rug and carpet


rug and carpet
Any decorative textile normally made of a thick material and intended as a floor covering.

Floor coverings made of plaited rushes date from the 5th or 4th millennium BC. Carpets were first made in central and western Asia as coverings for earthen floors; they were also used for blankets, saddle covers, storage bags, tent doorways, and tomb covers. Oriental carpets imported into Europe in the 16th–17th century were considered too valuable to be put on the floor and were often used as wall decoration. They are still popular wall decorations in Russia. Carpet weaving reached its peak of artistry in 16th-century Persia. In the West, outstanding carpets were produced at factories in 17th-century France and 18th-century England. Most handmade carpets are made from sheep's wool. Natural dyes were used until the 19th century, when chemical dyes were introduced. See also Aubusson carpet; Axminster carpet.

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Introduction
 any decorative textile normally made of a thick material and now usually intended as a floor covering. Until the 19th century the word carpet was used for any cover, such as a table cover or wall hanging; since the introduction of machine-made products, however, it has been used almost exclusively for a floor covering. Both in Great Britain and in the United States the word rug is often used for a partial floor covering as distinguished from carpet, which frequently is tacked down to the floor and usually covers it wall-to-wall. In reference to handmade carpets, however, the names rug and carpet are used interchangeably.

      Handmade carpets are works of art as well as functional objects. Indeed, many Oriental carpets have reached such heights of artistic expression that they have been held in the same regard in the East as objects of exceptional beauty and luxury that masterpieces of painting have been in the West.

Elements of design

Field and border designs
      Designs usually consist of an inner field—the pattern in the centre of the carpet—and a border. The latter serves, like the cornice on a building or the frame on a picture, to emphasize the limits, isolate the field, and sometimes control the implied movements of the interior pattern. The design of inner field and border must harmonize pleasingly, yet remain distinct.

  The border consists of a minimum of three elements: a main band, which varies greatly in width according to the size of the rug and the elaborateness of the field design, and inner and outer guard stripes, subordinate bands on either side of the main band. The guard stripes may be the same on both sides of the main band or be different. The most common decoration for the field is an allover pattern, a panel composition, or a medallion system. The allover pattern may be of identical repeats (see photograph—>), either juxtaposed or evenly spaced, though the latter, while common on textiles, is rare on carpets; or it may be of varied motifs in a unified system (e.g., different plant forms of about the same size), but even this freest type of design almost invariably includes bilaterally balanced repetitions. The varied motif type of design is found most typically in garden carpets (garden carpet), formalized representations of the parks or woods that were a feature of Persian palace grounds.

      Another type of allover design appears to be entirely free but is actually organized on systems of scrolling stems, notably on the east Persian carpets of the 16th and 17th centuries.

      The value of panel subdivisions for controlling patterns had been discovered in a simple rectangular version by the Upper Paleolithic Period (c. 40,000 BC), and panel systems have been a basic form of design since 4000 BC, when pottery painters were already devising varied systems. On carpets, the lattice provides the simplest division of the field, often a diagonal lattice as appears on an embroidered carpet found in an excavated tomb (1st century BC–1st century AD) at Noin Ula in northern Mongolia; the diagonal scheme also appears on Sāsānian capitals and in Coptic tapestries. But a characteristic field design of the Persian court carpets of the Shāh ʿAbbās period, the so-called vase pattern (vase carpet), is constructed from the ogee, a motif that became prominent in Middle Eastern textile design in the 14th century. Simple rectangular paneling—really a large-scale check—is typical of one style of Spanish rugs of the 15th and 16th centuries.

 The most frequent medallion (medallion carpet) composition consists of a more or less elaborate motif superimposed on the centre of a patterned field and often complemented with cornerpieces, which are typically quadrants of the central medallion (see photograph—>). But multiple-medallion systems also are used: either a succession or a chain of medallions on the vertical axis; two or more forms of medallions alternating in bands, a scheme typical of the Turkish (Ushak) carpets of the 16th and 17th centuries; or systematically spotted medallions that may or may not be interconnected or that may interlock so that the scheme becomes an elaborate lattice.

      Persian carpets of the 15th–17th century commonly have multiple-design schemes; that is, composition systems with elements that relate on two or more levels. The simplest is the medallion superimposed on an allover design, but more typical are subtler inventions such as two- or three-spiral stem systems, sometimes overlain with large-scale cloud bands, all intertwining but each carried independently to completion. The finer vase carpets have double or triple ogival lattices set at different intervals (staggered), each with its own centre, and tangent motifs that also serve other functions in the other systems. What at first sight appears to be a great multiplicity of independent motifs thus proves on careful examination to be ingeniously contrived and firmly controlled.

      Occasionally, stripe systems are used, either vertical or diagonal, but this conception is more natural to shuttlewoven fabrics, and, when employed in the freer techniques of rug weaving, it is probably an imitation of textiles.

Design execution
      Transferring the design is done in various ways. It can be transferred to the carpet directly from the mind and hand of the weaver or indirectly from a pattern drawn on paper. Using the latter technique, a rug can be executed directly from the pattern, or the design can be transferred first to a cartoon. The cartoon is a full-size paper drawing that is squared, each square representing one knot of a particular colour. The weaver places this upon the loom and translates the design directly onto the carpet. The cartoon is used for reproduction of very intricate designs and as a master pattern for the production of more than one carpet. Many of the finest Oriental rugs, which achieve a magnificent effect through wealth of detail, are thought to have been woven from cartoons drawn by manuscript illuminators. Such methods of transfer result in unavoidable irregularities of pattern that, because they are signs of the artistic individuality of the creator, lend a particular charm to the handwoven carpet. The major aesthetic difference between handmade and machine-made carpets is that the mechanical transfer of design in the latter creates a uniformity of pattern, obliterating signs of individual workmanship.

