribes converted
to Islam already in the seventh century, and while their tradition of pile rugs was inspired, initially at least, by Middle Eastern carpet production, one can hardly apply an Eastern or Oriental terminology to these carpets, which were woven well to the west of Paris. In terms of design and color as well, Moroccan carpets hardly fit the Oriental nomadic mold. In place of the deep, reserved coloration of Nomadic Asian rugs like Turkomans or Baluches, some carpets from Morocco have riotously bright colors, while others have a cool neutral palette that that would delight the most sophisticated contemporary designer. And in place of the finely detailed and highly organized geometric repetition of Central Asian nomadic rugs, Moroccan weavings display enormous freedom and spontaneity of design, with a flair for bold graphic expressiveness, and, at times, an almost Modern sense of simplicity.
Antique Boujad Carpet #42306, seen above, adapts this sort of design by transforming the checkers into zigzags, essentially prefiguring the visual effects 60’s "Op-Art” painting. Boujad #42304, seen here, takes an abstract pictorial approach. On this piece vaguely architectural elements are dispersed across a variegated soft red ground reminiscent of the desert at sunset, again recalling the effects of mid-twentieth century European abstract painting.
Other nomadic Moroccan carpets, especially those of the Beni Ourain tribe, seem to combine a modernist taste for minimalist linearity with the graphic symbolism of primitive art. A rug may be organized around the idea of a large linear diamond grid or lattice, although it is drawn with considerable freedom, with constant shifts in proportion. Within some of the diamonds are various linear symbols, perhaps tribal brands or markings, set against an abrashed tan ground meant to represent the
desert sand. This splendid carpet has an atavistic aura, suggesting modes of expression reaching far back into the human past. In some ways it shares the qualities of the finest African Kente cloths or raffia pile weavings of the Congo. But at the same time, its bi-chrome palette has a stridently modern quality and appeal. Another Beni Ourain, seen below, seems to be going for the same kind of effects, but in a much more free-form arrangement, with the various abstract elements or symbols strung loosely across the lovely tan surface.
All these carpets remind us that the aesthetic of tribal peoples or so-called “primitive” modes of expression can often converge with modern taste and sensibilities. Any of these carpets would fit beautifully within a modernist decorative setting. They have just enough distinction an interest to pull a room together without dominating it. Their abstract linear geometry would complement a range of contemporary furniture designs. Those with neutral coloration would provide an excellent foil for more highly colored furnishings or paintings, just as the examples with vibrant color might complement the neutral coloration of metal or leather furniture and modern sculpture. From any point of view, the nomadic carpets of Morocco offer an enticing range of possibilities and potentials for modern interiors.