Since this weekend marks the beginning of our oriental rug 10 day only sale we thought it would be nice to talk about rugs in our design blog. The following information is provided by our rug partners of over 20 years...
What is an Oriental rug?
A true Oriental rug is characterized not only by where it is made but also by how it is made. Oriental rugs are made of piles that are knotted by hand. The piles are the fibers that, once looped and sheared, give the rug its soft, rich feeling. The formal traditions of rug weaving are thought to have originated in Asia and the Middle East, hence the term "Oriental" rug.
Commercial carpet is made by machines. Even the individual fibers are spun by machines.
Because they are individually designed and hand-knotted, Oriental rugs are recognized not only as superior floor coverings or wall decorations, but as fine artworks. This distinctive personal touch, as well as its beautiful design, gives your rug its value.
Who made the first Oriental Rugs?
Oriental carpet weaving has been traced back to the 5th century BCE, in the Pazyryk Valley of Siberia, near the outer Mongolian border in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. In 1947, Russian archaeologist discovered a carpet preserved in ice that was thought to have belonged to Scythia chieftain. This carpet is now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersbury, Russia. It is hand-knotted with a symmetrical knot motif still used in rugs today.
Ancient Hebrew, Roman, Babylonian, Persian, Chinese, Turkish, Pakistani, and Indian cultures all valued carpet weaving as fine art. One rug from the Sassnid Dynasty in Persia, "Spring of Khosrows," measured 100' x 400' and weighed several tons due to jewels and pearls worked into the weave. When the Arabs invaded Persia, however, they slashed the carpet into sections, and this great work of art was lost forever.
The chinese, dating back to Sung Dynasty (960 to 1279 CE), created rugs with Buddhist and Taoist designs in factory workshops under the domain of the emperors. Marco Polo brought many of these rugs back to Europe during his travels.
When Cleopatra was presented to Julius Caesar, emperor of Rome, she was rolled up in a carpet. The Romans prized rugs for their own floors and walls.
How and when were Oriental rugs introduced in Europe and around the world?
Europeans returned from the Crusades with Oriental rugs. Later, by including carpets as images in their paintings, artist helped make them status symbols for the very wealthy. Hans Holbein the Younger, in the 16th century, made Turkish carpets popular. Lorenzo Lotto, from the same period, displayed a rug border called the "kufic" in one of his canvases.
By the end of the 15th century, Louis XII of France brought many Italian craftsmen to train his weavers in the creation of rugs. Leonardo DaVinci and Andrea de Sarto later designed carpets for the royal family, too.
Henry IV, in the early 17th century, founded a rug factory in his palace to create rugs for the French market. He liked the rugs so well, however, that he never shared them with people. Louis XIII, his successor, started an outside workshop for the people called Savonneries. French designs, however, were not as popular as Middle Eastern ones.
When did Oriental rugs become popular in the United States?
Oriental rugs were in evidence in America as early as the 1600s as floor and wall coverings. Two hundred years later, the bold colors and designs would complement dark, heavy Victorian furniture very well. An oriental rug from India once owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt sold for $950,000.
Why are there so many different styles of Oriental rugs?
Geography and culture mark the differentiation of craft and aesthetics in Asia and the Middle East. Urban areas, for example, could support large factories where weaving techniques could be refined by hundreds of workers.
Why are there so many different styles of Oriental rugs?
Geography and culture mark the differentiation of craft and aesthetics in Asia and the Middle East. Urban areas, for example, could support large factories where weaving techniques could be refined by hundreds of workers. Small towns, however, proved just as productive, and their rugs are just as beautiful. Heriz, in the northwest protion of Iran, is one of the best-know in the world. By unifying standards, families multiplies their output.
STANDARDs, though, are not always strictly enforced, even today, which is why it is so important to deal with a knowledgeable merchant you trust. If there were no cotton for a foundation in a certain carpet, for example, the weavers might use wool. If madder were in short supply, some other red dye might be used. Even within a small area, there can be differentiation in carpets. A Bidjar rug may have been made in the town of Bidjar, or it may have been in a neighboring area by subcontractors.
A Bakshaish rug, from a town just south of Heriz, looks geometric like a Heriz but uses pastel colors. Meshkin, close to Heriz but to the east, used angular octagons instead of the Heriz arrowhead, and it is made of wool sheared from deep sheep. This wool holds dye differently than wool sheared from live sheep, which may explain the alteration in the patterns.
The town of Tabriz, settled near the Sehand volcano, was protected from many of the natural disasters common to the region. It was ruled at various times by Genghis Khan, Timur, and Shah Ishmail I, who began the legendary Safavid weaving dynasty (1501-1736 CE). Shah Abbas the Great (1586-1628 CE) cultivated the art to its most beautiful and most exacting during what is known as the "golden age of rugmaking."
How and where are Oriental rugs made today?
The weavers of Tabriz were known for their speed due to their developing a special tool that allowed 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. These traditions endure even now, around the world. Some wools still are spun by local shepherds, and dyes are still made from plants. Even wandering nomads, like the Quashgai in Iran, continue in their old ways--perhaps as a symbol of permanence in the absence of a regular homeland.
If you already own one of these delightful masterpieces, visit our rug care page on the website to ensure that your rug is getting appropriate care.