Although robbed of many of its chief dependencies by the inroads of rival governments and the march of empire, we still find Persia the most poetic of lands, and its weavings the choicest of fabrics. The physical aspect of the ” Land of the Lion and the Sun ” shows the vivid contrasts that are to be found when a land depends largely on irrigation for its beauty, and its gardens, like none others in the world, from which sun-flecked maintain peaks are faintly visible, have been portrayed in softest wools and shimmering silk. The rugs of Persia, in their varied characteristics, combine the strength and virility of the art of the hill-dwellers and mountaineers with the high attainment, in a fully developed art and thought, which can be reached only in the life of cities and towns.
There have been periods in the art of Persia when so great a perfection has been reached that nothing has ever since either equalled or excelled it. A recurrence to types, then established, is the constant effort of modern craftsmen. Such was the glorious reign of Shah Abbas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and such we shall find it wise to accept as the pivot upon which the history of the art revolves.
It is quite impossible to think of Persia apart from Mohammedan rule, and yet much that is most truly Persian has no Moslem motif about it. In fact, the religion of Zoroaster has left its ineffaceable imprint upon much that even pious Mohammedans to-day have adopted and incorporated in their scheme of ornament.
The flowery and poetic imagination of the Persian found in the imagery of the ancient fire-worshippers much that could easily be depicted in art ; the tall cypress indicative of immortality ; the cone, or flame ; the fire-twigs, and fire motifs of all kinds. These, as empty forms, were carried east and west by the Saracens and formed the basis of many designs now known all over the world as Mohammedan, although they were adopted, not invented, by grasping conquerors. All these considerations must control our opinions as we approach the study of the textiles of Persia.
They are difficult to classify, standing as we do at the result of all the ages with scant information at the best ; but each year brings greater opportunity for independent research, and new thought is constantly furnishing us with tests to apply to our own opinions.
The designs of Persia may be described as ” floral,” and the naturalistic and conventional treatment of the flowers of Iran command the intelligent appreciation of all who have educated themselves to recognize the rare qualities of an art which disguises its method so that a new creation seems to result from conventionalisation.
In this way Persian art is itself utterly unlike all attempts of modern schools of design to copy it. The flowers that the ancient studied for curves, and grouped alternately and in set patterns over the fields of their rugs, rarely, if ever, show the hampering control of fidelity to the original, or indebtedness to it for more than suggestion. There is none of that balancing and facing, inside-out and upside-down rendering of a single motif of ornament which characterizes modern Occidental efforts, and symmetry is reached through the perfect distribution of unlike motifs, leaving each individual to supply with his imagination new features that will be unlike those chosen by others.
The Mohammedan utilized much in Persian art that lent itself to the arabesque style of conventionalisation, but it never wrested from those who successfully developed the absolute in floral arrangement the distinctive features which we recognize as Persian wherever we find them. The superimposed ornament of Persia, however, is Mohammedan, and again and again we find trailing over the ancient ornament of Iran the Arabic letters and tracery that bespeak the later art.
The gardens of Persia make glad that country where to while away the hours where it seems ” always afternoon ” has, above many more laudable aims, distinguished the natures of those who dwell in the languorous East, and to understand the general make up of the people is to have much light thrown on the designs in many rugs. “Garden rugs ” are sometimes designed so accurately that paths, borders, and streams are easily distinguished.
The custom of procuring water from the hill makes it necessary to dig trenches, through which the public water supply is allowed to flow into the gardens for a certain time each day, and in order that each quarter of the enclosure may be reached, the trenches are artistically and symmetrically arranged in the midst of the flowers, sometimes forming a cross in pattern.
Raised paths are also made to observe different forms, and the borders of these paths are made picturesque by ground-vines and creeping moss. The custom of filling in one division with one sort of flower, and another with a different sort, is not so closely copied in rugs as in the embroidered textiles of Persia, and illustrations painted in words are found in the records of travellers who describe that upon which their eyes have feasted. Lord Curzon has written :
” The character of Persian gardens is different from European. From the outside a square or oblong enclosure is visible, surrounded by high mud walls, over the top of which appears a dense bouquet of trees. The inside is thickly planted with lofty cypress, broad-spreading chenawrs, tough elms, straight ash, knotty pines, fragrant masticks, kingly oaks, sweet myrtles, and useful maples. They are planted down the sides of long alleys, admitting of no view but a vista, the surrounding plots being a jungle of bushes and shrubs. Water courses along in channels, or is conducted into tanks. Sometimes these gardens rise in terraces to a pavilion at the summit, whose reflection in the pool below is regarded as a triumph of landscape gardening. Such beauty as arises from shade and the purling of water the Persian requires.”
Many writers have described the famous carpet taken as booty by an early conqueror, which was wrought into a ” paradise ” or garden with the finest of silk, and-
—” with jewels of the most costly and curious species, which were arranged with such consummate skill as to represent, in beautiful mosaic, trees, fruits, and flowers ; rivulets and fountains ; roses and shrubs of every description, which combined their fragrance and their foliage to charm the senses of the beholders. This piece of exquisite luxury and illusion, to which the Persians give the name of Baharistan ‘ or the mansion of perpetual spring, was an invention of monarchs as an artificial substitute for that loveliest of seasons, spring. During the gloom of winter they were accustomed to regale themselves on this magnificent embroidery, where art supplied the absence of nature, and where guests might trace a brilliant imitation of her faded jewels.”
