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.
You can read more about the city carpets vs the village rugs here
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.
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.
This rug blog about the Persian rug weavers was posted by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in Manhattan NYC
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