Scandinavian Rug and Carpet Guide

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Learn More About Mid-Century Vintage Scandinavian Rug and Carpet

Scandinavian Rug and Carpet - the name alone evokes images of freezing winters, cold oceans, and snow-capped mountains. It evokes images of seagoing Vikings, intrepid explorers, and roaring fires in stone fireplaces. With such a heritage, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Scandinavia is responsible for some of the finest rugs and tapestries ever made – after all, necessity is the mother of all invention, and when it’s cold like it is in Scandinavia, there is something of a need for a well-made rug. In modern times, Scandinavia is renowned the world over for its unique and beautiful rugs, which have been handmade for centuries.  Rya (or Ryijy) and Rollakan rugs, pieces that have been handcrafted throughout Scandinavia (in the countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark) since at least the 16th century, are highly desirable to collectors due to their impeccable craftsmanship and rich cultural significance.

Scandinavian Rug

Scandinavian Rug

Initially utilitarian and made in muted solid colors – often blacks, grays, whites and yellows – Scandinavian rugs would later feature geometric constructions and floral motifs inspired by the aesthetics of Oriental rugs. It was beginning in the mid-17th century that new elements began to appear in Scandinavian rugs -- the tree of life design, floral patterns (with an emphasis on tulips), and depictions of birds and animals were introduced into the design of these rugs, bringing exotic appeal and a new beauty to traditional pieces.

The cultural roles played by Ryas also changed over time as they became more ornamental and less utilitarian. Initially functioning primarily as blankets and cloaks early on in their existence, these rugs would later be used by nobility both as ornamental  bedding and as proud displays of social standing, often being hung on walls as tapestries. The finest of these pieces became important family heirlooms, handed down through generations. Ryas also went on to become an important part of traditional Scandinavian marriages. The initials of the couple, the marriage date, double hearts and representations of the bride and groom were often included in the design of these wedding rugs. After falling out of favor with the Scandinavian nobility in the 18th century, Ryas would go on to become an important part of local folk culture, an avenue long occupied by the flat woven Rollakans.

Scandinavian Rug

This mid-20th century Rya Scandinavian Rug, done in soft, beautiful earth tones, blends tradition and modernism.

Norwegian examples in the 19th and 20th centuries also came to reflect contemporary western European design, while those made in Sweden and Finland adhered more to the traditional abstract geometric tradition. Indeed, in these latter areas traditional patterns continued to be made well into the twentieth century. After the Second World War, the traditional abstract style gave way to modernism as Scandinavian rug designers such as Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen came to prominence. Being such an old and essential part of Scandinavian culture, it only made sense for rugs to become an important medium for contemporary artists.

A beautiful mid-20th century piece that is abstract, daring, and modern.

A beautiful mid-20th century piece that is abstract, daring, and modern.

To know the beauty of a Scandinavian rug is to know Scandinavia. These works of art have evolved over the centuries alongside the people responsible for them. Each piece is a window into a different chapter of Scandinavian history and culture, a unique work of deep and powerful insight. Here is a culture where rugs began as necessities, but would go on to embody the rich cultural soul of an entire region.

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