Colour
      From earliest times until the late 19th century, only natural dyes (textile) were used. Some came from plants such as madder, indigo, sumac, genista, and woad; some from mollusks and insects. Most have been improved by the addition of various chemicals, such as alum, which fix colours in the fibre. Except for dark brown to black dyes, which have a high iron-oxide content that often decomposes fibres, natural dyes have proved to be excellent; they have remarkable beauty and subtlety of colour, and they are durable. Much of the charm of antique carpets lies in the slightly varying hues and shades obtained with these natural dyes, an effect called abrash in the trade. In the 19th century synthetic aniline dyes were developed, becoming popular first in Europe and, after 1860, in the East; but their garish colours and poor durability were later thought to outweigh the advantages of brilliance and quick application, and natural dyes regained favour with many craftsmen. Although synthetic dyes have been greatly improved, gaining subtlety and fastness, natural dyes are still often preferred.

Materials and technique
      Most carpets are made of sheep's wool, which is durable, dyes readily, and handles easily. Camel hair wool or goat wool is rarely used. Too dull to make an attractive pile, cotton's strength and smooth yarn make it an ideal warp (see below); it is used in the East for the entire foundation or for the warp only.

       silk is so expensive that its use is restricted, but no other material produces such luxurious, delicate rugs, displaying subtle colour nuances of particular charm in different lights. Some of the finest 16th- and 17th-century Persian carpets are entirely of silk. It has never been used for knotting in Europe, but often since the 15th century it has augmented wool in the weft (filling) of European tapestries.

      Linen was used in Egyptian carpets, hemp for the foundations of Indian carpets, and both materials are used in European carpets. Since around 1820, jute has been used in the foundation of machine-made carpets.

      Knotted pile carpets, combining beauty, durability, and possibilities for infinite variety, have found greatest favour as floor coverings. Long ago, weavers first began to produce pile fabrics or fabrics with a surface made up of loops of yarn, attempting to combine the advantages of a woven textile with those of animal fleece. Knotted pile is constructed on the loom on a foundation of woven yarns, of which the horizontal yarns are called weft yarns and the vertical are called warp yarns. Coloured pile yarns, from which the pattern is formed, are firmly knotted around two warp yarns in such a way that their free ends rise above the woven foundation to form a tufted pile or thick cushion of yarn ends covering one side of the foundation weave. The knots are worked in rows between interlocking, tautly drawn weft yarns that keep every row of knotted tufts securely in place in the foundation. When a row of knots is tied, it is beaten down against the preceding rows with a heavy malletlike comb so that on the front the pile completely conceals both warp and weft. When an area has been woven, the pile ends are sheared to an even height: short on the more aristocratic type and as much as an inch (2.5 cm) on some shaggy nomadic rugs.

 There are various ways of knotting (knot) the pile yarn around the warp yarn. The Turkish, or symmetrical, knot is used mainly in Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Iran (formerly Persia), and Europe. This knot was also formerly known as the Ghiordes knot. The Persian, or asymmetrical, knot is used principally in Iran, India, China, and Egypt. This knot was formerly known as the Senneh (Sehna) knot. The Spanish knot, used mainly in Spain, differs from the other two types in looping around only one warp yarn. After the 18th century it became extremely rare. The kind of knot used affects the delicacy and tightness of the pile. Knotting each pile yarn by hand is comparable to setting small pebbles in a mosaic, and expert execution is vital in achieving a beautiful finished product. Angular-patterned carpets requiring only a coarsely knotted pile are easier to produce than curvilinear and finely patterned ones, which require finer material and a much more densely knotted pile for clear reproduction of their intricate designs. Some Chinese carpets have fewer than 20 knots per square inch (3 per square centimetre); certain Indian ones, more than 2,400. The highest density can be achieved with the Persian knot.

      Metal-covered thread can be added to the pile, heightening its colourfulness. The gold and silver thread used in this procedure lies flat against the woven foundation, giving the appearance of low relief. Metal-covered thread wears quickly and loses its lustre, however, making it less suitable for floor coverings than for hangings.

      Many carpets do not have knotted pile. Called kilims (kilim), they are woven similarly to tapestries (tapestry). The weft yarns of a given colour area never cross into another area, and if the weft yarns of different colour areas are hooked around adjacent warps rather than around one another or around warp yarn, small slits are created where different colours meet. In soumak carpets, one or two rows of coloured pattern weft alternate with an invisible functional weft. Weft wrapping with passes of alternate rows given a differing direction, or slant, produces a herringbone effect.

       embroidery has rarely been used on floor coverings. Embroidered rugs are almost exclusively European and American, except for certain Turkmen kilims and Turkish cicims (ruglike spreads or hangings) and some felted or jute-backed Indian and Kashmiri rugs decorated with chain stitching. Only relatively strong backings can be used. European embroidered rugs feature designs of counted stitching (the cross-stitch—of the Arraiolos rug, for example—and the gros point and petit point of needlepoint) that cover the entire surface.

Ornament and imagery

Individual motifs
 Three main classes of motifs are used: geometric; conventional, or stylized; and illustrative, or naturalistic. The geometric repertoire is built up from variations and combinations of meanders, polygons, crosses, and stars. Meanders, chiefly for borders, range from the simple serration employed from earliest times to fairly complex hooked forms, characteristically the angular “running wave,” or “Greek key (fret),” which is also very ancient. Little trefoil (trilobed) motifs are used for guard stripes in the Caucasus, central Iran, and India. Chief among the polygons employed are the lozenge and the octagon. The Maltese cross is frequently used, as is the gamma cross, or swastika. Purely geometric stars are usually based on the cross or the octagon. Many of these motifs, which are rudimentary and very ancient, may have originated in basket (basketry) weaving and the related reed-mat plaiting, for they are natural to both techniques; but in rug weaving they have survived chiefly in the work of Central Asia, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus, in both pile-knotted and flat-woven fabrics.