Water running over coloured tiles furnishes another subject for naturalistic treatment, and different water motifs are often copied in modern fabrics from ancient rugs, though, when handled by workers in other countries, the old method is not fully carried out. When we find the ” zigzag ” in its perfection in old Persian carpets, we may note how it changes its colour as it finds its way through the border of a rug, the background of which is also made to vary in colour and we can readily imagine the colouring of the tiles over which the water coursed. After studying the water designs in old rugs one becomes somewhat impatient with modern spiritless work, where vivid contrasts are made to take the place of the iridescent, evanescent qualities in antique weavings.
Not only the flower-strewn gardens and the shady groves, but the flowers themselves were treated significantly by those who formerly worked with almost religious fervour to perpetuate in wool what they most highly cherished. Tulips, roses, and lilies were appropriately combined, and the Salaams or ” thought-bouquets ” of Persia were reproduced in strict conformity to native ideas.
These were stiff and formal, and sometimes the flowers themselves were decorated with tissue paper, and ” gilding the lily ” was not unusual. The heads of flowers have always been popular for table-decoration in Persia, and ” forms of beauty ” made by the careful arrangement of blossoms in pattern has called for a separate class for this style of ornamentation.
The naturalistic ways of representing these things were later conventionalised, and water-lines and fountain and flower forms were used instead of more accurate copies of natural things. In the sixteenth century use was made of pronounced ornament in structural fashion, each floral form being connected by a framework of vines and curves with another like itself elsewhere in the field of the rug, the rosette and palmette shapes balanced by others distributed gracefully but with evident intent.
The love of hunting is strongly developed in the Persian, and the animals used and slain in the chase are often depicted in their famous hunting rugs, together with trophies innumerable.
Some of the natural processes of nature which have called for the co-operation of man have from time immemorial given motifs for design. Among these the fertilization of the date is carried on now as it was centuries ago, and the most casual observers of modern practice may see that which inspired the ancients with awe.
They drew upon their artistic instinct to portray it in the form of an eagle-headed deity, who, carrying a basket in one hand and a palm-spathe in the other, approached the sacred tree to perform the customary ceremonies. In the cottons and chintzes of Ispahan we often find these old customs depicted in roughly drawn and crude designs.
These brief considerations are of the manners and customs of a people whose productions we know, but often try to interpret with our own ideas, thus failing utterly to comprehend what might reveal itself to our more carefully trained eyes and judgment. The task is no sinecure to throw ourselves unreservedly into the ways of other peoples in order to understand that which they have manifested in their art, but until we do we shall but half know the pleasure to be derived from quiet contemplation of that which was, until distorted and destroyed by modern commercialism, a revelation of the instincts and interests of those who knew how to copy in art that which they revered in nature.
In Persian rugs we stand face to face with definite styles, and can classify and arrange these styles with precision so as to locate them in different parts of the country, thus carrying analytical study to its fullest extent. If the rugs here in our’ homes can reveal their origin to us, it is of interest to us to know what their origin is, and to be led by such revelation to a comparative study of the history and migration of designs. According to our own knowledge we shall be able to discover how true to tradition the weavers were, and how modern variants of famous old patterns may be distinguished, not only from the old, but from each other.
It is almost impossible to dispossess our minds of all information concerning Persian fabrics in order to build up opinions afresh, for during the last half-century, Persian rugs, by reason of their merit, have forced their way into all well-to-do homes, and have been classed as ” floral,” and distinctively different from Turkish rugs. This classification is, of course, the broadest that can be made, but until the rug-owner becomes a student it -is marvellous to see how well satisfied he remains with little knowledge.
There comes a day, however, when the rug upon the floor shows signs of wear, and the grave question arises whether or not to buy another like it. The auction-room is haunted, but only occasionally is a small rug found that seems to resemble the fireside treasure, and then a fabulous price is asked for it, and the information vouchsafed by the vendor to the effect that only old Iran rugs bring such prices.
Attention is called to the number of stitches to the inch and the fineness of the wool and now the aroused student hurries back to his home to apply to his own possession his newly acquired methods of analysis. Yes, surely there are far more stitches than in the Turkish rug in the library, and the yarn is fine ; the warp thread is cotton, and the pattern is certainly floral; but something else is now apparent to the newly-opened eye : there is a definite arrangement of motifs,—the pattern is the same, an ” Iran ” pattern, as the Oriental dealer called it.
So the Persian rug is cleaned and given a more important place than it had before, where it will have less wear, and the student sets out to secure a rough usage fabric that will serve as hearth-rug. To one of the numberless places where only antiques are obtainable he carries his limited knowledge and asks if he can be shown some old Persian rugs.
Several are thrown upon the floor, no two alike, and to each one is given the name ” Iran ” until in despair the student begs to know why they are so called, and learns that ” Iran,” the ancient name for Persia, is given to rare textiles made after time-honoured designs woven according to strictly Persian methods. Such a prelude to the analytic study of objects is not uncommon, and by these means one is brought into such relations with the ” woven books ” of the Orient that -the determination is formed to learn to read them. How Alan the student proceed ?
