Persian Rug Weavers from Two Different Worlds
The beauty and artistry of Persian rugs adds style and sophistication to any room. The Persian rug colors and designs created by some of the great Persian rug weavers have a sublime quality that goes beyond their function, but what makes them even more special is the knowledge that each one of the rug knots was hand tied by the Persian weaver him or herself.
This is even more impressive considering level of detail that can be found in many of the pieces. You may be wondering, who are the Persian rug weavers whose hands masterfully created these works of art?
Early Tribal Persian Rug Weaving
Rug weaving as an art began in Persian, now Iran, approximately 2,500 years ago. They were originally woven by nomadic tribes as protection from the cold and wet environment. Eventually, they began to develop into traditional patterns and became a work of art that was also utilitarian.
The development of carpet weaving as the art that it is today was the work of several great leaders in Persian rug history. Cyrus the Great was struck by the beauty of the Oriental rugs being produced in Babylon when he conquered it in 539 BC. The oldest carpet in the world today was unearthed in an archaeological find in the Pazyryk valley and dates to 5 BC.
Development of Persian Carpet Weaving as an Industry
When the Seljuk Turks conquered and ruled Persia during the 11th and 12th centuries, they brought with them rug weavers who were highly skilled in the Turkish rug knot. This influence was strongest in Azerbaijan and Hamadan where the Turkish knot is still often used in these areas.
The Persian rug weavers in major cities such as Tabriz developed highly skilled weavers and became centers of carpet production. During the Mongol period of rule in Persia in the 14th century, these now antique rugs began to line the floors of palaces and had developed into a highly sophisticated art form. It was during the Safavid period from 1501 to 1732 when things began to change and the nature of the carpets and rugs themselves began to change. Up until this point, the rug weaving traditions were passed on from one generation to another and the weaver was also the artist and designer.
By this time the trade routes along the Silk Road were well established and goods were traded from east to west, opening up new possibilities for wealth, and the Safavids knew that they had an opportunity. Carpets became an important cargo for caravans. There are very few of these early carpets surviving today, but they began to appear in miniature paintings and in artwork throughout Europe, so we know that the traditional patterns had been developed by that time. Cities located along the route began to develop carpet weaving as a formal trade.
In the late 15th century, a new rug designs and patterns began to appear in the miniatures. The large, formal central medallion designs began to appear, surrounded by layers of elaborate, curving geometric shapes. Large flowers and vines began to appear in a way that gave the rugs harmony and rhythm. These complex designs began to require a rug designer to create the designs and a weaver to transform them into a carpet.
The pattern of the carpet was laid out on what is known as a “cartoon”. The weaver would place the rug cartoon behind the warp and follow the design. The miniature painters designed carpets that they wished to appear in paintings. Formal schools began to develop. The weavers were now the craftsmen who created the rugs, but they were no longer the designers these pieces.
City Carpets vs Tribal Carpets
In the large metropolis carpet weaving centers, such as Tabriz, Kerman, and Isfahan, weavers were removed from the design process. They were given a pattern and they were expected to follow the design without any deviation. As a result, the actual weavers lost the creative input. But this was not the case in the small villages where the Persian rug weavers were still the designers and weavers of the carpets.
During the Safavid period, many times court artists designed the carpets and the weavers produced them. They also began to produce “standardized” designs to be replicated and sold in the European and Asian markets. In 1722, the Afghans invaded Isfahan, creating several years or turbulence where the great carpet manufacturing centers stopped producing. There were still rugs being produced by village tribes, but the manufactured designs stopped.
Under the reign of Shah Qajar in the last quarter of the 19th century, carpets regained their importance as a trade commodity and the rugs began to be exported to Europe and America. During this time, several American and European companies set up shops in Persian and organized formal production for export. During the 19th century Qajar period, the Persian rug weavers became even further removed from the artistry and design of the carpet.
Those 19th century carpets that were made from factories located in the larger cities, produced standardized designs that are easily recognizable. One can distinguish most of the Persian carpets made in Tabriz, Kerman, Hamadan, Khorassan, or Heriz by the design, colors, materials, and the carpet dyes that were used. One thing to be clear about is that when we talk about “factories” or the industrialization, it does not mean mechanization. There was still a men or women weavers who sat on the floor or a bench and hand tied every single knot in the carpet. The only difference is that the weaver did not have control over the design.