      One of the principal stylized motifs in 16th- and 17th-century Persian carpets is the so-called arabesque, an ambiguous term that generally implies an intricate scrolling-vine system. In a common Persian ornamental scheme, two asymmetrical members cross at an acute angle, forming a lilylike blossom, and then describe curves in opposite directions, readily continuing into further scroll systems. This highly individual form was begun in China in the late Zhou period (c. 600 BC), notably on a few bronze mirrors, and was beautifully developed during the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). It appeared in Persia in the 12th century (on pottery and architectural stucco ornament), possibly influenced by the Chinese form.

      Directly traceable to China are the cloud knot and cloud band, or ribbon—both in use by the Han period at least and with a continuous history thereafter. The cloud knot, a feature of the Persian court carpets of the time of Shāh ʿAbbās, was continued to the end of the 18th century. The cloud band became important on 16th-century carpets; it was employed with especial elegance and skill by Persian designers and perhaps most beautifully in Turkish court carpets, which owed much to Persian inspiration. The cloud band and knot motifs moved from Syrian textile design into Asia Minor with the Ottoman Turkish conquest in the 15th century and became typical of one group of 16th–17th century Turkish carpets.

 Palmettes, a second major class of stylized motifs dominant in a considerable range of carpet designs from Asia Minor to India, originated in Assyrian design as stylizations of the palm tree, a symbol of vitalistic power that was often, if not always, associated with the Moon. Many of the almost uncountable variations that developed through the centuries continued to refer directly to the palm. As early as the 1st millennium BC, however, others derived from the lotus blossom, a complementary motif connected primarily with the fertility symbolism of the Sun. Still others involved the pomegranate, another fertility symbol, while yet another group presented the vitalistic emblem of the vine, this last design being built on the single leaf. The forms of these four main types of palmettes found in Oriental rug designs are directly descended from styles current in textile designs from the 4th century onward and are often modified by Chinese influences. The patterns in the 16th and early 17th centuries were beautifully and realistically elaborated, and blossoms such as the Chinese peony sometimes compete with the more stylized lotus. The lanceolate leaf, often associated with palmettes (especially in east Persian designs), is generally stylized. The chalice, fan, and half-palmette, all evolved from the palmette and used in Oriental rugs, were also used in 17th- and 18th-century European designs.

      Outstanding among the more naturalistic plants are cypresses and blossoming fruit trees, symbolizing life eternal and resurrection, respectively. Willows and jasmine flowers are prominent in the Shāh ʿAbbās vase carpet and tulips in Turkish court carpets. Many minor foliate and floral forms had no specific botanical identification, though they give a realistic effect. Naturalistic red or pink roses were widespread in European designs by the mid-16th century. Under European influence, they appeared in Oriental designs, particularly Persian, in the later 19th century.

      The most important illustrative motifs, other than naturalistic plants, are those connected with the garden (garden carpet) and the hunt: many small songbirds (in Persia, especially the nightingale); the pheasant (feng-huang), taken over from China and much favoured in the 16th century; occasionally the peacock; lions and a semiconventional lion mask, sometimes used as the centre of a palmette; tigers; cheetahs; bears; foxes; deer of numerous species (animal); goats, sometimes picturesquely prancing; the wild ass, a fleet prey; ferocious-looking Chinese dragons, and the gentle qi-lin, a fantastic equine also imported from China. Fish sometimes swim in pools or streams or are conventionally paired to suggest a shield, or escutcheon, in the borders of the carpet. Huntsmen, usually mounted, are the most frequent human figures, though musicians are also depicted. Angels are occasionally present.

      The underlying theme of both the stylized and naturalistic vocabularies is nearly always fertility or abundance. The great Persian carpets of Ardabīl (Ardabīl Carpet) (1539–40), for example, feature a huge golden stellate medallion, developed from the multiple-pointed rosette that from time immemorial symbolized the Sun. At its centre are four lotus blossoms floating on a little gray-blue pool that represents the source of rain in the heavens. The medallion thus symbolizes the two basic vitalizing elements—Sun and water. As proof of its magical potency, a complex system of tendrils and blossoms issues from it.

      In Oriental carpet design, a flat surface pattern is always emphasized, even where small details are plentiful. European designs, however, tend more toward the illusionistic effects of painting, often using shading and picturelike compositions and incorporating architectural motifs and even portraiture. This tendency is particularly evident in French carpets of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Symbolism of overall design
      In addition to the symbolism inherent in individual motifs incorporated into the design of the carpet, the total design—indeed, the carpet itself—can be symbolic, as are some of the earliest Persian designs. The ultimate example is the Spring (or Winter) of Khosrow Carpet (Spring of Khosrow Carpet) made for the audience hall of the Sāsānid palace at Ctesiphon (southeast of Baghdad) in the 6th century. The carpet has not survived, but, according to written records, it represented a formal garden with watercourses, paths, rectangular beds filled with flowers, and blossoming shrubs and fruit trees. Yellow gravel was represented by gold; and the blossoms, fruit, and birds were worked with pearls and various jewels. The outer border, representing a meadow, was solid with emeralds. Made of silk and measuring about 84 feet (25.6 metres) square, the carpet must have been overwhelmingly splendid when the great portal curtains of the hall were drawn back and the sunlight flooded the interior.

      This dazzling carpet symbolized the divine role of the king, who regulated the seasons and guaranteed spring's return, renewing the earth's fertility and assuring prosperity. On another plane, it represented the Garden of Eden (Eden, Garden of), a symbol of eternal paradise (the English word paradise is ultimately derived from the Persian word meaning “walled park”). With its flowers, birds, and water, it symbolized not only deliverance from the harsh desert but also the promise of eternal happiness.