In the first place, the broadening of the horizon shows at a glance that limited knowledge has heretofore confined even one’s imagination, and that Persian ornament must of course vary according -to locality ; also that though Persia’s possessions have been wrested from her, her crafts are still distinctively Iranian. Again, proximity to Eastern countries naturally affects designs, and Turcoman influences are strongly felt. The patronage of royalty through the centuries -has also done much to perpetuate old patterns and methods. After these reflections one feels prepared to think of the products that have made and still make Persia the home of the knot-carpet.
Now it makes all the difference in the world whether the student fell heir to these reflections – twenty-five years ago or within the last decade-; for within a very few years new names have arisen in places of commercial importance and the choicest rugs of the empire are being copied, and, under modern names and trade classifications, sold to-day.
Twenty-five years ago the rug added to the collection of the student to whom we have just alluded might have been a ” Kirman,” a ” Hamadan,” a ” Feraghan,” a ” Khorassan,” or a ” Shiraz.” To-day he might have been supplied with a ” Tabriz ” rug, a ” Herez,” a ” Gorovan,” or a ” Sultanabad,” carpet, or a ” Saruk.” Why are the names different ? Which names have endured, and which have changed? Objects are obtainable into which we must look for eye-training, and by which we must be led to apply our knowledge of things Persian.
The name “Persia ” immediately brings to our remembrance thoughts of mighty monarchs who before the Christian era laid the foundation of much that made Persian art what it is to-day, of famous cities,— Susa, Ecbatana, Persepolis, and those, greater than they, founded by other civilizations ; of the noble systems of religion based on Zoaoastrianism or fire-worship ; of the poets Firdusi, Sadi, and Hafiz ; of the Mohammedan conquest and supremacy ; of the marvels of sixteenth and seventeenth century art and of the latter-day attempt of the sovereigns to adopt European manners and customs.
Back again to material objects our minds revert, hoping to see evidences of all these great world facts, forces, and fancies in that which remains in ornament awaiting our analytical study.
With this comprehensive glance over the history of the country, native styles begin to formulate in our minds, and to Shiraz, where the sweet singer Hafiz lived, we look for the inspiration felt by weavers of rare fabrics. To Ispahan, which royalty once made sumptuous, we look for motifs that suggest opulence ; and to the sacred cities of the Moslem faith, where fairs are held and rugs are bought and sold at times of pilgrimage, we turn for revelation of popular belief. We know that the Fire-Worshippers have been driven by the ruthless Mohammedans to the Kirman district, and in the mountains and through the country we know that we shall find primitive elements in the weavings of the nomads.
And so we proceed until north, south, east, and west have each contributed their share to the general fund of fast-accumulating information which has come to us in reply to questions suggested by the objects we handle, and at length we feel competent for our own convenience, to classify the styles in Persian fabrics. This we at first do in the most arbitrary fashion, the mere effort enabling us to seek for reliable confirmatory testimony which will carry us on in our investigations.
Approaching both the object and the country with the name Ispahan, we locate the beautiful sixteenth-century specimen which it is our good fortune to study, as a palace carpet made when floral ornamentation had reached so high a state of perfection that a definite style had arisen and found favour. Upon a field of softest carmine red, palmate flower forms are scattered at intervals, and, from one to the other of these, connecting lines follow some device in outline without the faintest suspicion of arabesque tracery. Analysis of the pattern shows it in detail, and a dignified repose lends attraction to the fabric, which seems more like a tapestry than a carpet.
By another and quite different rug we are led again into the Ispahan province. Here floral designs follow one after another,—the tulip, the pink, the iris, the lily and the rose, each drawn in naturalistic fashion, and each showing familiarity with the flowers of the field and with methods of weaving which combine various and fragmentary motifs into a finished and complete whole.
Again a mythological design fills the field of a rare carpet, and the Ispahan red used as ground colour is almost completely hidden by animal and tree forms, and in the corners angels and demons are endeavouring to establish conflicting rights. Mongolian influence is clearly and easily detected in this fabric in which the central design is surrounded by a purely Persian border of alternately wide and narrow stripes. Each for himself may thus proceed in analysis of pattern, and each will gain information worth more to him than the opinions of the wise.
Ispahan styles in Persian rugs obtain at the present time, even though the fabrics themselves are made elsewhere,— in some other province or town, or in the great factories where old designs are reproduced. They belong to the most noble company of Persian fabrics ; they originally found their existence at the command of royalty ; and the name of the most revered of monarchs, Shah Abbas, has been given to one of the most highly prized designs of Persia.
When a place has produced a design that has lived long enough to warrant its constant reproduction by the best artists of a district, its name is given to the style, and an individual, wherever he may live, or a commercial house, wherever it controls human machines, may manufacture rugs by the dozen or the gross in the well-known style, and as modern fabrics they may come into our possession.
Methods of weaving alone can help in determining the age and locality of the weaver, and long experience is necessary before one becomes competent to do more than venture an humble opinion in regard to these technical points. Styles, however, can be understood and named.
