Since the Saracenic conquest Arabic characters have been used by the scholars and scribes of Persia, and such have figured largely in the decoration of pottery and weaving. It would indeed take the learning of a sage to grasp even a faint idea of the various ways that the alphabets of the world have figured in design. Ideographs, hieroglyphs and signs innumerable defy the most careful study, so modified and change are even the most readily understood forms, by accents, positions, and abbreviations.
There are signs of tone and signs of punctuation ; there are vowel strokes and classification of consonants ; there are signs to represent inarticulate sounds, and laws of succession. In fact there is enough in the mere study of alphabets to occupy an ordinary lifetime, for in them all sorts of traceries and interlaced knots and ornaments have found their origin.
Rude scratches accompanying the patterns used by primitive and illiterate peoples have proved to be explanatory phrases, which, though untranslatable, add greatly to the value of fabrics which they decorate.
Calligraphy, however, is a fine art ; and as applied to the weaver’s craft it accomplishes a double purpose : it serves as ornamentation, and at the same time suggests the intellectual and artistic qualities which have always distinguished the people of Persia.
Calligraphy, “the golden profession,” has always been patronized by royalty, and many and various accounts are treasured of the appreciation bestowed on him who could practise his art most successfully. The writer of the ” Life of Shah Jehan ” had his mouth stuffed full of pearls as a reward, besides his regular fee.
Ever and always the scribe of the Orient has been and is honoured. His ink-box, horn, or case, of whatever shape it is, always bears the marks of the highest decorative art of the period. From the Mediterranean to the China Sea, with pens of metal and with brushes of finest hair, the art of writing holds sway over the appreciative Oriental. Reverence for the written character is taught in the far East, where even printed matter is burned and not thrown about carelessly.
What wonder, then, that the choicest fabrics of the loom should receive, as the most finished decoration, that which was so highly honoured and practised as a fine art ?
To the untrained eye of the Occidental student the characters traced in rugs are not always apparent. Sometimes over the entire . background the word ” Allah ” is traced in green wools between the patterns, green being the sacred colour of the Mohammedans.
Words expressing the humility of the weaver are often found woven most dextrously into rugs, revealing the habit so customary among Orientals, of speaking disparagingly of their own ability and possessions, trusting themselves to the consideration of the listener, who is supposed to show his appreciation in inverse ratio to that which the maker and owner professes.
Dates and names are sometimes found written plainly or obscurely in the upper ends of rugs. In order to decipher such writing one should carefully count the stitches or knots it has required to make them, and should depend upon this accurate analysis to determine the cursive forms of the letters. Only in this way can a safe estimate be made of what the characters really are.
When correctly copied, any Oriental scholar sufficiently versed in the language will be able to translate them. Unless each little point be carefully observed, however, the meaning will not be apparent, as each one has special significance and bears upon the whole. The Arabic numerals are not altogether unlike those to which we are accustomed, and in an old legend they are traced back to the famous signet of Solomon.
In very old embroideries these rectilinear figures are occasionally found forming borders, but no corroborative authority can be found for the legendary statement. It is a most interesting matter to investigate, and it is to be hoped that some one able to do so will bring forward satisfactory testimony which shall establish as fact that which now must be classed as speculation.
Silk rugs bearing inscriptions in cartouches arranged as border designs around elaborately decorated field patterns have been made as dowry rugs for princesses, and are treasured as choice possessions by their present” owners. Such are sometimes most elaborately worked in silk upon backgrounds of gold and silver, which as woof upon a fine warp make a smooth metallic surface for ornamentation in relief.
Sentences from the Koran or quotations from the poems of famous writers are used in calligraphic decorations. Occasionally some adulatory opinion finds expression, in an inconspicuous place, upon a rug ornamented in the main with writing held in cartouche forms.
Attempts have been made in modern rugs to copy in a crude and deceptive way the beautiful rugs of past centuries. Rudely drawn cursive characters easily deceive those who know nothing of Arabic writing, and such rugs are very beautiful in themselves, and are well made and attractive in every way.
They should not, however, be sold or bought as antiques, or as rugs made for distinguished individuals in the Orient. In strong contrast to many that arouse question are the few that stand as veritable and authenticated treasures in many Occidental homes to-day.
Such, for example, is a most wonderfully woven and beautiful silk rug in which upon a background of silver the following sentences are held within car-touches :
The Dowry-Rug for our Princess Marazade, by the Master-Weaver Abdallah Ebn Salam.
(Date Hapro 1221, or 1781 A. D.)
” I direct my face unto Him who hath created the heavens and the earth.”
” Verily the true religion in the light of God is Islam : God hath borne witness that there is no God but He.”
” He is a God in heaven and in earth : He knoweth what ye keep secret and what ye publish, and knoweth what ye deserve.”
” Who maketh the Angels His messengers, furnished with two and three and four pairs of wings.”
” Fear that which is before you and that which is behind you.”
” His commandment, when He willeth a thing, is only that He saith unto it, Be : and it is.”
” Give alms of that which God bath bestowed on you.”
” A blessed book have we sent down unto thee, 0 Mohammed.”
” Attentively meditate on the signs thereof, that men of understanding may be warned.”
” Praise be unto Him in whose hand is the Kingdom of all things.”
” He causeth the night to succeed the day, and He causeth the day to succeed the night, and He obligeth the sun and the moon to perform their services, each of them hasteneth to an appointed period.”
” This is what ye are promised at the day of account. This is our provision which shall not fail.”
” And thou shalt see the angels going in procession around the throne, celebrating the praises of their Lord.”
” And the earth shall shine by the light of its Lord, and the book shall be laid open, and the prophets and the martyrs shall be brought as witnesses.”
” It is God who bath appointed the night for you to take your rest therein, and the day to give you light.”
” The last hour will surely come : there is no doubt thereof but the greater part of men believe it not.”
” Woe be to the idolaters who give not the appointed alms and believe not in the life to come.”
” God maketh what addition he pleaseth unto his creatures, for God is almighty.”
” He placed in the earth mountains firmly rooted, rising above the sea, and he blessed it, and provided therein the food of the creatures.”
” Say unto those who believe not, Ye shall be overcome, and thrown together into hell : and an unhappy couch shall it be,”
” And if a malicious suggestion be offered unto thee from Satan, have recourse unto God, for it is He who heareth and knoweth.”
“On the day of resurrection thou shalt see the faces of those who have uttered lies concerning God, become black.”
” When the one sole God is mentioned, the hearts of those who believe not in the life to come shrink with horror.”
“God taketh unto Himself the souls of men at the time of their death, and those which die not He also taketh in their sleep,”
” Who is more unjust than he who uttereth a lie concerning God, and denieth the truth when it cometh unto him ? ”
” Verily, I fear, if I be disobedient unto my Lord, the punishment of the great day.”
” It is He who hath created you of clay and then decreed the term of your lives: and the prefixed term is with him.”