Collection of Antique Early Period Rugs
Early Period Rugs - The Nazmiyal Collection of antique rugs spans many centuries and origins. The rugs highlighted on this page are examples of the earliest-dated rugs and carpets in our collection.
These rugs are excellent examples of the craftsmanship and artistry of their creators, and in addition to being beautifully decorative, they are true historical artifacts of the cultures of their origins.
Terminology: Antique vs. Pre-Commercial vs. Classical
While technically the term “antique” denotes rugs and textiles that are at least eighty years old, in common use it implies pieces that belong to the period from 1850 - 1930. The great majority of antique rugs come from this period since this was the time of great expansion in production to meet the needs of a new and much broader western market.
Antique rugs from the period between approximately 1750 - 1850 are rarer; they belong to what is regarded by collectors as a “pre-commercial” period.
Those produced before 1725 are rarer still. These pieces come from a time when the ruling dynasties of Persia, the Caucasus, Ottoman Turkey, Mogul India, and China were still powerful and capable of supporting the production of the highest quality carpets.
Such pieces are distinguished by the terms “early” or “classical,” because of their much greater age, their extraordinary quality, and because of the greater cultural authenticity of their design.
As long-treasured antiquities, many classical pieces are surprisingly well preserved and are still usable as floor covering. The extreme rarity of such pieces, however, especially those in good condition, makes them the most expensive of antique rugs and textiles.
History and Evolution of Antique European and Oriental Carpets
Although examples of knotted carpets were known and produced in the classical world by late Roman times in Egypt, they do not seem to have been part of the larger Roman heritage that passed down to Medieval Europe.
Once the emerging Islamic Empire conquered Egypt in 642, thereby cutting it off from the late Roman or early Byzantine Empire, rugs disappeared from European material culture, with the exception of Spain, which was conquered by the Muslims in 711.
We have no direct evidence for rug production in Early Islamic Spain, but it seems certain that its rulers would have had access to the same sorts of carpet current in the rest of the Islamic world at this time.
Fragments found in the rubbish dump at Fostat in Cairo have in fact been identified as early Spanish Islamic carpets of the eleventh to fourteenth centuries. Spanish production is attested much more clearly from the fourteenth century on, during the period of the Reconquista when Christian Spaniards recovered control of the Iberian peninsula.
Surprisingly though, these late Medieval Spanish carpets still followed the design of Oriental models, especially the Holbein and Crivelli Star patterns of Ottoman Turkey, or the small-scale allover designs of Islamic textiles of silk.
After the final expulsion of the Muslims from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, Spanish carpets evolved in more purely European or western styles.
Although they did not produce their own knotted pile carpets, Medieval Europeans were nonetheless attracted to the ones made by their Muslim competitors to the East. The admiring observations of the Venetian merchant Marco Polo on Anatolian carpet production in the thirteenth century were a harbinger of things to come.
As commerce between Europe and the Orient accelerated in the wake of the Crusades, Oriental carpets began to become less remarkable in the West.
But what probably did the most to accelerate the European familiarity with Oriental rugs was the emergence of the Ottoman Dynasty, which initially established itself in the Balkan Peninsula and southeastern Europe before taking control of Anatolia and Western Asia.
Since carpets were an important aspect of Turkish material culture, the development of the Ottoman power in the Balkans and the regions to the north must have brought large numbers of carpets to the very doorstep of Central and Western Europe.
When we add to this the role of Venice as a major conduit between Europe and the East and the increase of intra- European commerce generally toward the end of the Middle Ages, it is hardly surprising that Europeans became avid collectors of Oriental carpets over the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and in the two centuries that followed as well.
The European appetite for carpets is attested not only by extant pieces whose early arrival in Europe is historically documented, but also by European painting of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and later as well.
In truth, the depiction of early Turkish carpets in European master paintings, which can be closely dated, is the basis for Oriental carpet chronology, as well as for the descriptive terminology and classification in carpet scholarship.
Many of the terms or types mentioned above - Holbein, Memling, Crivelli, Lotto, Ghirlandaio, and others as well, are named for the European painters who depicted the carpets. In recent scholarship, John Mills has taken the study of early carpets from the perspective of European painting to new standards of critical analysis.
Work of this kind has made it possible to form a much more thorough picture of early carpet production than would be possible purely on the basis of the actual pieces that survive, whose dating would largely be a matter of conjecture.
After the sixteenth century, commerce with the Orient began to introduce affluent Europeans to the carpets of Safavid Persia as well as those of Ottoman Empire period Turkey. Persian rugs appear commonly in the works of the great Dutch masters like Jan Vermeer.
Early Period Rugs and Home Decor
One of the great divides in the rug world is the distinction between newer rugs and those that can be termed antique. This is a distinction that operates on various levels involving artistic and technical quality, rarity, and, of course, price.
New rugs are not simply those that arrive in the market direct from a manufacturer without ever having been used, but also those with an age of thirty years or less. Antique rugs are those at least eighty years old, while older and semi-antique rugs fill the gap between the new and antique. But these other categories are of little import; it is the fully antique label that really matters.
Antique rugs have hand-spun wool, their colors are made with all or primarily vegetable-derived dyes, and they are produced with designs rooted authentically in traditions hundreds of years old. Unlike new rugs, there is a finite number of rugs made before 1920. This number may shrink, but it can never increase. Antique rugs not only have quality, but rarity as well, and this tends to increase their value with the passing of time.
But there is another divide of this sort, although it is not as well known. This is the divide between rugs designated as antique and those known as Early rugs and textiles, those made before 1800. Given the essential fragility of woven art, rugs of this age in anything approaching good condition are far rarer than antique rugs of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This makes them even more expensive than nineteenth century pieces, but their rarity has also made Early Period pieces somewhat unfamiliar to the larger rug-buying public. Instead, early rugs or carpets and textiles of this kind have so far been primarily of interest to specialist collectors.
This is unfortunate, since many early pieces are carpets of a substantial size, which, if in sufficiently good condition, make excellent decorative rugs. For those who can appreciate the particular beauty and superior artistry of Early Period rugs, they remain a largely untapped resource for high quality interior décor.
Early rugs and textiles are certainly not the esoteric "collector items" that they are so often taken to be. They were originally produced as decorative interior furnishings at an elite level of patronage. There is no reason, therefore, that should not function in this way today, so long as they are sufficiently well preserved and treated with care.
They offer a superior degree of elegance and artistry that is a notch or two above most nineteenth century rugs. For those discerning enough to tell the difference and willing to pay for it, Early Period rugs are a gateway to a lost era of grace and luxury.