The salaams or thought bouquets of Persia, n which the significance of each blossom is thought of and suggested, marks the Kirman or second style of Persian fabrics, to which age and long-continued reproduction has added renown no less brilliant than the lustre of the fabrics themselves. Bouquets and vases of flowers, single roses and large blossoms, worked in strong primary colours, have grown old so gracefully that an old Kirman rug has about it the quality of a glorious old painting.
As in the products of Ispahan, the style obtains no matter who reproduces it, and in modern weaves that we know have come from commercial towns in the far north we learn to detect these old designs. In genuine Kirman rugs the wool is of so fine a quality and so marvellously spun that even a novice soon learns to recognize it at a glance and to distinguish all imitations from the genuine and original carpets.
Whatever the development of the medallion in Kirman rugs themselves, in those that are made in imitation of them it is a prominent feature, and in both pomegranate and lotus outline it marks the Mongolian thought that once so strongly influenced Kirman styles. The ease with which designs may be reproduced is illustrated in the present-day manufacture of modern rugs in various places throughout Persia, in which adherence to antique models is made of paramount importance.
Only in response to inquiry, or as the result of travel, can up-to-date knowledge be acquired of the facts that control the present immense output of looms in which these old fabrics are copied. In Tabriz, in north-western Persia, European firms control the manufacture of vast numbers of well-made rugs and carpets which are sold to-day under the name of the design copied, which is considered of more importance than the place of manufacture.
Great confusion of thought attends this discovery, and, particularly when the name ” Tabriz ” is given to the modern fabric, the student feels entirely at a loss. In this case, however, as with Ispahan rugs, when the type gives name to a style, familiarity with that style will lead to recognition of it in various weaves.
The raw material used in Kirman rugs is excellent beyond the power of words to describe. Shawls of such fine texture that they may be drawn through a finger ring are made of the most marvellously fine wool, woven in patterns similar to those copied in rugs. Travellers who have found interesting proofs that Persian patterns have been based on the natural products of the country, enumerate the great number of birds, animals, and flowers that cause the liberal Mohammedans to rejoice in their freedom to copy human and animal forms in design.
Leopards, wild sheep, hyenas, wolves, wild cats, wild asses, gazelles, grouse, pigeons, quail, ducks, snipe, and numerous other birds and animals roam in the mountains or are domesticated in the groves, each at one time or another lending inspiration to designers, and motifs of ornament to weavers.
Held within seven borders, the field of a superb antique specimen of the looms of Kirman is practically covered with a scheme of ornamentation that reveals the working out of profile and flat flower forms to perfection. Though somewhat formal, each flower in one part of the design is repeated in another, so that there is absolutely no individuality, but merely a copy of a set design. Still, so technically perfect is the pattern that it must be considered a triumph from that standpoint. The eight-petal lotus design is worked up on the four large and four lesser petals in the centre, from which floral forms that terminate in fleurs-de-lys designs confine the central field within a scalloped outline which separates the ivory colour of the ground from the rich full shades of red and blue which give life to the border stripes.
Age has toned the colours, and time has worn parts of the surface almost to the warp, and yet it remains soft, pliable, lustrous, and beautiful,—a type to perpetuate. In Kirman and Ispahan rugs are to be found traces in design of the ancient Zoroastrianism which gave the cypress-tree and cone flame motifs to ornament. Altars on high mountains, and temples of primitive construction, have ever held in themselves most interesting and suggestive themes ; and as, at the present time, one of the few remaining colonies of Fire-Worshippers has been banished to the Kirman district, it is not remarkable that the emblems of their faith are somewhat apparent in the work of their hands. In the mountain and desert region in the south of Persia the nomads and villagers weave, after tribal methods, rugs that are sold either in the fairs held during festival seasons, or in towns where they easily find market.
Antique Kirman rugs appeal to the lover of textiles and the student of history as few others do ; they seem, in fact, to be of historical significance themselves, and they carry the thought back into the past with every carefully delineated cypress-tree and with each expression of mongrel thought.
In the light of our kindled imagination we see the priests who guarded the sacred fire marching in solemn procession, each one carrying a bundle of twigs with which he divines future events and foretells the fates of men ; each reverencing the symbol of the founder of their religion, the cypress-tree of immortality ; each testifying to the belief in eternal vigilance ‘and uninterrupted supplication.
Reverent worshippers of light, as the emblem of all that is good, the Magi have figured in time and story, whether favoured by protection as in ages past, or persecuted, as they are at the present time. Modern art and song have conceded to the Fire-Worshippers the right to claim as their own many ideas which have been developed along the line of their flight ; for, when banished by conquering powers, the Parsees have scattered and settled where they have found tolerance, peace, and quiet.
Conservative and faithful as craftsman, they have both followed the ideas of others and carried out in detail their own inherited traditions, and ever and again in individual conceits we detect evidence of the belief in light and fire of the devotee who chants,—
” Holy flames that gleam around Every altar’s hallowed ground ; Holy flames whose frequent food Is the consecrated wood ; Holy flames that waft to heaven Sweet oblations daily given Mortal guilt to purge away,—Hear, oh hear me, when I pray !”
It was the worship of the sun itself that gave birth to the earliest religion of the Fire-Worshippers, and upon the simple and direct relation of man to the great God-sphere grew various other and lesser beliefs of which we find traces in the thought of the later centuries.