      This most sumptuous of carpets made a profound impression on everyone, especially the Persians. For centuries it bewitched the Persian imagination, becoming a legend in history, poetry, and art. Vain attempts at emulation were made by Oriental craftsmen for more than a millennium; and though its realistic depiction has disappeared, the Garden of Eden concept lingers on in Oriental designs. The garlands, vines, flowers, trees, animals, and beasts all strive to create a landscape, picturing hunting scenes or game, lakes with water birds, and often images of supernatural or celestial beings, such as jinn, houris, or a gathering of the blissful righteous at a banquet or dance. Accompanying verses support the image, lyrically extolling the carpet as a garden, for example, or a blooming meadow and comparing its beauty to that of the Garden of Eden.

Uses of rugs and carpets
      Carpets developed in Central and western Asia as coverings for beaten-earth floors. From time immemorial, carpets covered the floors of house and tent as well as mosque and palace. In the homes of wealthy Eastern families, floor coverings (floor covering) serve an aesthetic as well as a practical function. Rugs are often grouped in a traditional arrangement, partly to allow for simultaneous display; the carpet's size and shape are determined by the intended place within that arrangement. There are usually four carpets. The largest, called mīān farsh, usually measuring some 18 × 8 feet (5.5 × 2.5 metres), is placed in the centre. Flanking the mīān farsh are two runners, or kanārehs, which are mainly used for walking and which measure some 18 × 3 feet (5.5 × 1 metres). The principal rug, or kellegi, averaging 12 × 6 feet (3.7 × 1.8 metres), is placed at one end of the arrangement of three carpets, so that its length stretches almost completely across their collective widths.

      The intended use sometimes determines both design and size, as in the prayer rug, or namāzlik. Design, naturally linked to religious imagery, is characterized by the mihrab, or prayer niche (an imitation of the prayer niche in the wall of a mosque), the apex of which could be pointed toward Mecca. But other religious motifs also appear, such as hanging lamps, water jugs, or “hand prints” to mark the place of the worshiper on the rug.

      Until the mid-17th century, Asian carpets imported into Europe were considered too precious to serve as permanent floor coverings. Placed on the floor only on church holidays or in an aristocrat's presence, they were otherwise hung on the wall or used to cover tables (furniture), benches, and chests; and, particularly in Italy, they were hung over balconies as decoration during festivals. Taking this European attitude into account, the Egyptian manufacturers created several unusual shapes and sizes for the European market: square, round, and cruciform carpets, obviously designed for tables rather than floors. During the 17th century, covering the entire floor with costly knotted carpets became fashionable. The mid-20th century witnessed a boom in antique-carpet prices that resulted in choicer pieces ending up back on the wall.

      Oriental carpets served many uses besides covering floors. They made handsome curtains, served as tribute money, and were frequently gifts of one state to another. They were used as blankets, canopies, coverings for tent openings, and tomb covers. They have also made excellent saddle covers and storage bags for use in tents. Such modest rugs were always close to the life of the people, who lavished care on them and into them wove life-protecting symbols. Other, more bizarre, uses have included assisting in the demise of al-Mustaʿṣim, Baghdad's last caliph—who in 1258 was wrapped in a carpet and beaten to death—and dramatically enhancing Cleopatra's introduction to Julius Caesar, when she stepped out of an unrolled rug. In less well-documented instances, they have assumed magical properties and taken flight.

Periods and centres of activity

Oriental carpets
      Oriental carpets are those made in western and Central Asia, North Africa, and the Caucasus region of Europe. Rug design, in western Asia at least, had gone beyond felt and plaited mats before the 1st millennium BC. A threshold rug represented in a stone carving (now in the Louvre) from the 8th-century-BC Assyrian (Assyria) palace of Khorsabad (in modern Iraq) has an allover field pattern of quatrefoils (four-leafed motifs), framed by a lotus border. Other Assyrian carvings of the period also show patterns that survive in modern designers' repertories.

      The oldest known examples of knotting were uncovered during an excavation of royal graves, dating from the 5th to the 3rd century BC at Pazyryk in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia. The finds include various articles of felt with appliqué patterns and a superb carpet with a woolen pile, knotted with the symmetrical, or Turkish, knot (in the Hermitage). The carpet, possibly of Persian origin, measures 6 × 6.5 feet (1.8 × 2.0 metres). The central field has a checkerboard design with a floral star pattern in each square. Of the two wide borders, the inner one shows a frieze of elk, the outer one a frieze of horsemen.

      Knotting was not necessarily the only or even the most important method of carpet making. Felt carpets were used for a long time in Central and East Asia, as indicated by magnificent 1st-century-AD specimens from Noin Ula in northern Mongolia (1st century BC to 1st century AD; in the Hermitage) or those in the Shōsō Repository (Japanese Imperial storehouse) in Nara near Ōsaka (before the 8th century). The costly rugs with figure motifs and gold mentioned by Greek and Arab writers may have been woven or embroidered and were probably exhibited on the wall as well as on the floor. The large carpet made in the 6th century for the Sāsānid palace in Ctesiphon is the most famous (see above Ornament and imagery: Symbolism of overall design (rug and carpet)); but other Oriental courts, such as the caliphate at Baghdad (8th–13th century), also used valuable carpets.

      In the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, Asia Minor and the Caucasus produced coarse, vividly coloured rugs with stars, polygons, and often patterns of stylized Kūfic writing. A special group with simple, highly conventionalized animal forms was also woven; the most important of these carpets are represented by seven fragments of strong, repeating geometric patterns in bold colours—red, yellow, and blue—found in the mosque of ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Kay-Qubād I at Konya in Anatolia and now in the Museum of Turkish and Islāmic Art, Istanbul. They probably date from the 13th century. In the State Museum of Berlin and in the National Museum of Fine Arts at Stockholm are two primitive rugs, one, a highly conventionalized dragon-and-phoenix combat, the other, stylized birds in a tree. Both of these rugs are probably early 15th-century Anatolian (art and architecture, Anatolian).

