Saturday, May 31, 2014

Persian Rugs[1-2]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience, I have listed posts below that also focus on rugs.
Navajo Rugs
Caucasian Rugs
Turkish Rugs

The Achaemenid Empire (Persian: امپراتوری هخامنشی) (ca. 550 – 330 BC) - also known as the Persian Empire - was the successor state of the Median Empire, ruling over significant portions of what would become Greater Iran. The Persian and the Median Empire taken together were also known as the Medo-Persian Empire, which encompassed the combined territories of several earlier empires.

The Persian Empire was the largest empire by geographical extent in ancient times; at the height of its power, the empire encompassed approximately 8 million km2. The empire was forged by Cyrus the Great, and spanned three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. However, for the sake of today’s post we shall constrain it to its heartland – that of Iran.

The heartland of the Persian Empire – Iran.

There is an excellent book written on the needlework of miniature Persian rugs[1] and another on oriental carpets in general[2]. Some of the former have been donated to the Toy & Miniature Museum in Kansas City, Missouri (USA). There are no better books for you to purchase in these areas.

The post today will deal with the design of Persian rugs. The images of most designs are those reproduced by Frank M. Cooper using his needlepoint techniques[1].

Some Facts about Iran
The heartland of the old Persian Empire is Iran. In Persian, the word “Iran” means - “Land of the Aryans” - since the Medes were of Aryan origin and the first people to unify Iran by the 6th Century BC.

Modern Iranian fashion on the catwalk.

One of the tribes, the Magi, were powerful Zoroastrian priests. The most famous Magi are the “Three Wise Men” of the Christian Nativity story who brought gifts to the newborn Christ. The 13th Century Italian explorer Marco Polo claimed to have visited the graves of the “Three Wise Men” in what is now Iran’s capital Tehran.

Zoroastrian priests from Yazd, Iran (1800s).

The official name of Iran is the Islamic Republic of Iran. It became an Islamic Republic in 1979 when the monarchy was overthrown and religious clerics assumed political power under supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini. In the modern era, nearly half of Iran has an arid desert climate. It receives less than 4 inches of precipitation each year. Iran is one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, with settlements dating back to 4000 BC. Most homes in Iran do not have tables and chairs. Instead, people sit on cushions on the floor to eat their meals. Hence rugs are an important commodity in Iran even to this day. After oil, Iran’s second largest export commodity is carpets. In 2007, Iran produced the world’s largest handmade carpet for a mosque in the United Arab Emirates. It was the size of a soccer field.

With a surface of 60,546 square feet (5,625 square meters), the carpet is the size of a soccer field and was woven by 1,200 weavers in three villages over 18 months. The giant carpet was ordered for a monumental new mosque in the United Arab Emirates.

Iranians have woven beautiful rugs for over 2,500 years. When creating rugs, Iranian weavers often make a mistake intentionally. They want to show their belief that “...only God is perfect.”

The Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran. The traditional Shia mosque was built from 1876 to 1888 and thrives as an active place of worship as well as a protected historical site to this day.

The Iranian population in 2012 was 78,868,711, making it the 18th most populated country in the world. Persians make up the most of Iran (61%), followed by Azeri (16%), Kurd (10%), Lur (6%), Baloch (2%), Arab (2%), Turkmen and Turkic tribes (2%), and other (1%). Islam is the dominant religion in Iran at 98%: Shia 89% and Sunni 9%. Other religions, such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and the Baha’i faith make up the remaining 2%.

Carpets made by Azeris.

Persian Carpets
It is claimed that Baluchi rugs are woven in Baluchistan, which is partly in Iran and partly in Pakistan, thereby woven by the Baluci tribes, 100 miles south of Meshed. These tribes were brought from Baluchistan by Nadir Shah in the eighteenth century and today make up the core of the Baluchi population of the province.

The rug pattern of these tribes has remained relatively unique, for these tribes live in a very desolate area that is cut off from neighbors by deserts and mountain ridges.

