In presenting the chart method of studying Oriental rugs it is with the firm belief that by thus systematizing and arranging facts the mind is equipped with data and the eye is trained to see. It would, however, be detrimental to all progress to overburden the memory, and therefore we should proceed most cautiously as we advance from general to special considerations.
The field of the rug-chart and the columns that bound it on the right and on the left are now distinctly impressed upon our minds, and we may demand from each new specimen that we handle a response in itself to otir questioning in regard to the materials and colours used, methods of manufacture, the original use, if any is indicated by the shape and size of the rug, and What are the differences and similarities in weave and finish.
We are thus legitimately led to a desire to locate the rug-weavers through whose handiwork we have arrived at various conclusions which we desire to prove ; for as we are studying objects analytically, questions are forced upon us by our own discoveries. We note, without being told, that there seem to be a few marked varieties in rug productions, and that all the rugs we examine are more or less like one or the other of these styles.
A glance at the bottom of the rug chart will show five divisions which are the broadest and most comprehensive possible, and one will progress much faster who is willing to make no effort at subdivision until later.
The Orient, for our purposes, is to be considered only in the light of its art, and an outline map will show the natural divisions—lakes, rivers, and mountain ranges—that have at different periods been the centres of first one and then another great epoch-making civilization and art influence. Each student should fill in an outline map as individual research makes it possible, and it is most desirable that we should become familiar with the changes in boundaries and in styles brought about by great world movements.
In order to do this, let us look first at an outline map map and note the physical aspect of the country, the same now as it was before the migratory tribes made tent homes for themselves. The prevalence of hills and mountain ranges will suggest the influence upon native industries of high altitudes where the wild goats roam, and we know that the sheltered valleys hidden away among the hills must protect both people and flocks from outside influence and foster traditional methods.
In desert places we must look for oases which in caravan routes have been trading-posts from time immemorial. Seas and lakes, like the great rivers, have known many dwellers beside them who have through the ages developed these natural resources for their own purposes.
Using various of these land and water peculiarities we may bound our five broad divisions as we name them. The first, encircled on the west by the Mediterranean and Black seas, we shall separate from the rest of the Orient by ” the great river Euphrates,” and call this part of the country, in our classification “Turkish.”
In the district between the Black and Caspian seas we locate the provinces that we call ” Caucasian,” and between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf we have the most important centre in the history of rug-weaving,—the third or ” Persian ” division. North of this, and east of the Aral Sea, we find the Khiva desert and the fourth or ” Turkoman ” division, leaving the peninsula of India to mark the fifth or ” Indian ” division.
Upon the outline map we may draw the lines that bound our division, and then consult an atlas for details that will enable us to see what modern nationalities, provinces, and cities we have enclosed, and later, as our study proceeds, we may fill in all that we conscientiously deem we have made our own.
These broad divisions distinctly mark as many styles, which, in their purity, may be called by the five names already given,—Turkish, Caucasian, Persian, Turcoman, and Indian ; and in these are found the peculiar characteristics that have already attracted our notice, so that almost without our volition we have been forced to recognize them. That style in which the unit of ornament seems to be of paramount importance we find in the Turkish division.
Geometric design marks the ‘second, or Caucasian, and distinctly floral ornament the Persian division, while the octagon and medallion are most elaborately worked out in the fourth, or Turcoman, and the fifth or Indian division gives itself most lavishly to tiny details in the elaboration of even the large structural patterns that cover great spaces with minute tracery.
By way of further describing these styles we may use for illustration of the first division any old Turkish rug which shows in repetition all over the upper part of the rug, above the prayer disc, one single motif symmetrically arranged in both border and in field ornamentation, for this adherence to the principle of the unit in design, although not universal, is sufficient to force itself upon our notice.
On handling another rug of somewhat different character we notice the prevalence of geometric designs, skilfully conceived and elaborately worked out, which have a vigour and strength about them and show ” adherence to tribal purity” in border patterns, etc.
These primitive designs group themselves under our second division. This in turn leads us to note that both the already specified styles seem to be influenced at times by another quite as distinct as they, which has floral characteristics about it, although it adheres in the main to geometric divisions. We are thus led up through this subdivision to the separate variety which is absolutely floral without geometric suggestion even. Long, flowing, undulating, finished curves indicate vines, growing plants, and trailing creepers, which carry us into the third division made for our convenience through our own observation.
The fourth or Turcoman, division seems to control all medallion and octagon designs, although we find indications of such forms in some of the classes already noticed. This makes it difficult to decide into which of the four divisions we may place those specimens in which the designs show a departure from purity and tradition.
Lastly we find it necessary to make a fifth division for certain rugs which seem nondescript, at times combining many of the features we have learned to recognize, but oftener showing new thoughts and methods. This fifth division we call Indian.
If only we can content ourselves right here with apparently slow progress, by making a close examination of these main features in rugs in which they are distinct and evident, we shall be ready to study carefully the designs with which, in spite of ourselves, we have become familiar. We shall find much side light thrown upon our task by observing all sorts of other art manifestations in metal, porcelain, wood, etc., for purposes of comparison, which will reveal to us the mental attitude of the Oriental craftsman toward the decoration of whatever object he was beautifying.