The Meaning of the Pomegranate Design in Oriental Rugs
Pomegranate fruits and trees were popular symbols in ancient Asian and Mediterranean art.
This ancient plant is native to most Near Eastern and Mediterranean regions and appears to have been brought to Asia from Iran at some point in antiquity (Koehn). As a symbol in ancient art it is generally used to denote fertility and abundance, a meaning which holds true in rug making traditions throughout the Orient. It’s use as a design motif in Oriental rugs is most prevalent in East Turkestan, where the motif is termed “liuka baiza” and is generally used as an all-over pattern (Stone).
The connection that the pomegranate bears to fertility and abundance is derived from the fact that it has many sweet and beautiful seeds that are contained within the fruit itself. In Samarkand carpets and Khotan rug weaving from East Turkestan, and consequently Chinese rugs from neighboring regions, the pomegranate design is often shown half open with it’s seeds exposed to highlight the plentifulness of the fruit.
While common in Central Asian and Chinese rugs, the pomegranate is less common in Persian rugs. This is most likely due to the Safavid artist’s love for word play within their imagery. The artists may have shied away from using the Pomegranate motif because the Persian word for pomegranate “anar”, could easily be mistaken for the Arabic (not Farsi) word “al-Nar” meaning “hell fire”.
Aside from being a source of healthy sweet juice, the pomegranate was useful by textile artists for color purposes. The dye makers would produce a red color dye from the pomegranate’s flowers and the tannin within its rind was used for tanning leather hides. Tannin is also a useful compound that is frequently used in natural medicine with a variety of applications.
For all of these reasons, the pomegranate design and fruit itself was highly prized. Predominantly for its aesthetic look, medicinal properties and practical uses (Schneider). When used as a symbol in art from these regions it can thus be interpreted as representing fertility, healthy and plentiful bounty.