Eastern rugs design patterns

Before the migration of patterns one might
trace the origin of fabrics by reading their ornamentation and noting
the designs or ideographs used to depict the thought of the craftsman
or art-worker. Now it is almost impossible to find pure designs, so crossed
are some motifs by certain others.

Wars and pilgrimages have carried the thoughts
of people to each other, and mongrel ornament is the result. It is not
uncommon at the present time to see patterns that once had most sacred
significance used for the most utterly secular—one might almost
say profane—purposes.

The pilgrim from the Vale of Cashmere, who
for his journey to Mecca makes a rug of priceless value and marvellous
beauty, weaves into the fabric all the tribal patterns and traditions
that are dear to his heart as inheritance.

At his bidding wools have been specially
prepared and dyed, and everything has helped toward the production of
a perfect article. He may perchance sell his rug in Arabia to a pilgrim
who has journeyed to the Holy City from Morocco, who in turn sells his
rug to the other, and in their respective homes, far distant from their
places of manufacture, these rugs are copied by families and tribes who
doubtless falsely interpret designs and but poorly imitate patterns.

Later on, these rugs, which are regarded
as choice relics, may be sold to travellers who think that they are buying
directly from the original weavers. The purchasers, knowing nothing of
either design or its migration, respectively regard the rug bought in
Morocco as representing Moorish style, and that procured in India as typical
of Indian ornament. Great confusion of thought is the necessary and inevitable

It thus becomes more than ever the duty of
the thoughtful student to endeavour, if possible, not to add to this lamentable
state of things, and in no way can this be better accomplished than by
holding to the analytical study of objects at hand until the eye becomes
trained to distinguish for itself between pure and mixed patterns.

Fortunately it is not too late, for we are
still near enough to the time when the textile art was the repository
for traditional patterns, and there is still left enough that is true
to assert itself, and force us to further inquiry and study of the great
beginnings of things ; while with each new draught from the refreshing
fountain of knowledge we find ourselves able to think more soberly and
to see more clearly.

The practical question is asked, ” How
may this be done?” In the first place, our interest will lead us
to consult students of comparative religions for all the information they
can give us regarding the ideas of primitive man about the great problems
of existence; and from antiquarians and ethnologists we may learn how
these thoughts were first manifested in art.

Man, finding himself in the midst of created
things other than himself, could not fail to have ideas concerning them.
These earliest conceptions of the human brain found expression in the
art of all the peoples of the earth, and we trace sun motifs and star
motifs, rain and flame motifs, in all early patterns. Emblems of deities
presiding over natural phenomena, spirits to be placated, demons to be
pacified,—each and all were symbolized, and thoughts about them
were perpetuated in ornament.

These patterns have been corrupted by weavers
who have deviated from traditional thought so far as to be unable themselves
to interpret them ; but still in the Oriental rug we find enough of value
to insist upon it as an interpretative object to handle, and the testimony
of many students will prove their ability to utilize the survival of ancient
thought found in many patterns to-day.

The onward sweep of civilization has caused
the hidden and occult thought of one century to be but empty form in the
next, so that we may deal with ornament without penetrating the mysteries
that underlie it and upon which it is based. So powerful has been the
cross-current of thought, however, that great styles have grown out of
primitive beliefs, and when enough of them have been discovered and they
have become sufficiently apparent to us, we shall be able to trace the
influence of one period after another in the world’s history, realizing
that under main styles are grouped many lesser divisions.

A few of the most important of these styles
have been given to us in the five divisions that we have already adopted,
and we must learn to detect the general peculiarities in pattern before
we attempt to consider local characteristics. Subdivisions of the subject
will give us, under the main styles, Turkish, Caucasian, Persian, Turcoman,
and Indian, and the lesser but quite as important modifications and combinations
of them known as

  • Byzantine
  • Moorish
  • Russian
  • Mongolian
  • Jewish
  • Hispano-Moresque
  • Buddhist
  • Japanese
  • Greek
  • Sicilian
  • Hindu

—and many other styles, each of which
may contribute some strand in the modern rug which will be recognized
by the student who has become familiar with the principles of pristine
art. In such we find the crossing and recrossing of human thought, and
the influence of one people upon another, until we find that fact and
fancy have woven a web that entrances and enthralls us.