      Later, many rugs of finer weave, more delicate patterns, and richer colour—mostly geometric and possibly from Asia Minor—appeared in Europe. They were depicted by Flemish painters, such as Hans Memling, Jan van Eyck, and Petrus Christus, with such skill that the separate knots are sometimes visible. Many of these designs are repeated in the Bergama district of Asia Minor and the southern Caucasus today, which complicates dating work.

 Little is known about Persian carpet making before the 15th century, when the art was already approaching a peak. The Mongol invasion of the 13th century had depressed Persia's artistic life, only partly restored by the renaissance under the Mongol Il-Khan dynasty (1256–1353). Although the conquests of Timur (died 1405) were in most respects disastrous to Persia, he favoured artisans and spared them to work on his great palaces in Samarkand.

      Under Timur's successor, Shāh Rokh (died 1447), art flourished, including, almost certainly, carpets. Their production exclusively by palace workshops and court-subsidized looms gave them unity of style; and a sensitive clientele and lavish royal support guaranteed perfect materials and the highest skill.

      In the 15th century the art of the book, which had long been considered the supreme artistic accomplishment and already had behind it centuries of superb achievement, reached a degree of elegance and sophistication unknown either before or since. The bindings, frontispieces, chapter headings, and, in the miniatures themselves, the canopies, panels, brocades, and carpets that furnished the spaces all received the richest and most elegant patterning. These beautiful designs were appropriated in various degrees by the other arts and account in no small measure for the special character of the court carpets of the period, the variety of colour, the ingenuity and imaginative range of pattern schemes, and the superlative draftsmanship that is both lucid and expressive.

      Among the products inspired by book illumination were the medallion carpets of northwest Persia, which consist of a large centre medallion connected with pendants or cartouches on the long axis and with quarter-section designs of the medallion in the corner areas. First used on ornamental pages and bindings of Persian books, on carpets this arrangement provided an effective centre and allowed several layers of designs to overlap because the medallions could cover multiple vine and flower patterns. The depiction of the latter motifs is more relaxed than their medieval rendering, and new motifs (inspired by painting) such as animals, humans, and landscapes began to be worked in.

      A special court atelier, possibly located in Tabrīz or Solțānīyeh, translated the most gorgeous illuminations into carpets. Among the 12 or so surviving examples are the world's most famous carpets, each a masterpiece of superb design, majestic size, purity and depth of colour, and perfection of detail. The best-known of these are two carpets from the mosque at Ardabīl (Ardabīl Carpet) in eastern Azerbaijan, Iran, dated 1539–40. The better, skillfully restored, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the other, reduced in size, is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. An extremely rich, intricate system of stems and blossoms covers a velvety, glowing indigo field, the whole dominated by a complex medallion. One of the most beautiful of northwest Persian rugs is the “animal” carpet, half of which is in Kraków Cathedral, Poland, and half in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris. Historically more important, and in beauty a rival of any, is the great “hunting” carpet in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, inscribed: “It is by the efforts of Giyath-ud-Din ʿJami that this renowned carpet was brought to such perfection in the year 1521.” A scarlet and gold medallion dominates a deep blue field, covered with an angular network of blossoming stems, across which hunters dash after their prey.

      These carpets, in the opinion of many, represent the supreme achievement in the whole field of carpet design. Nonetheless, other royal workshops were also producing many beautiful rugs. Particularly costly silk carpets with figure motifs (such as the silk hunting carpet in Vienna's Austrian Museum of Applied Art) were probably woven in Kāshān (Kāshān carpet), Persia's silk centre. Smaller silk medallion carpets were also made there during the later 16th century, their designs mostly variations of the original medallion system. The court manufacture of Kāshān also produced silk carpets with a decidedly royal style.

      The distinctive rugs called vase carpets (because of the flower vases in their designs) are generally thought to be from Kermān (Kermān carpet). The pattern usually consists of several lattice systems with profuse blossoms and foliage. Many of these carpets survive as fragments; but only a scant 20 are intact, the finest of which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The rugs were apparently not for export but for court and mosque. Woven on a solid double warp, their boardlike stiffness holds them flat to the floor. In Iran they are still called “Shāh ʿAbbās” carpets after the monarch of that name. The typically Persian style widely influenced carpets in Kurdistan and the Caucasus and also Indian court carpets, as well as embroideries from Bukhara.

      Later in the 17th century, increasing luxury and wealth demanded the production of so many gold- and silver-threaded carpets that soon they were available in bazaars and exported to Europe, where more than 200 have been found. Some were made in Kāshān, but many of the finest came from Eṣfahān (Eṣfahān carpet). With their high-keyed fresh colours and opulence, they have affinities with European Renaissance and Baroque idioms. The Polish nobility ordered many gold-threaded rugs from Kāshān, for Poland and Persia had close relations in the 17th century. Because there had been a rug- and silk-weaving industry using gold thread in 18th-century Poland, these imported Persian rugs, when first exhibited at the Paris exposition in 1878, were thought to be Polish, especially as nothing quite like them had at the time been found in Persia itself. They were accordingly dubbed tapis Polonais, or “Polonaise carpets (Polonaise carpet),” and the name has persisted. The type degenerated in the later 17th century, materials deteriorating, weaving and designs coarsening.

      Throughout 17th-century Persia, increasing refinement accompanied slackening inspiration. silk carpets woven to surround the sarcophagus of Shāh ʿAbbās II (died 1666) in the shrine at Qom (in central Iran) were the last really fine achievements in Persian weaving. Even Orientalists have mistaken their finish for velvet; the drawing is beautiful, the colour varied, clear, and harmonious. The set is dated and signed by a master artist, Niʿmat Allāh of Joshaqan.

