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Islamic Art and Islamic Carpets

Islamic Art And Islamic Carpets in History

Throughout history, certain events left their mark on the development of the carpet industry and design. The spread of Islam and the advent of Islamic art and the Islamic carpets is one of those events that contributed to the beautiful patterns and colors that we enjoy today. Persian carpet design in particular was greatly influenced by Islamic traditions.

The Origins Of Islam And The Islamic World

Islam began in the Arabian Peninsula, and over several hundreds of years, it spread throughout Spain, the Byzantine Empire, the Sasanian Empire and throughout Asia. “The Islamic world” refers to countries where the rulers and people adhere to the practice of Islam. Although there is no specific criterion for inclusion, this world has expanded and contracted throughout history.

Antique Islamic Carpets - Nazmiyal Antique Rugs In NYC

Antique Islamic Carpets

As Islam spread into new areas, it meant that local culture and political changes were impacted. This naturally includes almost every area of society and life including the arts.

History Of Islamic Art and Rugs

Islamic Art as a Way of Life

Looking at Islamic art, art enthusiasts will spot a common thread with four basic components: calligraphy, vegetative patterns, figurative representation and geometric patterns. When individuals look at art of the Islamic faith, they will see it as more of a way of a life. Nevertheless, it’d be a great mistake for someone to mistake Islamic art as doing nothing more than giving a display of the Islamic faith because it has wonderful diversity to it, and a personality all of its own. Changes to the themes have changed over time.

Distinguished Muslim Art

When most people think of the Middle East, they imagine some of the cornerstone pieces of Islamic art. For example, the Muslim world has a characterization through its architecture, and the art in the land often came from many of its patrons. Muslim art became so distinguished that it, in fact, became a culture and language of its own. People will spot many new and unique artistic flavors reflected in the art and the architecture of the Muslim world.

How The Islamic Arts Had Influences

The influences on Muslim art came from artists who worked under the Sasanian and the Byzantine empire. During this period, a new era of art emerged as the work from some of the indigenous people of the region added their own unique style to the Muslim patrons. Some of the decorative themes with Islamic art can be identified in some of the earlier styles and techniques for blending the classics and adding the Iranian decorative theme. Many of the religious monuments had Islamic artists who worked on them. For example, some of them were made during the Umayyad patronage, and it has a distinguished Islamic flavor. One example of Islamic architecture shows itself in Jerusalem at an Islamic shrine called, “Dome of the Rock.”

Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyads were responsible for borrowing the architectural techniques from the Byzantines. The Dome of the Rock is the oldest surviving Islamic building built in 1023 after it had collapsed. The Umayyads introduced many innovations to architecture, but during this time, their artistic flare became huge with the buildings they were constructing.

Punctuated by the Different Dynasties

Much of the art follows the precepts of Islamic history. Art experts divided the art based on the various dynasties. Some of the common distinctions include:

  • Ottomans
  • Safavids
  • Mughals

One of the wonderful things related to Islamic art comes from the fact that individuals have many different regional and national styles that they can see. A great deal of diversity has been added to the art, and people can look at it over a period of time to see how it evolved.

Islamic Art in Antique Rugs: The most iconic Islamic art form and cultural tradition

Carpet weaving is the most iconic Islamic art form to come out of Islamic societies. This extraordinary tradition is most famous for producing the ‘pile carpet’ also known as the ‘oriental carpet.’ And so,  predominantly you will find the most sophisticated Islamic art in antique rugs.

In the late 16th century, Shah Abbas made an economical plan that set the carpet weaving industry on fire. He did this by making trade treaties with Spain, England, and France. As a result, carpet weaving transformed from the hands of peasants to that of prestigious artists. It was soon a national industry.

Shah Abbas, Islamic Art in Antique Rugs, Nazmiyal Collection

Shah Abbas, a historical force behind Islamic art and carpets.

Within Islamic societies, the finest pieces were collected in royal households, but they became acquired by royalty outside of Islam as well. By the early 17th century, Islamic rugs were being generated more than ever before and becoming a status symbol throughout European high society households. These exquisite Islamic art pieces were too precious for the floor, so they were commonly used to decorate the walls or cover furniture.

