A Study of an Antique Spanish 16th Century Alcaraz Rug
The dark blue field is organized around a central column of unidirectional palmettes with secondary diagonal palmettes and partial side elements. The pattern on this oriental rug derives from Spanish or Italian early 16th century velvets. The basically bi-tonal character blue pattern is also a feature of contemporary European silk velvet textiles.
The deep indigo border employs S’s with dragons at both ends. The guards are simple bead chains. Gold tones are popular in many period Spanish carpets including the lotto-style pieces from Cuenca and the earlier wreath pattern carpets from Alcaraz. There are other variants of these ascending palmette patterns always of velvet textile origin.
The foundation is all tan wool and the knotting is Spanish wool, relatively firm and brush-like, is on single warps, giving an in and out back somewhat resembling a Senneh or Hamadan, especially with the standard Spanish single weft. Only in the 19th century did Spanish rugs adopt knotting styles more in consonance with French Savonnerie practice with two warp knots and several wefts.
There are numerous pieces, even modern ones, with classic Spanish structures, however. Generally the piles of early Spanish carpets are not usually packed and wear comes evident earlier. Our piece is in very good condition for its age. Single wefted antique rugs are difficult to repair and restore but 3299 is practically free of re-piling.
Sixteenth century Spanish carpets in good condition are rare and almost all the better pieces are held in museum. There are no comparable pieces in either the Philadelphia Museum of Art or in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A related two tone lattice Alcaraz carpet with a gold field is in the Hispanic Society, New York.
A grand pattern of staggered palmettes and acanthus vines in deep sage green spreads majestically across the rich butterscotch ground of splendid Alcaraz. After 1500 the carpet workshops of Spain turned away from their Oriental origins and developed a new European ornamental vocabulary of medieval and classical derivation, which this rug so beautifully exemplifies. The dynamic leafy S-scrolls of the border with their dragon heads provide a contrast to the expansive palmettes of the field, while still utilizing the same contrasting green and butterscotch tones.