This is not the case in the smaller villages and rural areas. In these villages, the Persian rug weavers were still the designers and the weavers. Often, they were a storyteller too. They would use design symbols to tell the story of their tribe, their family, or perhaps to convey a certain concept. For instance, the boteh is a symbol that later became known as the paisley. It represents eternity or a flame among other meanings. Even though many symbols have become a part of rug weaving tradition, they can have different meanings to different tribes and in different areas. The classic traditional rug weavers in the villages use color to convey a specific meaning too. The tribal rug weaving in the villages is still a personal and highly individualized art.
Qualities of the Tribal vs. Industrialized Persian Rug Weavers
Whether you prefer the formality of the Persian city rugs produced in the weaving centers, or the rustic charm of those produced in villages is a matter of preference. Both of them have their own qualities that make them a treasure to own. One can easily spot a Persian rug that was woven in the city as opposed to one produced in the small villages, or “tribal” rugs.
The Persian rugs woven in the city will typically be divided into four quadrants, or sometimes only two, that will be executed perfectly. The design will be symmetrical, regardless of the direction that you turn the rug. In some cases, as directional design it used, but the rug will still have symmetry along the vertical axis, as if the rug can be folded in half exactly. The rugs woven in cities also often have more uniform colors too. This is because the weavers have access to larger amount of high quality natural dyes and follow a strict process to produce consistency in the colors.
This is not the case with the tribal rugs produced in the villages. Even when the rug has a repeating motif, often the repeats will have slight variations. The lines of the design may not be straight, or the colors may shift from one end of the rug to the other. Sometimes it may appear as if the weaver changed their mind and went off on a different thought process. The colors may shift, a phenomena called rug abrash, because the weaver ran out of that color of wool, or perhaps it was completed by several different weavers.
Tribal rugs may have bolder, more geometric designs and lack the intricacy of those produced in the cities, but not always. There are fewer rules for tribal rugs. This does not make them inferior to the standardized designs produced in the cities. To the contrary, it makes them even more special. Each one is individual and the product of the mind of the weaver. It is a like a painting and has an individual character all its own.
Meet the Master Persian Rug Weavers of the Late 19th Century Persian Rug Revival
The artistry of Persian carpets makes them a special addition to any interior design. The beautiful colors and patterns are steeped in traditions. The origins of these traditions have been lost in time. For the most part, the artists and creators of these master artworks are unknown. The hands that spun the wool and silk, dyed the threads, and hand tied every single knot have faded into obscurity. We know the quality of the rug by its color, pattern, the number of knots and the type of knot used. We can pin the rug to a certain region, tribe, or at locale by its style, but the names and faces associated with these works have been lost. Yet, there are a few masters whose names we do know, and these carpets hold a special place as world treasures.
Master Persian rug weavers such as Ziegler Sultanabad, Mohtashem, Haji Jalili, and Aboul Ghasem Kermani produced masterpieces that find their way into exquisite collections and museums around the world. A rug designed by one of these Master weavers is a rare and highly-prized addition to any collection. They stand out in their quality and design in a way that is mesmerizing, touches the viewer and connects them to the sublime.
Now, let us meet a few of the Master Persian rug weavers
Weavers Of Persian Ziegler Sultanabad Rugs
The rugs of Ziegler Sultanabad were created around the last quarter of the 19th century. These creations were part of a revival in interest in Persian rugs. They became an iconic part of Victorian interior design, which expanded the market for them and inspired designers to create rugs that were more appealing to western tastes.
Ziegler began producing his rugs in Sultanabad, a small town located in the northwest corner of Persia. His designs were distributed by the Ziegler & Co., which was based in Manchester, England. A trade network was set up that led to exporting rugs from Persia to England and America where consumers could not get enough of them.
Ziegler’s designs were less dense than those of other rug producers at the time. They were often on a grand scale and used soft colors, sometimes in pastel. These lighter, colors complemented Victorian design sensibilities and gave the interior design a delicate and refined quality.
As with many of the Masters, Ziegler Sultanabad began producing carpets in the late 1870’s on a commission basis. They were later sold through exclusive retailers such as Liberty & Company and Harvey Nichols.
It may be noted that Ziegler carpets became a term that is used to refer to the style of carpet produced by them and modern-day carpets are still being produced in this style. An original Ziegler carpet is a highly valuable and collectible investment piece.
Master Persian Rug Weaver Mohtashem Kashan
Ustad Zufilkhar Ed Din Mohtashem is another weaver whose carpets are associated with the revival in interest in Persian carpets during the late 1800’s. Ustad is a term of honor used for the most respected designers and producers of Persian rugs. His works were produced in the town of Kashan, which is in central Persia near the carpet weaving centers of Isfahan and Tehran. These masterpieces were produced continually for about 30 years. They are considered some of the finest and most delicate rugs of the time.