      At the end of the 17th century, nomads and town dwellers were still making carpets using dyes developed over centuries, each group maintaining an authentic tradition. Not made for an impatient Western market, these humbler rugs of the “low school” are frequently beautifully designed and are of good material and technique. A great rug industry was developed in western Persia in the Solṭānābād (Arāk) district; and from individual towns come beautifully woven rugs such as Sarūks, with their ancient medallion pattern; Serabands (Seraband rug), with their repeating patterns on a ground of silvery rose; and Ferahans (Ferahan carpet), with their so-called herāti pattern—an allover, rather dense design with a light-green border on a mordant dye that leaves the pattern in relief. The earlier Ferahans (a number are known, dated to the end of the 18th century) are on fields of dark lustrous blue with a delicately drawn open pattern. Later Ferahans degenerated in colour, material, and design. “Low school” rugs maintained their standards down to the later 19th century, when insatiable Western demand undermined their artistry; but in the 20th century fine weaving in Persia was somewhat revived.

 After the 16th century, Turkish rugs either followed Persian designs—indeed, were possibly worked by immigrant Persians and Egyptians—or followed native traditions. The former, made on court looms, displayed exquisite cloud bands and feathery, tapering white leaves on grounds of pale rose relieved by blue and emerald green. Turkish patterns embellished stately carpets designed for mosques or noble residences with rich, harmonious colours and broad, static patterns. They contrast with the lively, intricate Persian designs, in which primary, secondary, and tertiary patterns often interact with one another in subtle dissonances and resolutions.

      Turkish styles are best illustrated by the carpets from Uşak (Ushak carpet) (Ushak) in western Anatolia, in which central star medallions in gold, yellow, and dark blue lie on a field of rich red. So-called Holbein rugs (Holbein rug), similar to Caucasian carpets (see below), have polygons on a ground of deep red, dark green, or red and green; they often have green borders and conventionalized interlacing Kūfic script. Such a carpet is depicted in a portrait of Georg Gisze by the 16th-century German painter Hans Holbein the Younger—hence the name. Similarly, a handsome carpet pattern of interlacing yellow arabesques on a ground of deep red appears so often in the paintings of the 16th-century Venetian artist Lorenzo Lotto (Lotto carpet) that carpets bearing this motif are called Lotto carpets. Carpets with a muted deep red ground of wonderful intensity, patterned with small medallions, hail, perhaps, from Bergama. In the 17th century they developed into a type known as Transylvanian (Transylvanian rug), so called because so many of them, particularly prayer rugs, were found in Transylvanian churches. They are nonetheless purely Turkish, with rich, quiet colours and sturdy designs. The majority are dominated by a fine red, though a few have faded to the colour of old parchment.

      In the 17th century, the “bird carpet,” or White Ushak (bird rug), with conventionalized motifs suggesting birds, developed. Surviving examples are serenely beautiful, with fields of soft ivory and various discreet colours.

      Eighteenth- and 19th-century “low school” rugs from Asia Minor continued the tradition of blending sober patterns and luxurious colours. Yürük (Yürük rug) “low school” rugs, made by nomadic Anatolian peoples such as the Kurds, have attracted collectors with their wide range of rich colours and use of simple patterns, often geometric, organized in bold designs that frequently have a diagonal rather than a vertical emphasis. But the chief creations were prayer rugs, more plentiful among the Turks than among the other faithful. Handsome pieces were woven in Anatolia at Melas, Konya, Lâdik, and Kırşehir, Lâdik's being the most brilliant, both in colour and pattern. The most famous Anatolian prayer rugs came from Ghiordes and Kula, mostly in the 18th and 19th centuries; and in the United States they became the first passion of the collector. Regions such as Smyrna (İzmir) produced a great number of utility carpets for the West.

The Caucasus
 Rug weaving in the Caucasus extends back at least to medieval times, as fragments of knotted pile carpet from the 13th and 14th centuries have been uncovered in several cave complexes in Georgia. There is also reason to believe that the Persian Shāh ʿAbbās during the 17th century established manufactories in the Shirvan and Karabagh districts whose products included carpets, and a surviving group of large 17th- and 18th-century carpets may well be from this enterprise. Among the designs used were the avshan (geometrized calyx and stem), the harshang (crab), and a bold lattice design with stylized animals, including dragons, in the interstices. Almost certainly these carpets were based upon Persian prototypes, although they are characterized by bold, vigorous designs rather than traditional Persian fineness of weave.

      During the first part of the 19th century Caucasian weaving continued as a folk art, but by late in the century the great demand from the West for carpets brought about a rapid expansion of weaving. Major production areas included those parts of Dagestan around the city of Derbent, the towns and villages around Kuba (Kuba carpet) (now Quba) in northeastern Azerbaijan, and numerous parts of the old khanate of Shirvan (Shirvan rug), including villages around Baku, Shemakha, and areas just north of the Iranian border. These areas were known for a relatively short-piled weave of medium fineness, woven with the symmetrical knot, as are all Caucasian rugs, usually on a wool foundation, with occasional use of cotton.

      Western Azerbaijan as well as the villages between T'bilisi in Georgia and Erivan (Yerevan) in Armenia produced a more coarsely knotted rug with a longer pile. The bold geometric designs in strong primary colours give many of these rugs, known as Kazakhs in the trade, a surprising vigour. Rugs from the Karabagh region, inhabited by both Armenians and Azerbaijanians, at times resemble the Kazakhs in boldness and at other times show a repetition of geometric motifs more suggestive of Shirvan rugs.

      Kilims include examples with horizontal stripes and others with repeating stylized palmettes. They were woven in the areas that produced pile rugs of the Shirvan, Kuba, and Kazakh types, as well as in Georgia.

      Another type of pile carpet in a form of weft wrapping known as soumak was also woven in several parts of the Caucasus, although the major output probably centred around the town of Kusary in the Kuba district. These pieces are characterized by a thick padding of loose threads at the back.