Other systems have adopted or rejected certain of the main features of the original cult, and still the faith of ancient Iran underlies all the religions of Persia. Greek, Sassanian, Mohammedan, and Mongolian adaptations of the original thought concerning the conflicting forces in nature have each added some fragment of ornament to confound the student, so that patterns of to-day are conglomerate and represent different stages and eras, any one of which might be studied to profit and advantage when particularly suggested by designs in rugs.
The legendary history of Persia has given numberless motifs of ornament that have proved more tenacious than many which are founded upon more authentic history. Standards, weapons, crowns, trophies, costumes, and chariots, used by the mythical heroes of early centuries, have each at some time or other figured in the annals of the country and have taken definite form in its art.
A striking example is the leathern standard often referred to as the ” blacksmith’s apron,” which led the Persian hosts to victory until the Mohammedan conquest. The story goes that an early prince being tempted of the devil, allowed the evil one to kiss him. At this the evil spirit suggested to the prince that he should kill his father and take the throne. This the prince proceeded to do, whereupon a black serpent grew from each of his shoulders. After cutting them off, they grew again and again, until the devil, being consulted, advised that the serpents be fed with the brains of men. This led to the slaying of many men, and to great revolt among King Zohak’s subjects.
Finally the king was overcome with remorse, and, being anxious to ease his conscience, he requested his people to sign a document which stated that he had always been a just king. A blacksmith named Kaweh, who had been obliged to give up a dozen sons that their brains might supply food for the serpents, protested against signing the paper, and, carrying his leather apron aloft on a spear, proceeded to cry down the iniquitous monarch,
He was followed by a large number, who, marching to the market-place, called upon the son of a favourite ruler to lend them his aid in the revolt. Feridoon yielded to the request of Kaweh, and adopted as his standard the leathern apron, which he ordered to be studded with the most beautiful gems and elaborately embroidered, and until the conquest it served as the Persian standard. The soldier who then captured it sold it at an immense price, though not at its full value.
Another emblem connected with this legend is that of an iron mace with a head shaped like a cow’s, for the hero Feridoon had been hidden away during his childhood in charge of a gardener who had a cow of great beauty. The horns of this legendary animal are sometimes used as a decorative feature in art, and as talismans are considered most effective.
One of the Persian styles met with in analytical study differs from the floral ornamentation of Kirman and Ispahan rugs, and the student finds it impossible to classify the designs in the fabrics without recognizing the fact forced upon him by the presence of motifs too absolute in their suggestiveness to be ignored.
The lancet-shaped leaves depicted one on one side and one on the other of a central flower form show the Persian floral interpretation of the old Mongolian idea of the fish in design, and of the balancing animal forms which, as surrounding an object of interest, seem to guard and protect it. This Herati design has been traced back to old tapestries and embroideries where the animal form is distinct, and yet in rugs themselves there is no record of correct interpretation of the design.
The long lancet leaves, shaded one side light and one dark, appear in the earliest weavings of the district, which is so far to the east in Persia that it is not strange that it has been influenced from without. When once the Herati pattern becomes known, the weave of the rugs in which it appears is found to differ, and one is obliged to discriminate between the style itself and the places which have adopted the style in rug design.
Thus in the Feraghan region the Herati style has been developed, and is constantly used in the making of rugs in which Sehna knots are carefully tied upon cotton warp. The field in these rugs is covered with the Herati design surrounded by a border known also as Herati, in which alternate rosette and palmate forms appear upon a green ground. The operations of commercial firms in the Feraghan district is throwing upon the market great quantities of both well-made and carelessly woven rugs, each bearing close resemblance to traditional designs, or else showing the addition of unrelated motifs which soon reveal themselves to the student who has committed himself to close study of types and their origin.
According to workmanship and materials the original Herati rugs may be distinguished from the fabrics of Feraghan, and one should study therein the diaper fret which terminates in profile lotus-flower forms which are exactly like the rendering of the blossom found on Chinese porcelains in which the lotus pod shows in the midst of the petals. In some genuine Herati rugs the main border shows the butterfly design in outline form, and this is rarely if ever copied in Feraghan carpets.
A distinctive floral arrangement known as a Feraghan feature shows a set spray or flower design at regular intervals upon the field of a rug which has other ornamentation as well of flower, leaf, and diaper. Upon these stiff upright stalks are set six blossoms of sometimes six but more often five petals each, and these are woven in light shades which appear in strong contrast to the ground colour of the rug itself. Herati styles are sometimes spoken of as Khorassan the name of the province in which Herati is situated, and that name gives us the fourth of the well-known Persian styles.
In fabrics which abound in realistic flower designs we find the Khorassan style at its very best. In old rugs of this kind it seems as though the weaver had gone out into the garden and plucked as many flowers as he chose, laid them down upon the grass according to his fancy, and then drawn flower, leaf, and stem, with strict fidelity to nature. They differ from floral designs that represent flower-strewn fields, as they always suggest arrangement, though naturalistically drawn. So, also, they differ from Kirman designs, which show flowers in vases, and wide-open blossoms conventionally placed.
