Persian rugs are handmade floor coverings manufactured in Iran and surrounding areas and woven with mainly wool or silk and cotton. Persian rugs, in a nutshell, are famous for their traditional floral and curvilinear motifs which display intricate artistic designs and elaborate colors.
Persians are the pioneers of the carpet weaving industry and through several hundred years of practicing this art, have achieved a level of unparalleled finesse and excellence. Furthermore, these rugs are seen as a symbol of prestige, wealth, and refinement. Additionally, Persian rugs are one of the major exports of the Iranian economy. For an Iranian, a house without a hand-woven Persian rug is only a cage of bricks.
A Brief History of Persian Rugs
Carpet weaving in Persia was introduced during the reign of Cyrus the Great in 529BC. During his rule, the rug weaving industry was divided into tribes and villages where craftsmen weaved carpets for personal use.
Each of these carpets were distinct in their patterns and designs with each relatable to a particular region and tribe. During the 5th century BCE, wool and silk woven Persian rugs became a symbol of royalty and prestige and in the 8th century AD, special prayer mats were woven for kings and royals with floral and calligraphic designs.
The Sassanid period is notable for introducing flat woven and embroidered rugs. Some of these pieces are still preserved in museums and churches throughout Europe, and the fragments are popular for their intrinsically woven artistic designs.
Initially, Persian rugs were woven for personal use by the tribes but after the Arab and Seljuq invasion, Persian rug weaving was greatly influenced by the Turko-Persian traditions which emerged in that era and consequently appealed to a wider audience.
The Persian carpet industry was the most prosperous during the Safavid dynasty where the ruler Shah Abbas (1581-1629) encouraged artistic weaving and formed a program for restructuring the economy of Iran, establishing workshops and hired the most skillful weavers and artists from all over Iran. Artists would create different carpet designs, and best designs would be woven by master weavers. At that time carpets were meant to be used only by the royals and nobles in the west but Shah signed many treaties with different European countries and hence boosted the country’s exports. It was during this time that Persian rugs became the lynchpin for the Persian economy.
Later on, Reza Shah (1878- 1944) established the Pahlavi Dynasty under the supervision of British government in 1925. He founded the Rug Company and for the first ever, the rug weaving industry was controlled by the government. He introduced modern reforms to revive his society that affected the nomadic ways and customary life of tribes along with traditional carpet weaving.
Types of Persian Rugs
Kashan rugs are most famous of Persian carpet design for their expansive floral patterns and all-over Shah Abbas field. Kashan in its actuality is a city in central Iran, with a long history of carpet making dating back to 16th century. Mughal Kashan rugs in our collection are woven in Pakistan with much higher qualities than the average Persian Kashan woven these days. With 256 knots per square inch, the weave on these beautiful carpets is outstanding. In addition, the carpets’ neutral color palette ensures an easy match in a variety of settings.
Kirman (or Kerman) rugs are normally associated with the city of Kirman in South-East Iran, and are well-known for their very artistic designs. Kirman rugs are of very high quality falling in the same class as Tabriz and Isfahan rugs. Kirman rugs in our collection are highly distinctive rugs primarily in highly floral medallion or all over designs, with wool pile on cotton base in more muted and complementary tones for any background.
Among the finest handmade oriental rugs ever made, Isfahan rugs are the epitome of the Persian carpet. In an enchanted city, renowned for its taste and finesse, these carpets are of great delicacy and utmost intricacy. The city of Isfahan is of crucial importance to the Persian rug industry because of its rich history and reputation dating back to the 16th century. Most Isfahan carpets are finely detailed in wool and silk, often on a base of pure silk. Patterns include pictorial and tree-of-life schemes, as well as the Shah Abbas field with its floral vines.
The Mahal rugs are linked to the area of Mahallat near Arak in west-central Iran. Mahal rugs are distinctively hand-woven both in curvilinear as well as geometric patterns. Mahal designs have proved such an enduring success that it is now made in many other carpet producing centers in Orient today. The Mahals in our collection have elegant all-over patterns which suits modern as well as traditional interiors.