Baluchi I. Subdued colors are very characteristic of the Baluchi rugs and they can be found in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City, Missouri (USA).
Courtesy of reference[1].

On either side of the mihrah (see below) – that portion of the design that is pointed toward Mecca during prayers, are the representation of hands. Here the faithful place their hands as they kneel in prayer and touch their foreheads to a small tablet placed at the apex of the mirah. This tablet is sometimes made of earth from Mecca. The devoted say prayers five times a day – at sunrise, midday, four hours after midday, sunset and one hour after sunset.

Baluchi II.
Courtesy of reference[1].

The city of Hamadan is approximately 150 miles southwest of Tehran, on the site of the ancient biblical city of Ecbatana, where the tomb of Esther and Mordecai is located. Other than their characteristic coloring there are several other characteristics of a Hamadan rug that aids in their identification. For example, the design is usually simpler than that of other Persian rugs. Also, generally the homespun yarn is heavier than that from other villages, and the pile is cut high.

Hamadan Rug.
Courtesy of reference[1].

The Persian Kurds occupy an area in NorthWestern Iran, extending from Hamadan to the borders of Turkey and Iraq. This area is very mountainous and inaccessible, and except for the tribes living in the less rugged Eastern region, the inhabitants are nomadic or semi-nomadic.

In Kurdistan there are three types of rug weaves, which differ greatly from each other: the weave of the nomadic or settled tribes; the weave of the city of Bijar and its forty or more surrounding villages; and the Senneh weave found in the city of the same name.

The nomadic rugs are more rustic and unsophisticated than those made in either of the two cities. Those from the Bijar area are more densely tied with heavier material so that the finished rug has to be rolled instead of folded to prevent it from cracking. The Senneh rugs have more numerous and soft warp threads; both the warp and weft are cotton instead of wool. Because there are twice as many warp threads as usual, the weft must be thinner and the yarn spun finer. The knots are clipped more closely so that the design shows up more clearly. The end product is a thin, soft, flexible rug with a beautiful and exquisite sophisticated design.

Kurdistan rug. The rug that inspired this design [1] is in the McMullan Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Courtesy of reference[1].

In NorthWestern Iran, just West of Hamadan and East of Kermanshah and close to the lofty mountain Alvand, is where the Seraband rugs are woven. There are several hundred villages in this area, all producing rugs of essentially the same design.

A Seraband rug has a red, blue or white field, which is filled with rows of boteh (“pine” or “leaf”) facing left and right in alternate rows. If the field is red, the boteh will be blue; if the field is blue, the boteh will be red; if the field is white, both colors will be used for the boteh. Often the designs of these rugs have been reflected in the Paisley shawl designs, where it was copied from the shawls of the Kashmiri, who in turn had taken it from the rugs of Persia.

Serabnd rug. The main border is about the same width as the combined width of two adjacent borders, which are filled with undulating vines and rosettes. The outer border has the omnipresent trefoil motif, balanced by a saw tooth border that encloses the field.
Courtesy of reference[1].

A kilim is a flat rug with no pile woven on a loom, with vertical warp threads and horizontal weft threads. To create the design in the rug, the weft threads do not extend from selvedge to selvedge, but rather they are woven back and forth around selected warp threads to form blocks of color. As a result, there is a slit in the fabric where the two colors meet. For this reason a straight perpendicular line cannot be more than a few weft threads deep or the strength of the rug would be diminished by the long slit. If long vertical lines are a part of a design they must be slightly irregular.

A kilim is not as sturdy as a pile rug, because it does not have the hand-tied knots that reinforce the warp and the weft. If a kilim is used as a rug, however, the custom of removing shoes when entering a domicile will ensure its relatively long life.

Kilims are produced in almost all the same areas where knotted rugs are made. They are made with little or no pattern when they need to be especially strong.

Shiraz rug.
Courtesy of reference[1].

[1] F. M. Cooper, Oriental Carpets in Miniature, Interweave Press, Colorado (1994).
[2] Ulrich Schurmann, Oriental Carpets, Hamlyn Publishing, London (1966).