From the time of Alexander, the great “Sikunder
” of history, to the latest efforts of greater powers to subdue the
lesser, war has been one of the most direct and powerful causes for the
migration of pattern. The appearance of classic Greek ornament in the
heart of Asia has puzzled more than one thoughtful student, who accepts
first one and then another belief regarding the claims of Europe and Asia
for priority in the creation of design. Some students favour the belief
in the migration from Asia to Europe of such well-known forms as the swastika
and the lotus, while others insist that both are Greek forms carried by
European conquerors into the Orient:

Of late years the claims of China have forced
themselves upon all interested in the migration of pattern, and the calm,
staid evidence of centuries makes a strong appeal in favour of her right
to much that limited knowledge has heretofore attributed to better-known
places, and much has been discovered in Chinese ornament that bears evidence
of the use of motifs in prehistoric workmanship that were supposed to
have originated elsewhere.

Many students of Chinese art—or, we
might say more broadly, of Mongolian art—feel that, however absolute
may have been the sway of the Egyptian lotus over the ornament of western
Asia, it was the lotus of China which gave birth to the medallion in ornament
which is now known as a Mongolian element wherever it is found. The early
lotus forms in Chinese art antedate the influence of Buddhism in that
empire, and are very different from, the well known Hindu and Assyrian
lotus designs.

Opinions vary so about facts, that individual
research seems to „be the only safeguard for the student, whose
examination and comparison of existing material and opinions should furnish
him with sufficient reason for the ” hope that is, in him.”
We have not yet arrived ; it is not for us to be ” in at the finish
;” but we have a right to our place in the circumference of opinion
which surrounds each disputed fact.

Such devotion to task has been displayed
by modern writers that it gives us unbounded pleasure to refer to their
efforts to establish truth. If we were not endeavouring to make independent
research with our own feeble rushlight, it would be futile to do more
than supply a bibliography of such books as Count Goblet, ” Migration
of Symbols”, and numberless articles in magazines issued by societies
whose sole object is to examine and sift information. Students who are
adding their valuable quota to the accumulation called ” modern knowledge
” are not making any pretence.

They are endeavouring, with unswerving fidelity,
to treat their own chosen and special subjects with profound ability,
avoiding the consideration of all that does not bear directly upon them
: sometimes drawing the line so closely around their specified purpose
that much that seems to the casual critic to be related to it is excluded.
It is true that the great reservoirs of knowledge exist. It is left for
us as individuals, however, to establish distributive channels, so that
the truth may reach all.

It is surprising how oftentimes some possession
which has been for a century or two in one family, —handed down
by one to another, hidden from the general observation of students,—is
suddenly discovered by one who, laying no claim to even ordinary knowledge,
turns, with the intelligence born of desire to know something about material
objects, to these oft-handled treasures, and for the first time realizes
that the possession is one that will throw light on present discussion.

This is exemplified by the attitude of many
who, after reading the monograph on the swastika written by the late Thomas
Wilson and published by the Smithsonian Institution, found that they possessed
rare curios decorated with the now well-known form. Such sent their treasures
to Mr. Wilson as gifts, and in personal letters they were assured by the
great thinker that each object silently testified to what he had grown
to believe, and convinced him afresh of the truths he had endeavoured
to demonstrate.

Purchasers of Oriental rugs fifty years ago
secured many in which patterns were true to tribal distinctions, and such
are to-day hidden away in the homes of Europe and America, waiting for
intelligent recognition. Such possessions hold an ” open sesame ”
power which may lead some future student into the great labyrinth of speculation,
out of which it is hardly possible to escape without an opinion. This
view of the subject should lead each individual to make an intelligent
study of those objects over which he is custodian, and the claims of such
should be considered, as they, unlike books about them, are objective
and should be allowed to speak for themselves.

The varying opinions of those whose conclusions
we respect, in regard to the migration of pattern, lead to two important
points of view. Some hold that pattern was independently discovered by
all primitive peoples, while others insist that earlier civilization invented,
and later peoples carried symbolic decoration from one to the other.

Whichever is true of the beginning of things
we may leave to learned authorities to decide ; but for light on the subject
at hand we have to consider both the patterns that we can trace to migration,
and those that have arisen in answer to the needs and beliefs of individual
nations ; for our study is of the use of pattern, not of its birth, and
as we advance we must learn to follow the advice of Emerson, who says

“Trust thyself : every heart vibrates
to that iron string.” * * * * * ” A man should learn to detect
and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within,
more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.”

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