Exactly what the difference is it is hard to define, unless it be that the Kirman designs seem always to embody some thought or reference to the significance of flowers, while those of Khorassan appear chiefly symmetrical, with a realism forced upon the worker after arbitrarily grouping his chosen blossoms. When it comes to conventionalization the Khorassan weavers show plainly East Indian influence, and in many of the so-called palm-leaf designs a rigidity of purpose marks the distribution of accepted motifs, while the colours show adherence to old styles and primary shades.
The weaving of Khorassan fabrics is peculiar : four or more rows of knots are sometimes tied with no weft thread to separate them, and then two or three strands of the woof are thrown in, one after the other, followed by four more rows of knots. This gives a peculiar look to the backs of the woven fabrics ; and the pile, when the rug is bent in the hand, falls naturally into divisions, showing the rows of knots in groups separated by the section of woof threads. This method of weaving, though adopted in other parts of Persia, is generally alluded to as a Khorassan feature.
In Sehna rugs we find the fifth style, and one which has given name to the Persian knot, which differs so materially from the Turkish knot that it is easily distinguished from it. All the finest Iran rugs are tied with the Sehna knot, and many of them are of fabulous worth and of great beauty of design. An almost superabundance of ornamentation crowds into the field of Sehna rugs a vast number of knots in varying shades of the finest of wools, and hundreds of knots to the square inch cause these carpets to have so fine and velvet-like a surface that they are easily recognized and never forgotten.
Floral features are so rendered that each tiny flower point seems to scintillate with its dewdrop in gem-like fashion. The patterns in Sehna rugs seem to be their least important feature. It is never necessary to appeal to design for a verdict, as Sehna rugs reveal their origin in the weave itself. The warp may be of cotton or silk, and the knots, as described, of the finest wool, but the finished fabric does not force upon us any need of analysis.
The Selma style, once known, is always recognized. There is no reckless abandon in designs : all is stiff and formal, though minute and exquisite ; but as marvels of technical precision Selma rugs stand unequalled, and as such are highly prized.
In strong contrast to the fine rugs of Sehna are the rugs that are made in Kurdistan, which give the sixth style to Persian fabrics. Lawless, free, and unrestrained are the designs to which the mountaineers of western Persia have adhered through the years. Bound by no conventions, yielding allegiance under protest, and ever wandering upon hilltops or in high valleys under the broad expanse of heaven, these mountaineers have given to the art of the weaver a note all their own, and it is as a low, full, strong, bass to the high soprano and tenor notes of more civilized communities.
Deep, rich colours, a carefully clipped lustrous pile, and tribal motifs of interest, combine to make Kurdistan fabrics most important. From Persian Kurdistan, near-by cities and towns are easily reached, and during the past century prevailing styles of adjoining places have more or less influenced the weavers who carry their rugs to market towns for sale.
Often in the field of a Kurdistan rug will be found a rectilinear lattice, each division of which will be filled with large circular-shaped rosette or flower forms, the colours of which vary,—pinkish, red, blue, and yellow flowers being arranged alternately upon a body colour of metallic blue ; or the rug surface may be broken up into three divisions, in each of which apparently meaningless geometric forms are grouped. The borders are few that surround the field in this style of rug, and in the broad stripe large round flowers, like those that fill the field, are set one after another all around the rug.
A most distinctive peculiarity in rug weaving which marks the seventh style in Persian rugs is produced by the use of natural coloured camel’s hair for solid surface effects. The shading of the camels-hair pile varies, but in the main there is no effort made to do away with this feature, and very often dark flecks and lines of brown show in vivid contrast to lighter patches of the natural-coloured hair. Hamadan rugs present in general a subdued appearance, yet it is invariably the case that strong colours have been introduced in the small patterns that lie as trellis or grille upon the solid coloured camels’-hair background.
Old Hamadan rugs were sometimes of wool warp, but now the knots are invariably tied upon cotton warp. There is something about the slippery nature of the camels’ hair which causes the knobs to slip upon the cotton warp threads unless well beaten down and held tightly in place by the weft. A closer affinity obtained when wool and hair was spun for the warp of old Hamadan rugs, and antiques show a strong resemblance to fur or animal skin hard to duplicate in any other style of weaving.
At the present time camels’-hair rugs are very popular, and are turned out at factories where patterns are furnished by European firms, so that all spontaneity seems to have departed from the once poetically rendered motifs of design. In one well-known Hamadan design, elongated diamond forms extend from a large one in the centre in either direction to the borders of the rug, and these diamond forms are filled with small floral designs solidly packed together. White wool is sometimes used for background in these diamond medallions, in fact the predominance of yellowish white wool is one of the distinguishing marks of interest in Hamadan rugs ; sometimes only the two colours appear,—ivory white and the brown-toned camels’ hair.
In the rugs of Shiraz we seem to find the point of extremest interest in the history of Oriental weaving, and with them we mark the eighth style in Persian rugs. With Shiraz rugs about us we may revert to our rug-chart and assert with conviction that ” the Oriental rug is a thing of sentiment and should be studied as such.” Warp, woof, and pile of heavy wool make beautiful, antique Shiraz rugs.
