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Greek Key / Running Dog Design In Rugs

The Mystery of the Running Dog or Greek Key Border

One of the more common motifs seen in oriental carpets, and in artwork of many types all over the world, is the running dog, Greek Key pattern, Greek fret, or meander pattern. This ancient pattern continues to pop up as an element in modern design on everything from wallpaper to bath towels and shower curtains. However, this pattern is more ancient than you might suspect, and it is found in ancient cultures from Egyptian tombs to Mayan carving. What is so special about this seemingly simple design?

Greek Key | Nazmiyal

An example of the Greek Key pattern

How Old Is The Running Dog or Greek Key Design?

The name suggests that this pattern was invented by the ancient Greeks. It is certainly a motif that one sees throughout ancient Greek art on pottery, frescoes, on the border of clothing and on many artifacts. However, the design actually goes back much farther than the ancient Greeks. It is found on Egyptian tombs, adorning ancient Chinese buildings and in carvings from the Mayan Empire. It is also found in Celtic knot work, African designs, and Norse artwork. However, we still associate the pattern with the mosaic floors, marble friezes and red and black pots of the ancient Greeks.

This pattern is sometimes referred to as the meander pattern. The pattern is a continuous line that keeps folding back on itself repeatedly. In this way, it looks similar to the Meander river that twists its way through Asia Minor. The river’s path doubles back on itself many times, much like the pattern. It is not known who the first person was to draw this connection, but the Meander river is mentioned in Homer’s “The Iliad.”

The word “meander” itself refers to the 250-mile-long river that flows through southwestern Turkey called the Menderes, or Maeander. It is believed that this long, snaking body of water became a symbol of infinity or the eternal flow of life. One of the great mysteries is how this popular pattern made its way into the art and architecture of civilizations who never saw the Meander river and are not known to have been connected to that area of the world.

Running Dog Frieze | Nazmiyal

An example of the running dog pattern on a frieze

The Spread of the Greek Key

By far, the ancient Greeks adopted this design to a larger degree than other cultures, but they were not the first to invent it. It only appears that they fell in love with it. One theory suggests that the pattern was adapted from ancient artworks by the Greeks and then spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world through contact.

The pattern was also popular with the Romans, who are believed to have copied it from the Greeks, even though they would never admit it. By the 1700’s, it was found in decorative objects throughout Europe, having survived all of those centuries and appearing in artwork from around the world in many different mediums. Throughout its long history it has seen waves of a resurgence in popularity, sometimes connected a Greek revival. It was popular during the Empire period and the Hollywood Regency period. It also found its way frequently into Art Deco design. These are only a few examples of times when this ancient design seems to have attracted a new crowd of admirers.

Greek Key Border | Nazmiyal

A Greek Key border on a rug

What Is It That Makes The Running Dog / Greek Key Pattern So Popular?

The original meaning of the Greek Key pattern has been lost over time. At present, we can only theorize about the connection of the pattern and the ancient symbolism of the Meander river, but the question that is the greatest mystery is why this pattern is still popular today.

The Greek Key pattern is a simple design that seems to embody both masculine and feminine qualities. It gives equal attention to white and dark space. It has symmetry as the eye moves along its path. It alternates spiraling left and then right, which may connect with both hemispheres of the human brain. It is also similar to a labyrinth, which is known to have a physical effect on the brain.

All of this is just theory, but all of these explanations are plausible with what modern science has shown us about how the human brain works. It may be so attractive because it has a calming effect on the brain and somehow alleviates stress. Perhaps it has a meditative quality as the eye moves along its path.

Greek Key Border | Nazmiyal

A Nazmiyal Chinese Art Deco Rug with a Greek Key border

From an artistic point of view, it is an eye-catching border and makes a nice frame for almost any design. It gives the piece a finished appearance. On a plain piece, it is the only border needed. It can serve as a minor accent or as the main attraction. Perhaps this versatility is one of the reasons for its longevity over time.

The Greek Key is also an easy pattern to execute because of its repeating nature. Not to mention, corners are easy to resolve with this design. It works well in miniature or blown up to create a more formal and modern graphic design element. One thing is for certain, we still love it as much as the ancients.

When it is used in association with Persian, Oriental and tribal carpets, it is often referred to as the running dog pattern. This is because can look like a series of dogs running. We are not even going to try to guess the story behind that one. The bottom line is that there is more to this popular and ancient pattern than meets the eye, and its history is one of the greatest mysteries of the art world. The only thing we know for sure is that we still love this pattern today.

We have a wide selection of pieces that feature the Greek Key or running dog pattern. The best part about these carpets is that they easily go with both traditional and contemporary décor. This is one of the most widely used and versatile patterns in the world. It is easy to find modern furniture and accessories that feature this pattern to create a fresh and modern look that has an ancient and classic connection.

Feel free to look around and discover why this ancient symbol is still popular today. You just might find the perfect piece to complete your home decor.

This article was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs.

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