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Antique Spanish Cuenca Rugs – The art of carpet making dates back millennia, likely originating with nomadic peoples of central Asia. Utilizing wool sheared from their sheep, it is here that the craft of weaving — an essential part of carpet making — was developed. Woven wool in the form of carpets proved a warm and attractive replacement for the use of animals skins.
Although the more streamlined carpet productions originated in Asia and carpets from that region were imported from their earliest development, carpet making techniques spread throughout Europe. This spread was spurred by numerous factors, likely including the long-standing presence of Moors, who were Islamic immigrants, in modern-day Spain and Portugal.
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Though other European countries are more often associated with the making of antique rugs , Spanish rugs are perhaps the oldest European rug tradition owing to the presence of the Moors. The techniques imported by the Moors, however, were quickly adopted by native Spanish speakers.
The Spanish carpet making tradition differed from others in Europe at the outset, featuring a knotted rather than looped weave. Rows were also staggered rather than superimposed. The use of colors also varied, with pastel greens and yellows against ivory grounds.
During the period of the Spanish Empire, the city of Cuenca became known for its carpets starting around the 17th century. Antique Cuenca carpets from Spain were a departure from the Alcaraz carpets of the 15th & 16th century; Cuenca carpets were generally made coarser and with a heavier body.
During the 17th century, Spain’s carpet making industry suffered an intense blow due to an economic depression as well as the expulsion of Muslim and Jewish artisans. Rich patrons stepped in to save the craft, but this intervention resulted in Spanish carpets taking on more influence from England and France.
Cuenca was a dominant producer of carpets in Spain during the 17th and 18th centuries. A royal workshop in Madrid sponsored by the Spanish monarch was created in the 18th century, promulgating designs with French influence. To stifle unwanted competition with the royal workshop, King Carlos IV halted production of carpets in Cuenca by decree in the late 18th century.
Antique Spanish Cuenca rugs experienced a spike in popularity in the 20th century, particularly during the 1920’s. This was spurred in large part because of the demand for Spanish-style houses in California and Florida in the United States. John and Florence Magee, a wealthy couple who resided in Palm Beach, Florida, possessed “the largest variety of Cuenca carpets” in the entire United States, as noted in a 1925 article in Arts and Decoration magazine.
According to Architectural Digest, which used online auction histories as a guide, the color palettes of Cuenca carpets are “earthy and approachable, often with honey yellows, coral pinks, tawny oranges, and slate blues.”
Antique Spanish carpets, including those from Cuenca, are prized among many collectors to this day. Simon Franses, a London dealer and co-founder of the Franses Tapestry Archive — the world’s largest academic resource on European tapestries and similar textiles — has noted that while antique Spanish Cuenca rugs are a niche market “they are quite lovely”.
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