 The Turkmen people emerged during the late first millennium as pastoral nomads in lands between powerful city-based states. Gradually they grew in power, and by the 19th century one tribe, the Tekke, had become dominant in the oases of Merv (now Mary) and Tedjend (now Tejen). They had certainly woven rugs for centuries, and even after most of them became settled they continued to make rugs in sizes and shapes suitable for the nomadic life they had lived in felt tents. The main carpet of this dwelling ranged around 6 × 10 feet (1.8 × 3 metres), and the Turkmen also wove smaller pieces as door coverings, bags for storage, long, narrow bands to encircle the tents, and decorative trappings.

      Important rug-weaving peoples include the Tekke, whose main carpets are characterized by a certain gul, or octagonal motif, repeated in rows across the rug. Other peoples, including the Saryk and Salor, produced similar rugs, but with different guls that are also indicative of a tribal identity. The Yomut Turkmen live mostly in northeastern Iran and have woven main carpets of many types, including some in which the guls are adapted from Persian palmettes. The Chaudor and Arabatchi are more dispersed but also produce rugs of particular designs, while the Ersari, now living mostly in Uzbekistan and northern Afghanistan, have woven a coarser rug with large guls. These are usually marketed as Afghans.

      Turkmen rugs are mostly asymmetrically knotted, although some Saryk and Yomut pieces are symmetrically knotted. They are mostly of all wool, but some tribes use cotton in the wefts. Occasionally there are patches of silk used as highlights.

Chinese Turkistan
      Parts of the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang are often described as eastern Turkistan, as many of the people are descended from Turkic tribes, and Islam has been a powerful force among them since the 8th century. Some of the earliest surviving pile carpets and fragments from the first millennium have been found in this area, and rug weaving has probably been practiced for several thousand years. During the recent past it has mostly occurred in the oasis cities of Khotan, Yarkand, and Kashgar, utilizing designs that at times have suggested an affinity with the art of the Middle East, while other examples more closely resemble the typical Chinese rug.

      Rugs from this region are asymmetrically knotted, more brightly coloured than most Chinese rugs, and some of the early examples are made of silk. These rugs were often mislabeled Samarkands (Samarkand rug) in the West.

      Pile rugs were woven in Egypt during Roman times in a slit-loop technique similar to that employed for Tibetan rugs today. This appears to have continued into Islamic times, but there was probably no organized industry until the 15th century, when asymmetrically knotted rugs began to be woven in Cairo and probably other cities as well. These were associated with the Mamlūk dynasty and soon became items of trade within the Mediterranean basin. The rugs show sophisticated geometric designs, usually with a single medallion (medallion carpet) on smaller rugs and three to five medallions on larger pieces. During the early 20th century Egyptian rugs were often mislabeled as being from Damascus.

      Rug weaving probably began in India with the arrival of the first Muslim conquerors in the 8th century, but the earliest surviving Indian rugs were produced during the 16th and 17th centuries under the rule of the Mughals. Early maritime trade with India by the Portuguese, Dutch, and English brought many of these carpets to Europe, where they still may be found in significant numbers. For their own use the wealthy Mughal court also ordered a small series of extremely finely woven rugs in the finest wool and at times in silk. Some of these had a substantial influence on Persian design, although there were obviously influences in both directions.

 The rugs of China are recognizable by their more restrained colour schemes, usually involving less red than in the Middle East, and characteristic Chinese ornament. They are asymmetrically knotted on a cotton foundation, with thick pile and relatively coarse weave. Earlier examples often show a characteristic brown that shows more wear than the rest of the pile. Later rugs are often characterized by different shades of blue and yellow. Peculiar to China are pillar carpets, designed so that when they are wrapped around a pillar the edges will fit together to form a continuous design, usually a coiling dragon. Saddle rugs and a number of small mats and seat covers were also made, along with some very large carpets.

      Many of the rugs show repeating vegetal designs or various Daoist and Buddhist symbols, with relatively simple borders. When China began to produce rugs for export to the West in the early 20th century, the designs became simpler and were specifically focused on a foreign market.

Western carpets
      Spain's close ties with Islam after the 8th century made it quick to accept and produce knotted carpets. Early examples of the unusual Spanish knot suggest manufacture as early as the 12th century, but not until the 15th century do enough examples remain to allow grouping of work. Many designs imitate Islamic or Anatolian forms; others, with coats of arms or Christian emblems, indicate purely European origin. During the 16th century Renaissance influence was prevalent. The manufacturing centres were Cuenca, Alcaraz, and possibly Almería. The knotted carpet lost ground during the 18th century; and native work, known as Alpujarra (Alpujarra rug) (after the district), is woven in an uncut weft-loop technique.

      In France, too, the stimulus for the production of knotted carpets may have come from the East; but the designs of the rugs were inspired by contemporary French decoration rather than Oriental carpet design. Jean Fortier and Pierre Dupont won fame knotting pieces in the Hospice de la Savonnerie (Savonnerie carpet) at Chaillot, which was converted from a soap factory to a carpet factory in the early 17th century. “Savonnerie” became a mark of distinction in French carpets, reaching a zenith during the later 17th century with Louis XIV's immense order for Versailles. Combined since 1826 with the Gobelins factory, the firm still operates. Thick and strong, these carpets consist of a woolen pile on a mostly linen warp. During the 18th century and afterward, many tapestry-woven carpets were made at Aubusson as well as at other tapestry factories. Even though their production has not been confined to that city, they are known as Aubusson carpets (Aubusson carpet).

      The European concept of carpet design, as distinguished from the Oriental concept, is most explicit in the Savonnerie carpets, in which three-dimensional compositions complement architecture, and even portraits are reproduced. The style of such carpets is best seen in sketches of rug design made by Charles Le Brun for Louis XIV (mostly in the Mobilier National [National Furnishings collection] in Paris).