Colours like wine seen through glass, like ripening fruit, or deep-toned autumn foliage, have about them, in addition, a metallic lustre and iridescence that differentiates them from all others known to the lover of things Oriental. The plumage of birds and the radiance of gems, the softness of moss and the warmth of fur, are suggested by the Shiraz rugs. From Ispahan and Kirman the weavers of Shiraz have drawn inspiration as well as from home sources, and in the borders that surround the typical Shiraz field these borrowed designs are found. Wide-open roses ate set in Kirman style upon a background of changing colours, or animal forms are converted into patterns which do not at first reveal their motif.
The tree, in Shiraz weavings, is treated differently from the Ispahan rendering of it, and shows a blending with the floral background against which it rests. The edges of all plant or tree forms in Shiraz rugs are softened, and are quite unlike the highly conventionalised, more architecturally rendered designs in weavings farther north.
Beyond the pile of Shiraz rugs the warp and woof extend in a webbing which is woven or embroidered in pattern, and which is a distinctive Shiraz peculiarity. Shiraz rugs have always been used as pilgrimage rugs and as votive offerings. The odd conceits of individual weavers are evidenced in Shiraz rugs, and at the same time, in examining them, one can readily conceive of whole families working at patterns so well known that even little children could take their turn at the loom. Sometimes the knots are so tied that the pile falls from the centre toward the ends of the rug, instead of from one end to the other, and with this change of method the entire pattern shows in a different light, and a subtle charm emanates from the fabric.
The eight principal styles in antique Persian rugs are supplemented and varied by a vast number of other and lesser varieties, each one of which becomes of interest when eyesight and insight are sufficiently trained to recognize them. The interesting question arises, as to the name one should give to a rug which in design follows a well-known style, but in weave reveals a place of manufacture other than that where the design had its birth. A Shiraz rug,—what is it ?
Is it a rug made in Shiraz style in Cabistan? Or is it a rug made in Cabistan style in Shiraz? Invariably the amateur considers design, while the professional handler of rugs devotes himself to technique. Weaves and methods of manufacture, a knowledge of which is harder than all else for the student to obtain, gives names to the rugs that are bought and sold among us.
Oriental rugs as repositories of symbolic design are, however, to be viewed from other than the standpoint of trade classification, and just as we detect any lack of fidelity to historic designs in Louis XVI silks, satins, and cottons, because of our intimate knowledge of the period without necessarily attempting to say in what factory the goods were made, just so we may venture an opinion in regard to Oriental styles when the study of the past and its influences have made us expert in the recognition of accurate rendering of traditional ornament. This careful and analytical study will put one in possession eventually of knowledge which at the outset seems most remote.
Embraced under the general name of ” Gorevan ” are grouped several varieties of rugs which are well known to modern rug-buyers. Puzzled indeed was the Occidental student when first the romantic story of the shaded ground in Gorevan carpets reached his ears. He was told with grave assurance that once there was a celebrated weaver who tried to reproduce the sky in the solid colour field of his rugs, and that so absolute was his success that even drifting clouds were wonderfully portrayed.
The weaver was said to be a native of some far northeastern part of Persia, and the fabrics, few in number, woven by the dreamy mystic, were known as Herez rugs. The outside borders of these Herez rugs were generally of self-coloured camels’ hair or goats’ hair, while in the middle and inner borders were floral rosettes connected by angular vine formations.
Belief in this tradition enhanced the value of what was at first supposed to be an unique possession, until, under the name of ” Gorevan,” rugs with shaded blue backgrounds began to appear in great numbers, and no explanation was given for the change of name. Difficult indeed was it to arrive at any conclusion in regard to these textiles through analysis of them. The materials differed ; in some rugs they were coarse, in others fine. The pile wool was rarely lustrous, but the knots (Ghiordez) were firmly tied, and the fabric was strong and well made. In very truth the shaded background did suggest the blue of the sky, and in some instances stars and constellations appeared in the patterns which filled the central medallion and corner spaces.
Through dealers the information was finally obtained that “Gorevan ” was in reality a trade name supplied to establish the superior merit of rugs, made commercially in the Herez district, which adhered with slight variation to the traditional Herez design. These Gorevan rugs at once became popular, and whether or not some old individual weaver was ever responsible for the intentional cloud -effect in his solid backgrounds, or whether he found it impossible to use his dyes successfully, and so produced a streaky effect, we never shall know. There is all the difference in the world in the point of view ; ” drifting clouds” are far more poetic than accidental streaks ; and in a fond and foolish way we believe in the sky-carpets while we confess that in them we find only obscure designs and nothing that helps us very materially in the study of ornament.
In Saraband rugs the design which has given itself to the most interesting and perfect development is that which either in composite or naturalistic representation is known as the ” palm-leaf ” in ornament. Under whatever name this figure appears,—” almond,” ” feather,” ” pear,” ” crown-jewel,” ” river-loop,” ” cone,” or ” bouquet,”—it – will ever and always be called by some the ” palm-leaf ” and new explanations of its origin are continually being made. Without doubt, as has already been stated, the design had a different meaning in one place from that it had in another, and more than one explanation of it is therefore necessary.
A very profound student of Oriental symbolism explains the Saraband pattern as one of Mohammedan origin, representing the flowers of Allah arranged in what is known as Mohammed’s bouquet, and in antique rugs the motif is quite different from that found in modern carpets and proves beyond a doubt that there is still something to be discovered and that we speak now only the ” little language ” and stand at the “beginning of days.”
