Persian Carpets Gardens of DelightPersian Carpets Gardens of Delight [Photo]
Persian Carpet Tehran, May 15, 2009: Ancient Persia was known for its hand-woven carpets and rugs. The use of carpets in religious rituals and other ceremonies dates back to the time of pharaohs in Ancient Egypt. The priests of Heiliopolis used them in religious ceremonies. Pazyrik is the oldest evidence of Persian rug that dates back to 500 BC. It is named after Pazyryk Valley in the frosted mountains of Altai in Siberia. According to the ECO Heritage publication, the carpet was excavated from under the ice that protected it for almost 25 centuries. Post-Islamic Rugs, Carpets Since rugs and carpets are made of fine material that perish in the course of time, extant material evidence is rare and scarcely exceeds 300 years. Therefore, to find the evidence of post-Islamic rugs and carpets in Iran, one should rely on written sources. These sources reveal that during 8th century AD, Azarbaijan was a major center for production of carpets and coarse carpets (Ziloo) in post-Islamic Persia. There is a considerable body of textual evidence attesting to at least 12 centuries of rug production in the region, both flat woven and piled. The earliest material evidence of Persian carpet in the post-Islamic period dates back to the Safavid era (1502-1629), known as the famous Ardebil Carpet. Today this priceless carpet is preserved in Victoria and Albert Museum in London (formerly known as South Kensington Museum which was a foundation for collecting Persian arts and crafts). Under the Safavids, the art of carpet-making reached its peak and the degree of refinement and ornamentation in the carpet of Safavid era rightfully earned it the title of “the golden age of rugs and carpets“. The products of court workshop in Safavid period have an exceptional quality in terms of style, materials, patterns and ornamentation. The products of court workshops of Ardebil, Tabriz and Isfahan are dominated by leaf and flower motifs. In the 16th century, human and animal forms began to appear in these carpets. Certain motifs such as the cloud-band unmistakably indicate the Mongolian influence. Nevertheless, the earliest designs used by nomads have survived even to the present day. Abbasid Treasures The earliest reference to Persian carpets is made in the official inventory of Abbasid Caliph Haroun’s treasury recorded in 809 AD following his death. The production of prayer rugs and small carpets also dates back to this period, as historical records mention that along with taxes, 600 carpets were sent to the Baghdad caliphs, including small prayer carpets. These were produced in the province of Tabarestan (Mazandaran), another region in north Persia. It is believed that during this time, the main export item from the region was carpets. The carpets of Khorasan, Sistan and Bukhara were in high demand due to their attractive designs and diversity of motifs. During the reigns of Seljuk and Ilkhanid dynasties, many workshops in different cities were involved in the production and sale of carpets. Fars Carpet Historical texts refer to a magnificent mosque built by Ghazan Khan, the great Ilkhan (died 1304) in Tabriz, which was covered by fine precious carpets of excellent quality. Perhaps the most striking and instructive reference is the historic royal decree of Ghazan Khan, which reveals that carpets, befitting metropolitan royal palaces, were being produced in sizable numbers in Fars as early as the 13th century. Fars remained one of the great centers of carpet production, perhaps the most important, for Ghazan Khan had most of the carpets for a whole group of buildings at Shams Garden in Tabriz (his capital) made at Fars. Timurid artisans combined the art of Persian miniatures with carpet-weaving and reproduced various scenes of Persian miniatures (which had been originally derived from Persian literary texts). Weavers and Weaving Different tribes in Fars province produce rugs and carpets. In fact, the ethnographic map of Fars is so colorful that it is hardly comparable to any other Iranian province or any other carpet-making region in the world. Lors, Turks, Arabs, Kurd-Lor and other ethnicities scattered in the area, which have not been adequately identified. Of the seven major tribes that have maintained their unity up to the present day (Ainalu, Arab nomad, Baharlu, Basseri, Lor, Nafar and Qashqai), only Lors and Arabs (and perhaps some Basseri elements) inhabited the region in the 10th century. Turkic immigrants, comprising Qashqai, Baharlu, Ainalu and some Nafar tribes do not appear in this ethnographic map earlier than the late 13th century. The first Turkic tribal group may have descended from a 300-strong Mughal