As for the earliest Islamic carpets, most cease to exist. Of those that survived the ages, early scholars had to depend on Italian and Flemish paintings, particularly Renaissance paintings, to determine their birthdays. These historical paintings became a major source of information on early Islamic carpet weaving.

The Saithwaite Family, Islamic Carpets in Paintings, Nazmiyal Collection

The Saithwaite Family by Francis Wheatley, Circa 1785

Young Woman With a Water Pitcher, Nazmiyal Antique Rugs, Islamic Rugs in Paintings

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer, Circa 1660-67

Moving forward, rugs from the 17th century were identified from the clues the actual rug provided, such as its type of dies, style, and design. Origin was often determined by the knot style. For instance, Persian carpets were typically made with an asymmetrical knot while Turkish carpets were made with the opposite.

In conclusion, antique rugs are a monumental part of Islamic Art History. They serve as expressive, decorative representations of Islamic history and a major entity in the world’s extraordinary history of art as a whole.

Islamic Carpets: From Cottage Industry to Fine Art

Throughout the Islamic world, women had been weaving carpets for thousands of years. They passed on their techniques and designs from one generation to the next. The introduction of Islam allowed the utilitarian practice of carpet weaving to elevate to a fine art form in many areas of the world. The Islamic carpets were no longer only functional pieces of furniture. These magnificent objects were elevated into a symbol of status and wealth for their owners and were made for the royal courts of the Islamic world.

Many of the traditional rug designs were still being produced in rural areas, but the introduction of Islam meant new patterns and the standardization of production methods. This was necessary to produce the exquisite court rugs that found their way into mosques, reception halls, and audience chambers. These antique rugs became a new class of artwork that catered to the wishes and needs of the ruling class.

New Islamic Carpet Patterns Under Islamic Rule

Changes in carpet patterns reflected changes in the artwork found throughout the Islamic world. For instance, Oriental rugs began to mimic the tiled geometric patterns that were found in architecture. Carpets began to be produced with a repeated motif in an all-over pattern throughout the entire field. Another style that made its way into carpets was the “saz” style, which used flowers with stylized leaves that gracefully curved throughout the design.

The carpets began to develop into a garden of colors and shapes including a wide range of floral designs such as roses, carnations, hyacinths, tulips, lotus flowers, trees, and fruits. Secular art continued to be produced, but new forms of religious art were added to the traditional local mixture of styles. This expanded the design possibilities in both the production centers of cities and villages.

Antique 17th Century Persian Khorassan Carpet | Nazmiyal

An example of a garden Islamic carpets with an all over design.

Inclusion of Calligraphy in Islamic Carpets

With the introduction of Islam, another element that appeared was the introduction of calligraphy into the carpets. Calligraphy is a stylized rendition of phrases and words in a way that makes them into a beautiful piece of artwork. Sometimes this calligraphy may just look like it is Arabic writing when in fact, it is purely decorative.

Kufic Border Of Antique Shirvan Rug - Nazmiyal Antique Rugs in NYC

Kufic Border Of Antique Shirvan Rug

The calligraphy that actually has linguistic meaning, may include words or phrases from the Quran or perhaps a piece of poetry. Early forms of this calligraphy began to appear in the 1450’s. Words and phrases in stylized Arabic writing called “Kufic” were placed in the borders of the carpets. These would eventually be replaced by floral and saz motifs.

Antique Persian Rug With Calligraphy With Linguistic Meaning - Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

Antique Persian Rug With Calligraphy With Linguistic Meaning

The inclusion of calligraphy and other highly detailed motifs required the production of Islamic carpets that were finely woven and had a high knot density. The introduction of these elements meant improvements in the quality and processes for creating these fine carpets. It also meant that rug weavers would need the ability to follow a given pattern, rather than reciting the patterns from memory. This shift represents the formalization of the artistic process that is used to create the carpets. Schools and weaving workshops were developed to teach design and weaving for the production of these magnificently fine Court carpets.

The Introduction Of The Islamic Prayer Rugs

One of the most important introductions of designs in carpet weaving under Muslim rule was the creation of Islamic prayer rugs. Prayer rugs are necessary for performing the five daily prayers that are required in the practice of Islam. These prayers are preferably performed in a mosque, but if there is no mosque available, they can take place anywhere that has a clean surface and water for cleansing. The prayer rug provides a clean surface to perform these prayers.

