One of the finest examples of carpet weaving can be found in the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is a carpet, some 37 feet x 17 feet made of a blend of wool and silk which
was found in the mosque at Ardebil in Persia, also in 1947. It has a cartouche in one corner, which bears the date AH947 in
the Islamic calendar, which translates to 1540 AD in ours. The caratouche tells us that it was made by the order of the Shah
Tamasp by a weaver named Maksud al Kashani and was used in the Shayka Safi Shrine in Ardebil.
An excellent book, The Christian Oriental Carpet
by Volkmar Gantzhorn, deals with the history of patterns in rugs. After the explorers, the next clues we get about rugs and
their patterns come from artists. The Crusades introduced Europeans to Middle Eastern rugs. They became status symbols for
the very rich. Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) made Turkish carpets popular by including them in his paintings. Also,
A Family Group, which was painted in 1547 by Lorenzo Lotto (c. 1480-1556) shows a rug border called the "kufic".
Paris, France has many examples of rug history. The Louvre Museum
shows a stone carving of a threshold rug with a pattern that is still being made today. The Apus statue, also in the
Louvre, depicts God in full decoration with a carpet on his back.
The history of rugs in France began with Louis IX (1226-1270).
He was the leader of the Holy War of the Crusades. He conquered the Moors, who had migrated to France from Spain. Part of
the bounty was fine rugs and carpets. By the end of the fifteenth century, Louis XII (1498-1515) had brought many Italian
craftsmen to help train his French workers. Francis I (1515-1547) continued this tradition by brining such artists
as Leonardo DaVinci and Andrea de Sarto to work for the royal family. From 1547-1589, the crafts dried up. In 1589, things
took a dramatic upward spiral. Henry IV (1589-1610), started a rug factory in his palace to create rugs for the French
market. He liked the rugs so well; he never shared them with the population. Louis XIII (1610-1643), his successor,
started an outside workshop for the people called "Savonneries". These French designs, however, were not as popular as the
Middle Eastern designs.
The documented history of rugs increases greatly for rugs from
the 17th century onward. It is easy to see the changes since the 16th century are relatively minor,
although patterns for general areas changed. In a series of books Oriental Rugs-Persian by Eric Aschenbrenner,
the issue of geographic barriers to transportation and ethnographic barriers and how they affected the weaving of rugs. These
barriers of transportation are the major reason that Persian rugs are such an art forms whereas rugs from India and Pakistan
have never achieved this status.
Oriental rugs made their way to America in the late seventeenth
century. They were used as floor coverings and wall coverings. The nineteenth century Victorian era saw a dramatic increase
in demand for the rugs. The bold colors and designs complemented the dark and heavy Victorian furniture. An Oriental Indian
rug owned by Cornelieus Vanderbilt sold for $950,000. The American market has always been strong for these beautiful works
Geographic and ethnographic barriers created marked differentiation
of rugs between weaving districts. The urban areas supported factories where weaving techniques could be refined. But a weaving
district was not limited to just the city. In fact, families living in primitive conditions in areas surrounding the town
of note did much of the production: Heriz is a small town in the northwest portion of Iran- yet the production of Heriz carpets
is huge. This is because a lot of families made them according to set standards in the area. To be kind, these standards were
not always strictly enforced. If there was no cotton for a foundation, they might use wool. If madder was in short supply,
some other red dye might be used. Therefore, even within an area there is product differentiation. For instance, in the town
of Bidjar, many rugs were woven with specific foundation pattern, and these rugs were called Bidjars. But more rugs were woven
in the surrounding areas in the homes of "subcontractors" and they were called Bidjars also. The control over the countryside
contractors was much weaker than the control held over the factory weavers. As a result, a Bidjar can vary according to location.
To the southeast of Bidjar is a mountainous area, inhabited
by a tribe called the Quash-Qai. The rugs from this area are called "Shiraz" and are woven by a number of nomadic tribes
roaming the desert. The Quash-Qai are one of these tribes. Although by miles the geographic distance between Qash-Qai
and Bidjar is not much, the ethnographic difference is huge-and the difference in the rugs is huge also. If you keep this
thought and proceed to the northwest of the Qash-Qai, you encounter the Zagros Mountains. North of this range is Isfahan.
There is a huge difference Isfahan rugs and Shiraz rugs, this is probably due to the environment in which the
Look at the map and find Northwest Persia. The weaving area
of Heriz is most representative of northwest Persia. A Bakshaish rug, just south of Heriz, looks geometric like
a Heriz but has pastel colors. Meshkin, close to Heriz but to the east, uses angular octagons instead of the Heriz
arrowhead, but is made of wool sheared from dead sheep, and this wool holds dye differently than wool sheared from live sheep.
Ardabil, to the north of Meshkin, stylizes the angularity of the Heriz rugs. Karaja, to the northeast
of Heriz, uses a modified Heriz pattern. Ahar, to the north of Heriz, softens the angularity of the Heriz patterns
and makes them slightly more curvi-linear, like the patterns in the urban areas.
The town of Tabriz does not reflect similar weaving patterns
to the other towns in the area. History explains this. Tabriz was settled at the foot of volcano Sahand. The town was never
devastated by natural disasters. It was ruled at various times by Genghis Khan, Timur, and Shah Ishmail I who
began the legendary Safavid weaving dynasty. This ruling period from 1501-1736 was highlighted by the reign of Shah Abbas
the Great (1586-1628) who cultivated the arts to their highest pinnacle. It was known as the Golden Age of rug making.
As the Safavid Empire ended in the 1700's, the art of weaving decayed.
The rekindling of the weaving greatness began in the early 1900's and has continued even until today. The weavers of Tabriz
are known for their speed, and for their development of a special tool that permits them to weave and cut the knots at the
rate of approximately 40 per minute. This is far above the average of 20 knots per minute for a skilled weaver.
Today, the same traditions of weaving still endure, with wool still
being spun by local people from local sheep and some dyes still being made from plants. What is clear, is that tradition is
unlikely to die out in the unforeseeable future, as there are groups of wandering nomads (like the Quashgai in Iran) who continue
in their old ways as long as there is land for them to live on. The semi-nomadic folk of the villages are still weaving
the same patterns and styles as they have always done and the famous centers of fine carpet production, like Hereke in Turkey
and Kashan, Isphahan, Qum, Tabriz and many other places in Iran. Even in war torn Afghanistan, carpet production is still
going on, while fine carpets are also found in Russia, Pakistan, India and China. There has been a movement recently,however,
of weavers taking factory jobs in the larger cities as the Middle East area becomes more Westernized. This could leave a void
in some weaving districts.
As we enter the new Millenium, these unique treasures of the Orient
and Middle East are still praised for their magnificent and incredible beauty. It is our mission to clean these rugs with
the most practicable and diligent methods. In this way, we are helping to preserve a piece of history.