Sultanabad (Arak) is an old city in northwest Iran, and is renowned for the high-quality rugs woven with bold floral patterns. Most rug production took place in the late 19th century when European companies commissioned large decorative rugs for the European market. Sultanabad rugs are characterized by three general motifs. One is the Herati, distinguished by a flower within a diamond that is flanked by curving leaves, which sometimes resemble fish. Another is the Sarouk, named for a village in the Arak area and features central medallions. A third motif of Sultanabad rugs, the Semovar, features recurring rather than central medallions. The rugs in our Sultanabad collection are based on these beautiful floral patterns but have been made in much finer qualities in Pakistan.
Tabriz is the capital of Persian Azerbaijan in the northwestern part of Iran. Tabriz has been one of the foremost Persian rug producing towns since the 16th century and the center of the world’s weaving community since the 1800’s. Tabriz rug weavers are among the most skilled producers of quality rugs. As in many other rug weaving centers found in the city, Tabriz rug production declined till the latter part of the 19th Century, when the revival of the rug weaving industry brought some magnificent results in Tabriz.
There has always been a great classical tradition of carpets depicting Tree of Life. Today, the traditional Tree of Life design is blended with traditional Isfahan, Kirman and Veramin designs. The Tree of Life rugs in our gallery carries several versions of the Tree of Life woven in different sizes.
Designs of Persian Rugs
Persian rugs are famous for their unique patterns, designs and color schemes. The geometric designs used in the production of Persian rugs are popular for their traditional and cultural significance. Most of the elements used in the weaving of the rugs are symbolic to something special or scared and are usually decorated with repeated linear elements of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal patterns. Some of the cities and villages that weave beautiful geometric rugs include; Heriz, Hamadan, and Shiraz.
Designs of Persian rugs reflect their close relation with nature and this is the reason why small plants, flowers and sometimes delicate animals can be seen in almost all Persian rugs. In most Persian rugs, the central medallion is the most common motif and the beauty of the design is that no two medallions are identical. Some experts believe that the medallion designs are a result of the religious and spiritual inspiration of the weaver as they took the concept of medallions from domes of mosques. Pictorial designs are not so common in Persian rug weaving but still own a special place in the Persian rug production industry.
Pictorial designs require greater artistic approach and skill manship as the designs portray historical events and symbols. To weave Persian rugs mostly two knots are used by the weaver i.e. the symmetrical Turkish or Ghiordes used by the Turkish and Kurdish area weavers of Iran and the asymmetrical Persian or Senneh knots used by weavers in Pakistan, India, China, and Afghanistan.
Materials Used in Weaving Persian Rugs
Wool is the most commonly used material in Persian carpet weaving in Iran. Wool is a soft and durable material which is easy to dye and never loses color. Kork wool is regarded the best type of wool which is high-quality, extremely soft, and durable. This wool is got by shaving shoulder and underbelly wool from lambs. However, some nomadic rug weavers occasionally use camel wool.
Cotton shapes the establishment of warps and wefts of modern rugs. Cotton can be spun more firmly than wool, and endures much more strain too, which makes it a suitable material for carpet weaving. Bigger rugs made from cotton usually lie flat on the floor while rugs with a woolen foundation might clasp when wet. Chemically treated (mercerized) cotton has also been utilized as a part of rug making since the late nineteenth century.
Silk is the most expensive material and used only in the making of special and royal Persian rugs. Silk piles are usually used in prominent special designs. High-quality carpets from Qum, Isfahan, and Nain all have silk piles. Silk piles are usually used as wall hangings for decorative purposes.
Significance of Persian Rugs
Hand and loom woven Persian rugs are both durable and sophisticated with unique designs, patterns and color schemes.
In the present times, mechanized manufactured rugs which offer fast turnover are and less expensive, but Persian rugs still rule the rug industry. Persian rugs are the combination of art and aesthetic elements and their floral and curvilinear designs along with symmetrical patterns are what make them rich and valuable in a world of novelty.
Though Persian rugs are costly, they offer good returns on investment.
The Persian rugs woven in Lahore have been the first to reach the European market, including England since the 17th century. Some remarkable rugs were woven in Lahore during Mughal reign for royal use and therefore, Pakistan has a proud rug heritage. Today, Pakistan and India are both producing the best Persian rugs and both countries are ruling the roost in the international market because of their well-made and decorative Persian rugs.
During the last three decades, Pakistan and India have both contributed a lot in the Oriental rug manufacturing industry. Rugs woven in Pakistan are unique for their higher knot density as well as riveting floral and geometrical designs. Though the Persian rug industry has gone through a lot of change, they still boost of glory and richness. These rugs are profoundly regarded for their quality and durability.