Intro To the History of Persian Rugs
History of Persian Rugs – The weaving of Persian rugs probably began in the ancient Persian Empire of Cyrus and Darius the Great. While no extant rugs of this early period have been found in Persia itself, they have been preserved in the ‘frozen tombs’ of the nomadic Scythians in modern day Siberia.
The tombs at Pazyryk produced fragments of a flat-woven wool tapestry and a virtually intact knotted pile carpet, known as the Pazyryk carpet, with figurative depictions and ornamental designs precisely like those in the reliefs of the Royal Persian Palace at Persepolis. Experts have not hesitated to see these as imports from Persia.
The various fragments in a Sassanian Persian style discovered more recently in Afghanistan appear to also be Persian exports or local provincial copies. It is difficult to attribute the many rug fragments of the early Islamic period collected from Fostat in Egypt, but it is likely that some of these are Persian imports or copies as well.
Persian traditional classical carpet production begins during the Mongol and Timurid dynasties in the 14th-15th centuries, where it is documented primarily in miniature painting and rare fragments showing mostly geometric designs precisely like those of the paintings.
However, it is the Safavid period (1501-1722) that ushered in the Golden Age of classical Persian carpet weaving. Safavid court workshops produced carpets which, though often immense in scale, were woven in a remarkably fine technique with sinuous arabesque or floral designs of the utmost elegance and delicacy. Safavid court rugs were so highly respected and prized across the Islamic world that they were imitated in the court workshops of contemporary Ottoman Turkey and Mogul India.
During this period Oriental carpets, especially those from Persia, were widely imported into Europe, where they still represent the core of the finest modern European private and museum antique carpet collections. This taste for Persian carpets is also well attested in the masterpieces of 17th century European painting, where they are frequently depicted as symbols of affluence or luxury.
This extraordinary Persian production came to an end with the collapse of the Safavid kingdom in 1722. But during the nineteenth century, the Qajar dynasty began to foster a revival of traditional Persian arts and crafts in which carpet making and weaving figured prominently.
All the great design traditions and technical accomplishment of Safavid rug weaving rapidly came to life once more, and by the later nineteenth century Persia had again assumed a dominant position in Oriental rug manufacture, with European offices established in Persia itself to accommodate the enormous European and now American demand.
Since that time, the word ‘Persian’ has continued to remain virtually synonymous with the concept of the oriental carpet. Innovations in the spinning and dyeing of the wool materials have done little to alter the fundamental traditional techniques and Persian carpet pattern design principles of fine Persian rug production, which even today remains faithful to the higher standards of bygone times in a world where that is seldom the case.