Antique Persian Rugs
Entering the world of antique Persian rugs is a unique journey. Exploring this world reveals hidden histories and ancient traditions passed down for thousands of years and transported across cultures. In the antique Persian rug world, the mundane becomes the mysterious: flowers and geometric figures are imbued with deep symbolism, and colors and shape carry deep meaning. According to ancient traditions and beliefs, geometric figures and symbolic motifs protect the rug’s owner from evil and misfortune. In the case of tribal designs, such as geometric animals, people, and everyday objects, Persian carpets are a classic example of art imitating life and life imitating art, as the design-rich repertoire of Persian rug weavers continues to inspire artists and designers the world over.
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.
Originating in Anatolia and the Caucasus, flat-woven kilims and tribal symbols gradually transitioned to pile rugs as nomadic and semi-nomadic herders ebbed back and forth across the continent. Traditions from turkey and the Levant traveled steadily eastward to the Mougal / Mughal states of Pakistan and India as well as Buddhist regions of Tibet, China and East Turkestan. 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.
With innumerable Persian designs and traditions developed and maintained by weavers in any one city or cultural group, limitless permutations are possible when regional designs and minute variations in techniques and materials are melded together. The rugs that were woven prior to the 1920's, from Persia, represent an unfathomable range of patterns and designs with an enormous breadth of influence from semi-nomadic tribes to imperial weaving traditions established by the Safavid and Moughal / Mughal empires. The international trade of rugs established thousands of years ago has resulted in a fascinating interchange of designs between East and West. Although antique oriental rugs are one-of-a-kind works of art and luxury design pieces that make a house feel like a comfortable home, each rug also contains a story that completes the intricate history of all rugs woven before and since. Just as a little side note, the term - antique Persian rugs - refers to those rugs that were made in modern day Iran so the term - antique Iranian Rugs - is pretty much interchangeable.
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.
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.
Antique 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.