Comparative study of the borders of Shiraz and Saraband rugs is both necessary and profitable, as they sometimes suggest each other. The many narrow borders of the Sarabands hold both native and borrowed designs, while in Shiraz rugs there are often on each side of the broad border narrower ones composed of alternate stripes diagonally arranged ; and the webbing beyond the pile, either plain or embroidered, is a Shiraz, not a Saraband feature.
A glance at the map of Persia will show the location of towns, provinces, and districts in which objects handled here in the Occident have interested us:
- Kara Dagh
Two of these names strike us with startling familiarity,—Sultanabad and Tabriz,—and we realize how many modern carpets come to our observation bearing either one of these names. For statistics regarding them we are indebted to consuls and merchants, who lead us to a realization that for standards and types we must look to antiques ; for while the Oriental rug in the long ago was the child of the imagination and fancy, it is now a prose fact commercially controlled.
Tabriz lies to the east of Lake Urumiali, and in its factories are manufactured rugs of technically high grade in which old patterns are reproduced with such fidelity that great credit is due to the management. The designs in Tabriz rugs differ sufficiently from those they copy to be easily distinguished from them by the connoisseur, but they are the most difficult fabrics for the uninitiated to handle. The student of historic ornament looks upon them very much as the print collector regards his etching of a famous painting.
Old designs are wrought, with frankly confessed new materials, which are reproductions—and beautiful ones—of treasures that now exist only in fragments. The most marvellous of these, a close and accurate copy of one of the most famous throne carpets in existence, has within a few years found its way to New York, and in each exquisite flower-form may be traced absolute fidelity to the original, while the materials have been as carefully prepared as modern skill and perfected methods would permit. We are told that these gorgeous carpets are woven by boys who at the order of an overseer tie the coloured knots one by one upon the warp threads.
One is thus reminded of the service of the boy in the Bible story, who, at the bidding of Jonathan, went out to bring back his master’s arrows according to a preconceived plan which David, the beloved friend, could understand. He, hidden away in the cave, learned by the orders given that he must flee, “but the lad knew not anything.”
So these Oriental boys to-day are dumb instruments of service to us in doing as they are bid, while the intelligence of their masters, who are seeking, though for commercial purposes, to perpetuate time-honoured designs, should be respected, and their efforts encouraged ; for they are enabling many who cannot possess originals to know what they are like, through familiarity with faithful copies of them.
Known as such, their works have a right to existence, but they should never be bought or sold as antiques. In Kirman designs reproduced in Tabriz rugs we have excellent opportunities to study the outline forms given to various medallions by weavers in the past. With a desire to economize labour, the ground in Tabriz rugs is often of solid colour, and upon it the medallions very plainly confess their general outlines and detail ornamentation ; and when analysis of originals has made one familiar with them, then, and only then, may one feel confidence in himself in the examination of reproductions.
Just as Tabriz furnishes a manufacturing centre for rugs that bear close resemblance to the textiles of southern Persia, and a market for those collected in near-by districts, so in Sultanabad are collected and manufactured a great quantity of rugs bearing central Persia designs. Saraband, Saruk, Hamadan, and Feraghan designs are made to order, and are varied according to fancy. This varying historic ornament by the individual designer, is alas, the great danger that threatens the student of symbolic design at the present time, there is no escape for him but to drink deep at the fountain of truth, and then as an individual do what he can to establish facts and separate them from modern variations of them.
This leads us to consider briefly the difference between rugs as floor- coverings and as art objects, between modern shams which imitate something they do not reproduce, and rugs as vehicles of self-expression or repositories of traditional belief. It is apparent to the most casual observer that as objects of beauty both modern and antique rugs have every right to force themselves upon our notice, and it is our privilege to lose ourselves in contemplation of the marvellous handling of materials that so controls our aesthetic sense that we care not when or by whom the fabrics were made, revelling, as we do, in their beauty. If, however, through the study of pattern in rugs, any one finds it stimulating and profitable to reach back through the years to the beginnings of human thought and endeavour, he, whoever he may be, should make a protest against loose handling by designers of historic ornament.
Let the artist or craftsman, with all the originality he possesses, make patterns that shall be his. Let modern art have its way and express itself as it will, but do not encourage any one to handle traditional patterns with impunity. Faithful reproduction is not imitation. One may serve his day by so carefully studying the art of the past in schools of design in Europe and America that he may furnish Oriental weavers with their own native patterns, through which may be handed down for future interpretation symbols that in his hands have suffered no deterioration.
There is room for all the beauty that new thought and new art can provide; but let Egyptian lotus blossoms stand rigidly and stiff, while Indian lotus forms rest placidly. Let the vine find its way in and out among Persian flowers, while at the same time it awkwardly forces the geometrically formed Turkish blossoms into constrained relations.
Let the mysterious cloud circles of Chinese ornament lift the immortals to their heaven of heavens, while the wings of the cherubim meet over the ark of the Lord. But oh ! refrain, ye who for livelihood or fame are handling ornament, from growing Chinese flowers on Egyptian stalks and from surrounding Assyrian deities with Buddhist halos !