Historical Persia, present day Iran, has one of the finest rug weaving pedigrees in the world.
Urban Workshop Carpets
Generally, these rugs are handwoven in large spaces with multiple looms. Historically, they were often owned and directed by the royal court. Many others are family and privately owned, and the weavers may work under a contract or for salary. Almost all large carpets are woven in workshops as they require large looms, which are difficult to accommodate in tents and family home.
Floral, curvilinear, refined and elegant are the hallmarks of workshop rugs.
Tribal and Village Rugs
Traditionally these are woven in tents and family homes on small portable looms; weather permitting, the loom is moved outside in front of the tent or home. The motifs are often geometric, composed of straight lines, and highly traditional. Often a particular motif can easily be associated with a tribe or a village, stretching back a century or more in design continuity. For example, below is a Mazlaghan tribal rug from the Hamadan region of Iran.
Curvilinear versus Geometric
In regards to design, the clearest distinction is between highly curved lines, usually highly intricate, versus the use of straighter lines and geometric motifs. Of course this is not an absolute and often weavers incorporate both curvilinear elements and straight-edged geometric figures. The Turkish Kayseri rug below falls more in the curvilinear range while the Qashqai carpet is more geometric.
Important Tribes and Regions
The Bakhtiari tribe, numbering 800,000, inhabit an area of 67,000 sq. km that straddles the central Zagros Mountains in Iran. Although only about a third of the tribe is nomadic (the rest are settled agriculturists), the nomads embody the Bakhtiari cultural ideals. They specialize in producing meat and dairy products and migrate seasonally with their sheep, cattle, or goat herds from high plateau pastures, where they spend the summer, west of the city of Esfahan, to lowland plains in the province of Khuzistan for winter herd grazing.
Their migration is among the most spectacular known among nomadic paternalists anywhere. They cross mountain passes at about 3,050 m. and therefore have to time their movement with extreme care in order to minimize the danger of early snowfall, flooding mountain rivers, and lack of grazing.
The Bakhtiari are closely related linguistically and culturally to the Luri tribe of southwestern Iran. The Bakhtiari produce two primary rug types: one features a medallion and is similar to Heriz serapi style rugs; the second is a panel style rug, featuring geometric windows, typically squares, rectangles, and hexagons, filled with flowers, cypress trees, and sundry floral & nature designs. Generally, the Bakhtiari weave wide intertwined border, often floral.
This distinctive and traditional design is common among the Bakhtiari, occasionally appearing in Tabriz and Mashad rugs. The motif can symbolize Paradise, an oasis, a courtly garden, and the seasons of nature. Rugs with compartments containing garden motifs were produced in Persia in the 16th century, and known as Kheshti rugs.
Qashqai and Khamseh Tribal Federations of Southwest Iran.
Stunning tribal rug from the Zagros Mountains of southwest Iran. Fantastic geometric design with many intricate details. Traditional Qashqai medallions with tree of life motifs and multiple icons. Ivovy, crimson, green, and black are the primary colors.
Four horse heads inspired by the ancient statues at the ruins of Persepolis. Qashqai nomads often grazed their sheep near the site of the city and incorporated its art into the iconography of their wool rugs. 100% natural wool. 1950s. Out of my personal collection.
Good condition with scattered wear and a few small repairs. Small areas of red dye diffusion into ivory. (Shown in last photo) Despite small imperfections, this is a vibrant and powerful piece of tribal art work. Heavy and solid so it can handle high foot traffic with ease. Fantastic statement piece– powerful art for your floor!
The Qashqai are a confederation of 5 distinct tribal groups who banded together in a political alliance in the 19th century. Another confederation — the Khamseh (which means 5 in Arabic) — formed in the 19th century as a counterbalance to the Qashqai. The rugs of all of these tribes are quite similar in many respects.
Common Persian Rug Names —
Heriz rugs are Persian rugs from the area of Heris, East Azerbaijan in northwest Iran. This is northeast of of the large city of Tabriz. Such rugs are woven in the villages of the same name on the slopes of Mount Sabalan. Heriz carpets are durable and hard-wearing and they can last for generations. Even 19th century examples of these carpets are sometimes found on sale by major auction houses in United States and Europe.
Part of the alleged reason for the toughness of Heriz carpets is that Mount Sabalan sits on a major deposit of copper. It is claimed that traces of copper in the drinking water of sheep produces high quality wool that is far more resilient than wool from other areas.
Heriz rug weavers often craft the carpets in bold geometric patterns with a large medallion dominating the field. Such designs are traditional and often woven from memory. Similar rugs from the neighboring towns and villages of the Heriz region are Mehraban, Sarab, Bakhshaish, and Gorevan.The grades of these rugs are primarily based on the village name. Serapis, for example, have been considered the finest grade of Heriz since the beginning of the 20th century.
Heriz rugs are of generally coarse construction. The rugs range from 30 kpsi on the low end to 110 kpsi on the high end. It is rare to see a rug over 100 kpsi that would look like an authentic Heriz unless it is an antique silk Heriz.
The city of Isfahan (also spelt Esfahan) has long been recognized as one of the centers for the production of fine traditional Persian carpets. Typically, these depict an intricate floral motif, often with a central medallion. Isfahani carpets are known for their high quality. Aside from its carpets, Isfahan is known for its spectacular architecture and gardens.
Kashan is located fairly close to Isfahan: heading north it is about 215 kilometers by highway. Many modern large Kashan rugs are quite similar to those produced in Isfahan. Nonetheless, Kashan has its own extraordinary rug history. Here is an excellent overview of Kashan weaving traditions.
Natural, Organic, Vegetable, Mineral & Synthetic Dyes
Here are two excellent links for anyone interested in the fairly complex issue of natural versus synthetic dyes. Although there some synthetic dyes so ‘Las Vegas’ that they scream out synthetic -it can be daunting. Often even antique rugs going back a hundred years or more will show a synthetic or two, often a vivid orange, while the remaining colors are all natural and traditional. In some cases, browns and blacks, the natural mineral iron oxides used in the dye causes the wool to corrode over the decades. Old Balouch rugs, for example, while often seem embossed in some areas because the darker dyes have corroded the wool.
Here is a good article by Steven Price.
And this is an excellent analysis by Berkeley rug historian and seller, Emmett Eiland.