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Antique Samplers or Wagireh Rugs – The wagireh or sampler is perhaps the most enigmatic of carpets. Made as a template or pattern for the carpet design and production of larger rugs, they are generally small pieces the size of a scatter rug or mat.
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They did not show the entire design, but only the basic or fundamental portion of the various larger decorative elements of the field and borders, along with selected individual motifs, which could then be expanded according to established symmetrical repetitions to produce the complete composition. The utility and need for such patterns or guides is certainly clear: they provided an abbreviated and readily portable means of preserving and transmitting designs that could be used over and over in different variations and circulated widely.
Indeed it is likely that wagirehs were jealously guarded and highly sought after by rug weaving communities or commercial entities since they provided the basic creative matrix for making a large, complex carpet that would fetch a good price in the marketplace. When and if wagirehs changed hands, they probably commanded price far beyond their value as a small rug. Still, this all begs the question as to why wagirehs actually needed to be woven, i.e. why a detailed color paper sketch with indications of knot counts would not suffice, especially since carpets were often produced from such paper sketches.
The answer probably lies in the completeness of the wagireh as a holographic shorthand for the finished carpet in all its aspects, not only the pattern and the knot count, but all the structural detail the spin of the yarns, the number of wefts, the thickness of the pile, the precise color and texture of the wool, and most of all, the exact relative proportion of all the elements, in one concise package. As such the wagireh evolved as more than just a pattern; it was to all intents and purposes a shorthand rug, abbreviated and abstracted to be sure, but a rug nonetheless. That is why wagirehs so often have the visual impact or effect of a complete rug, even though their designs are sometimes off-center, ignoring the rules of symmetry that normally govern ornamental rug design.
The ability of a wagireh to function autonomously as a real rug increases considerably, moreover, if its design elements are in fact pictorial or can at least be perceived as such, since its impact would be less subject to the rules of symmetry that govern abstract ornament. Alternatively, some wagirehs managed to focus on a fundamental portion that was centered or symmetrical, they managed to assemble the various elements in a symmetrical fashion. The Bijar wagireh illustrated here is one such example. Strictly speaking it is a blueprint for an ornamental pattern. The dark triangular form at the lower left is one quarter of an oblong diamond-shaped medallion which would occupy the center of the complete carpet. Most of the other components, however, are pictorial.
They represent trees and shrubs no matter how stylized they may be. There is a large sycamore to the far right, and two angular weeping willows along the center. The smaller stylized trees are cypresses, along with various other stylized shrubs and tiny pomegranates. These may all be arrayed around the medallion symmetrically in the finished carpet to produce a kind of garden paradise. Two of the cypresses in the upper left are cut off by a short horizontal red band with interior ornament. This is the fundamental portion of the main border which would enclose the entire composition, flanked in turn by minor borders which here appear as the actual borders of the wagireh.
The striking thing about the Bidjar wagireh is the capacity of its elements to function not only as a pattern template, but simultaneously as a picture of sorts. The triangular portion of the medallion is mountain-like, and set amidst the various trees, it actually assumes the visual impression of a mountain or a mountainous region covered with vines and flowers and with magical trees growing in the nearby area. The main border section appears to be supported by the cypress trunks, like a heraldic standard or banner on two poles.
The fact that complete borders, no matter how small, enclose the whole array induces us to read the wagireh as a framed composition rather than as a fragment or something incomplete. It is not difficult to see how this sampler, whose size is comparable to many a scatter-size rug, could readily serve as a beautiful piece of floor covering when it was not being used to guide the production of room-sized medallion garden carpets. The richness of its coloration and the tactile velvety quality of its wool would only facilitate this double function.
When we consider the case of this particular Bidjar wagireh, it is no longer difficult to see why sampler rugs of this kind were made in lieu of colored sketches. Rugs were produced by people who loved rugs, people for whom rugs were a fundamental feature of daily life. The wagireh, or at least exceptional wagirehs like this one, helped to maintain a seamless continuity between the manufacture of rugs as an economic industry and the enjoyment of rugs as integral part of cultural experience.
In addition to Bidjar wagireh, there are also many fantastic examples from other parts of Persia. This Sultanabad wagireh for example is exceptionally decorative with its rust ground and open, airy design, while this tribal Bakshaish sampler captures the beauty of primitive design in its angular asymmetry.
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