Early Period Rugs

Collection of Antique Early Period Rugs

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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.

17th Century Mughal Gallery Carpet 47597
17th Century Mughal Gallery Carpet 47597

17th Century Khorassan Antique Persian Rug 3289
17th Century Khorassan Antique Persian Rug 3289

17th Century Persian Vase Carpet 45770
17th Century Persian Vase Carpet 45770

Antique 17th Century Mughal Carpet 8036
Antique 17th Century Mughal Carpet 8036

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.

17th Century Spanish Needlepoint Carpet 48028
17th Century Spanish Needlepoint Carpet 48028

17th Century Antique Silk Polanaise Persian Rug 40787
17th Century Antique Silk Polanaise Persian Rug 40787

Antique 17th Century Silk and Wool Persian Esfahan Rug 8034
Antique 17th Century Silk and Wool Persian Esfahan Rug 8034

17th Century Spanish Cuenca Carpet 47370
17th Century Spanish Cuenca Carpet 47370

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.

17th Century Chinese Fu Dog Rug 48031
17th Century Chinese Fu Dog Rug 48031

Antique 17th Century Mughal Indian Rug 8000
Antique 17th Century Mughal Indian Rug 8000

Antique Greek Embroidery Rug 41489
Antique Greek Embroidery Rug 41489

Antique Chinese Ming Dynasty Silk Textile 40494
Antique Chinese Ming Dynasty Silk Textile 40494

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.

Antique Isfahan Persian Rug 44143
Antique Isfahan Persian Rug 44143

Antique Esfahan Carpet 3338
Antique Isfahan Carpet 3338

Seventeenth Century Esfahan Persian Rug 47081
Seventeenth Century Esfahan Persian Rug 47081

17th Century Persian Isfahan Carpet 44889
17th Century Persian Isfahan Carpet 44889

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.

Seventeenth Century Esfahan Persian Rug 47080
Seventeenth Century Esfahan Persian Rug 47080

17th Century Antique Ottoman Embroidery Rug 8053
17th Century Antique Ottoman Embroidery Rug 8053

Early Coptic Egyptian Textile 46131
Early Coptic Egyptian Textile 46131

Antique Spanish Carpet 3432
Antique Spanish Carpet 3432

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.

Antique Azerbaijan Silk Kaitag Embroidery 47367
Antique Azerbaijan Silk Kaitag Embroidery 47367

Antique Ottoman Embroidery 41494
Antique Ottoman Embroidery 41494

Antique Ottoman Embroidery Turkish Rug 41488
Antique Ottoman Embroidery Turkish Rug 41488

Antique 18th Century Millefleurs Kasmir Shawl 8052
Antique 18th Century Millefleurs Kasmir Shawl 8052

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.

Antique Ottoman Embroidery 41487
Antique Ottoman Embroidery 41487

Antique Oushak Turkish Rug 47072
Antique Oushak Turkish Rug 47072

Antique Oushak Turkish Smyrna Rug 40418
Antique Oushak Turkish Smyrna Rug 40418

Antique 18th Century Caucasian Karabag Rug 47245
Antique 18th Century Caucasian Karabagh Rug 47245

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.

18th Century Mughal Indian Rug 44144
18th Century Mughal Indian Rug 44144

Antique 18th Century Silk Yarkand Oriental Rug 2975
Antique 18th Century Silk Yarkand Oriental Rug 2975

18th Century Flemish Tapestry 47384
18th Century Flemish Tapestry 47384

Antique Ottoman Embroidery Turkish Rug 42621
Ottoman Embroidery Turkish Rug 42621

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.

18th Century Antique Velvet Italian Textile 41961
18th Century Antique Velvet Italian Textile 41961

Northwest Persian Carpet 40583
Northwest Persian Carpet 40583

Antique 16th Century Alcaraz Rug 3288
Antique 16th Century Alcaraz Rug 3288

16th Century Ming Dynasty Dragon Chinese Carpet 47381
16th Century Ming Dynasty Dragon Chinese Carpet 47381

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 TurkeyPersian rugs appear commonly in the works of the great Dutch masters like Jan Vermeer.

Antique 16th Century Cairene Rug 3222
Antique 16th Century Cairene Rug 3222

Antique 16th Century Cairene Rug 44374
Antique 16th Century Cairene Rug 44374

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.

Early Rugs Depiction of the enthroned Madonna with a 'Ghirlandaio carpet' beneath her feet, Domenico Ghirlandaio, mid 15th century, Uffizi Gallery, Florence (from V. Gantzhorn, Oriental Carpets, ill. 482).
Early Rugs Depiction of the enthroned Madonna with a 'Ghirlandaio carpet' beneath her feet, Domenico Ghirlandaio, mid 15th century, Uffizi Gallery, Florence (from V. Gantzhorn, Oriental Carpets, ill. 482).

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 Depiction of a 'Memling Gul' rug in a still-life with a flower vase by Hans Memling, before 1494 (from V. Gantzhorn,Oriental Carpets, ill. 448).Early Rugs Depiction of a 'Memling Gul' rug in a still-life with a flower vase by Hans Memling, before 1494 (from V. Gantzhorn,Oriental Carpets, ill. 448).
Early Rugs Depiction of a 'Memling Gul' rug in a still-life with a flower vase by Hans Memling, before 1494 (from V. Gantzhorn,Oriental Carpets, ill. 448).

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.

Everything You Want to Know About Antique Rugs and Vintage Rugs