Muslim Prayer Rug - Nazmiyal Antique Rugs in NYC

Muslim Prayer Rug

The introduction of Islam meant a new style of rug that is specifically designed for performing these prayers. These small size rugs that are easy to carry, have a design element known as the mihrab, or prayer niche. This type of carpet is used to represent the mosque. It has a base and minaret on top, similar to those found on the tops of mosques, where the call to prayer is issued. The top of the rug is placed towards Mecca for the recitation of the prayers. All practitioners are required to know the direction of Mecca, regardless of where they are in the world. These special carpets are an important part of the Islamic faith.

Mihrab Design Islamic Antique Muslim Prayer Rugs Nazmiyal

Mihrab Design in Islamic Muslim Antique Prayer Rugs

Islamic Mihrab design prayer carpets are highly ornate and have different designs that include florals, geometric, and sometimes, though very rarely, pictorial scenes. They are ornate just like the mosques that they are meant to represent. You will often recognize many elements of architecture in them, such as columns and arches. Once the prayers are said, the carpet is carefully rolled up and treated as a sacred object. This careful treatment of this special class of Islamic rugs means that we have more of them in existence from previous centuries than many other types of rugs.

Muslim man praying on an Islamic prayer Rug by Nazmiyal

Muslim man praying on an Islamic prayer Rug

A New Islamic Artistic Philosophy

One of the differences between tribal rugs and Islamic Court rugs is the representation of symbols and patterns. Many times, in the tribal carpets produced according to ancient traditions, these motifs and symbols had a specific meaning that could be understood by the viewer. It is much lik

e a primitive form of writing. However, in Islam, the motifs found in artwork do not typically have a specific meaning, but they do represent a certain philosophy.

One example of this is the use of tiled patterns in a carpet. They are meant to bring beauty and harmony into the world and reflect both the unity and diversity created by God. The symmetry reflects cosmic equilibrium and harmony. The carpet itself represents the impermanence of earthly objects in comparison to the higher order of the heavens.

Another practice that one will find in Islamic artwork is that when creating these tiled geometric shapes, there will be an intentional mistake. This “mistake” as an act of humility to indicate that nothing is perfect but God. Sometimes this mistake will be hidden, and other times, it will be quite obvious, depending on the preferences of the artist.

Representation of Plants and Animals

One of the tenants held by some of the more orthodox orders of Islam is a prohibition against making “graven” images. However, one can find many historical examples of carpets that depict plants, animals, and even people throughout areas that were under heavy Islamic influence at the time the carpet was produced. The adherence to practice depends on the attitude of the local ruler in accordance with these tenets. This brings up the point that the effects of Islam on art design were not evenly distributed and that local customs also played important roles.

Some artists used abstractions of plants, animals, and human forms as a way of adherence to this prohibition. In certain areas this was considered acceptable, and in others, even this was forbidden. However, this style gave rise to many new art forms and motifs. The influence of Islam was not uniform across all regions of the world throughout its 1400 years of history. However, one seldom finds depictions of plants or animals on objects meant to be used for religious purposes. Many of these figures are found in secular rather than religious art in the Islamic world.

The spread of Islam throughout the world meant changes in all areas of society. The degree of these changes was dependent upon the orthodoxy that was adopted by the local rulers. It is essential to understand that the introduction of Islam meant an expansion of the arts and the introduction of new tools and motifs. In many areas, this allowed the carpet weaving industry to move from a cottage industry to reach the status of fine art that it is today.

Now that you understand a little bit more about how the introduction of Islam influenced the world of carpets, we hope that you will enjoy looking around at our collection. Perhaps you will find the perfect piece for your home or office.

Take a look at some of our Islamic Prayer Rugs:

Antique Caucasian Dagestan Gold Prayer Design Rug | Nazmiyal

Antique Caucasian Dagestan Gold Prayer Design Rug

1800’s Khotan Saf Prayer Rug | Nazmiyal

1800’s Khotan Saf Prayer Rug from East Turkestan

Antique Persian Tabriz Silk Prayer Rug | Nazmiyal

Antique Persian Tabriz Silk Prayer Rug

Antique Persian Silk Embroidery Textile | Nazmiyal

Antique Persian Silk Embroidery Textile

This rug blog about the advent of the Islamic Art and Islamic carpets was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in NYC.

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