These rugs were woven of wool and silk. One of the things that stands out about a Mohtashem rug is the brilliant use of purple and ruby red silk bindings on the edges. They used imported merino wool, which can be spun into fine threads and is known for its exquisite softness. If you are fortunate, you may even find a rug that is signed by Mohtashem. These are some of the most valuable carpets in the world. Even if the rug is not signed by the master Weaver, it is still considered a rare find.
There is quite a bit of mystery surrounding Mohtashem. The name is well known, but there are rumors that it may be a trade name and that the actual person did not exist. However, there is a story involving an actual person by this name. Prior to the time when this legend supposedly took place, the Persian carpet industry had been almost nonexistent since the fall of the Safavid Dynasty in 1723.
The story goes that at the time when these carpets first began to be produced again, they faced competition from machine-manufactured textiles from Europe. In an attempt to revive the business, it is said that Mohtashem married a woman from Sultanabad who brought with her the traditions of weaving a hand knotted carpet.
They began to import wool from Manchester, England. People fell in love with these hand-knotted carpets. In 1890, there were only 3 looms operating in the city, but by 1900 there were 1,500. By 1949, there were 4,000 operating looms in Kashan.
Mohtashem carpets are known for their vibrant colors and graceful, sweeping designs. Those produced before 1900 are rare and if you are fortunate enough to find one, it would make an excellent addition to an exclusive collection.
Master Persian Rug Weaver Haji Jalili
Haji Jalili is a carpet Weaver from Tabriz. Once again, he is part of the revival that took place in the latter part of the 19th century. Tabriz was a traditional carpet weaving center during the Golden Age of the Safavid Dynasty. It had a tradition of producing some of the most highly desirable carpets in the world. However, it too lost the industry when the Safavid Dynasty fell in 1723.
The works of Hajji Jalili are known for unusual, distinctive color combinations and design elements. He too produced carpets that appealed to the Victorian sensibilities and that are often in gray, pink, and gold tones. This color combination makes them stand out from more traditional Persian carpets that were being produced at the time. It also gives them a softer look and feel.
Another unique feature about Haji Jalili carpets is that many of his works were produced in silk. Silk carpets have a shimmer that lasts throughout the years, and retain their original colors. They are often found in excellent condition, a testimony to the quality and craftsmanship that went into them. They were often commissioned pieces and used in the homes of wealthier clientele.
Some of his most famous Haji Jalili pieces include floral rugs that feature central medallions, as well as Garden of Paradise and Tree of Life patterns. They often include it cypress trees, gazelles, peacocks, willow trees, deer, and other flora and fauna. Another thing that makes them stand out is the use of subtle tones to create fine details and shading within the design. His rugs often have an earthy quality and a connection to the natural world.
Master Persian Rug Weaver Aboul Ghasem Kermani
No discussion of the great Master Persian rug weavers would be complete without a mention of the master Weaver Aboul Ghasem Kermani. He was often called a Master of Masters and also produced rugs between 1880 and 1900. The designs were often woven in wool and silk using contemporary designs of the time that included paisleys, pictorials, densely packed floral patterns, and medallion rugs. The designs were also known for their complex and extravagant borders.
The designs of Kermani were often carried out using vibrant, high contrast colors and densely packed designs. They are some of the most unusual designs in the world. They are easily recognizable for their outstanding use of color that differentiates them from other fine Persian carpets that you find in the marketplace. They are a real treasure for your collection.
One of the things that makes rugs produced by the Masters so important as collector’s pieces is that only a limited number of them exist. They were produced for a short amount of time and then there were no more. Rugs produced by the Master Persian rug weavers are also important investment pieces because of their rarity, quality, and the reputation of the artisan.
If you are fortunate enough to find a work by one of these Masters, you have stumbled upon a rare find. Due to their high demand among collectors, it is difficult to find a piece by one of these master weavers. They are available at times, and sometimes, we are fortunate enough to acquire one and are able to offer it to you. Look around at our collection, and you will see why the works of these Masters are truly an artistic masterpiece.
Whether you choose one of the formal designs of the carpet weaving centers, or a more rustic, tribal rug depends on the look and feel that you want for the room. Be sure to browse around and see our fine selection of both city and village produced rugs for your next design inspiration.