cavalry dispatched to Fars in 1281. Commercial Aspects During the Safavid era, export quality carpets and rugs were produced. In 1722, the French consul in Shiraz provided 18 carpets to an agent of a company. Because of uninterrupted production, it can be surmised that all or a large part of these rugs were produced locally. During 18th and 19th century, under the Zand and Qajar dynasties, the pace of carpet and rug exports increased. Nassereddin Shah also sent Persian rugs to the Vienna Exhibition in 1891, where they were appreciated by a public fascinated by things Oriental. Carpets, furniture and decorative objects, as well as paintings by European Orientalist painters, were all reminders of the East, and evocative of exotic of distant lands. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, investment and capitalization by local and foreign firms in the country spurred the development of a new Persian carpet industry, the fame of which was to become legendary. Income from the sale of commercial-style carpets soon supplanted the revenues earlier derived from the export of raw silk, fine textiles and luxury carpetsÑand even today; carpets remain modern Iran’s most important non-oil export. Symbolism The richness in international designs rests mostly on the enormous wealth of symbols, myths, icons, occultist ideographs and objects of totemism. Talking about the symbolism of Persian rugs, one cannot ignore the evolution of their patterns and designs, which probably originated in Mesopotamia. Passed on through generations, the designs and motifs of Persian rugs and carpets have basically remained intact. While the continuity of designs and motifs has been preserved, the evolution in form and ornamentation can be identified in the numerous themes and motifs of rugs and carpets. At times, these symbols predate the history of carpet-making itself, as a number of these motifs are related to the patterns and motifs found on the potteries dating back to 4th-3rd millennium BC. They provide us with a vast treasure of prehistoric archetypes used by ancient tribes. These motifs relate to the mythological belief and symbolic iconography of those early times. Later, these forms drew heavily from Achaemenid and Sassanid visual traditions and subsequently from the early Islamic ornamentation. Liberty of Weaver Like words in a language, there are ’motif-words’ that remain unchanged or little changed for generations, while others become obsolete or lose their meaning, original worth and function. Like a language, the traditional weaver cannot change the meaning, spelling and phonetics of the words, but has the liberty of employing them at will, making new phrases. The individual liberty of the weaver has no lesser or greater scope than the liberty enjoyed by a writer or a poet. The incredible wealth of motifs, designs and ornamentation in Persian rugs and carpets has led scholars to believe that these are being invented by individual weavers. Behind the creation of a Persian rug or carpet are weavers (particularly in case of Fars rugs and carpets, most of the weavers are women from tribal or semi-tribal communities) loyal to the traditions passed down to them from their ancestors. Therefore, they cannot easily be separated from these traditions and their common artistic consciousness, yet they are free to create their own versions of the old traditional designs. In other words, this conformity and unity, while forbidding inventions of unfamiliar and non-traditional designs, does not lead to the production of stereotyped rugs and carpets, rather it gives rise to highly personalized creations marked by a uniqueness that makes it difficult to pair rugs and carpets that are identical in design and color. The tribal weaver carries her pattern in her mind. Generally speaking, she has worked on predetermined patterns and designs all her life, and has learned that any deviation from it, changes in coloring, irregularities deliberately introduced and other slight alternations are the unconscious attunement of her mental attitude to her daily environment. Then, of course, the use of birds, animals, flowers, plants and celestial objects in carpet designs have their own symbolism and are governed by regional preferences. These are beyond the scope of this article. Thus you’ll find the Persian weaver whose family bereavement, say, would find unconscious expression in the free use of white in her pattern, a marriage might give cause for a preponderant employment of brilliant red, a misfortune might be shown by a descending eagle, while hunting scenes in her work with hounds and leopards and cheetahs would indicate the fame, valor and honor of someone deserving allegiance or affection.