United Kingdom and Ireland
 The growth of a native craft in the United Kingdom soon followed on the introduction of carpets from Turkey, though 16th- and 17th-century intact specimens number only about a dozen. They are characterized by a hemp warp and weft, medium-fine woolen pile, and the symmetrical knot. The background usually is green, and there are so many shades of the other colours that the entire number of tints is greater than in Oriental carpets. The designs can be divided into two groups. In the first are typically English patterns resembling contemporary embroidery, often with heraldic devices and dates. The oldest specimen, dated 1570, belongs to the earl of Verulam. In the second group are many pieces of carpet knotting—called at the time “Turkey work”—imitating Oriental designs and made to cover chairs and stools. As the demand for carpets increased in the 18th century, factories were established at Paddington, Fulham, and Moorfields, near London, and at Exeter and Axminster (Axminster carpet) in Devon. Axminster worked on well into the 19th century, when it merged with the Wilton Carpet Factory at Wilton, Wiltshire, which still operates. The industry dwindled and almost disappeared with the advent of mechanization until about 1880. The craft was revived by the English artist and poet William Morris (Morris, William). Later in the 19th century a factory opened in Donegal, Ireland; and during the 20th century many small rugs have been knotted by handicraft societies.

      Scandinavian work is similar in concept despite national differences of colour and motif. Abundant handmade products include floor coverings, coverlets, and upholstery for benches, chairs, stools, and pillows. Techniques dating from the Vikings (and probably imported by them from Turkey) are continued in Swedish and Finnish rugs, called rya rugs (rya rug). Knotted work includes pieces with pile on either side, many symmetrically knotted on three warps, and braided and woven patchwork carpets with interwoven strips. Geometric designs, rooted in the native arts, are common, appearing, for example, in opulent “wedding carpets.” Design was also influenced by Dutch tapestry flower motifs.

Eastern Europe
      Knotted Mazovian rugs of East Prussia show the strongest Oriental influence, though at the same time they are deeply rooted in peasant traditions. Many other textiles untouched by west European influence, however, came from southeast Poland, Ukraine, and southern Russia; some are characterized by ancient textile motifs (such as simple stripes) and forceful colour harmonies, others by geometric designs resembling those of the Orient. Kilims (kilim), or tapestry-woven (tapestry) carpets, are common in those areas, as they are in the Balkans. In Romania government promotion and the interest taken by contemporary artists in folk idiom stimulated modern production during the 20th century.

European folk carpets
      Carpet making is so widespread in European folk art that it probably would have developed even without stimulus from the Orient. The most varied techniques are represented in these tradition-bound products, the designs of which remained unchanged for generations. The work includes floor coverings, chest covers and bedcovers, and draperies, most of modest size (or pieced together) and many made in sets. The colour scheme is very limited, for even the raw materials were homemade. Machine-made carpets in the later 19th century quickly engulfed home products, but a conscious revival and renewal followed in the 20th century.

 The technique of knotting has not been used by the Native Americans (Native American art), but many tribes have been making flat-woven floor rugs and blankets since the earliest days of their known history. Before sheep were introduced in the 16th century and wool became dominant, the principal material was cotton, together with various fibres and dog's hair. Indian designs are traditionally abstract, making much use of stripes and a zigzag, or “lightning,” motif. The colours are black, white, yellow, blue, tan, and red, the latter often dominant. Among the most skillful carpet makers are the Pueblo and Navajo peoples.

      Rugs were made by the colonists in a variety of techniques: knitting; crocheting; braiding strips of material and then sewing the plaits together, either in blocks or in a spiral; and embroidering on a coarse-woven foundation. Hooking (drawing strips of material through a woven foundation) began around the turn of the 18th century and became very popular; early examples have floral, geometric, or animal designs and are very colourful. No knotted carpets were manufactured by the early settlers. In 1884, however, a factory established in Milwaukee (and later moved to New York City) began to weave carpets in traditional European designs. During the 1890s a branch of the English Wilton Royal Carpet Factory made Axminsters at Elizabethport, New Jersey; and a few beautiful, flat-woven carpets in French Baroque and Neoclassical designs were produced around the turn of the century by a tapestry factory in Williams Bridge, New York. After this, machine weaving, which began in the United States in the late 1700s, gradually displaced handweaving.

Murray L. Eiland, Jr. Ed.

Additional Reading
For further study in this area the following summaries are recommended: Kurt Erdmann, Oriental Carpets, 2nd English ed., (1962; originally published in German, 3rd ed., 1965), an important discussion of Oriental rugs and carpets with regard to artistic development—contains a comprehensive bibliography for all areas of the Oriental carpet, including newspaper and journal essays, and museum and auction catalogs, arranged according to subject areas—and Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets (1970; originally published in German, 1966), a posthumous collection of the author's articles, presents material not found in his earlier works; Murray L. Eiland, Jr., and Murray Eiland, III, Oriental Rugs: A Complete Guide, a comprehensive work illustrated with drawings, useful maps, and many photographs; Arthur V. Pope and Phyllis Ackerman, The Art of Carpet Making in a Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, 7 vol. (1938–39), the most comprehensive study of the art of carpet making in Persia, richly illustrated; Cornelia B. Faraday, European and American Carpets and Rugs (1929), a comprehensive study of European and American carpet production, including native arts and machine-made carpets, very richly illustrated but without bibliography; Madeleine Jarry, The Carpets of the Manufacture de la Savonnerie (1966; originally published in French), and The Carpets of Aubusson (1969), two studies of French floor coverings, with ample illustrations. Specific collections are discussed in Maurice Dimand and Jean Mailley, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1973); Charles Grant Ellis, Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1988); and Friedrich Spuhler, Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin. The rugs of Turkey are discussed in Werner Brüggeman and Harald Böhmer, Rugs of the Peasants and Nomads of Anatolia (1983); and Peter Davies, The Tribal Eye: Antique Kilims of Anatolia (1993). Useful for identification are Marla Mallett, Woven Structures: A Guide to Oriental Rug and Textile Analysis (1998); and P.R.J. Ford, The Oriental Carpet: A History and Guide to Traditional Motifs, Patterns, and Symbols (1981).

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

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