Antique Oriental Rug Spotlight: Bakhtiari, Part 1

The Bakhtiari tribespeople of the rugged Zagros Mountains are famed for their perilous annual migrations over snow-capped peaks and for their lustrous, deep-toned antique carpets displaying grand scale, cornucopian designs. An early 20th-century visitor to the lush Chahar Mahal district in Central Persia noted: “To me Bakhtiari antique carpets are among the most interesting of the tribal village weavings of Persia . . . for they have that quality which we call character: that is, individuality, sincerity, and strength.”

Although they traditionally produced only geometric designs, the Bakhtiaris—along with the Armenian, Kurdish and other weavers of the Chahar Mahal—were also influenced by the floral carpets of the Persian cities, especially those of nearby Isfahan. This gave birth to an innovative and distinctive stylization. This is found especially in their palace-size and oversize antique Oriental carpets that were woven on commission by the great Bakhtiari khans. These are among the most highly regarded of the Bakhtiari antique carpets.

Until the 1930’s Bakhtiari antique carpets were characteristically woven for use by the tribe or on commission within Persia. As they were rarely produced to be exported, they offer lanolin-rich, extremely durable wool and luminous colors, which were procured through a thorough knowledge of dyeing, using natural dyestuffs.

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Antique Oriental Rugs Spotlight: Meshed

The city of Meshed is one of Iran’s oldest cities, located in the Khorassan province in the northeast corner of Persia. Geographically, it is situated far apart across the great desert from the densely populated western region of the country where the great mass of carpets were traditionally produced. Therefore, until the early part of this century, its weaving was relatively unaffected by domestic artistic trends, and, of perhaps even greater importance, was less influenced by the demands of the European market.

Antique Oriental Rugs - Persian Meshed - Claremont Rug Company

Meshed weavers have traditionally produced grand carpets of relatively fine weave, sometimes in sizes ranging to palace size. One distinguishing feature found in many Meshed carpets is a range of distinctive blue-red tones from deep rose to rich wine to cranberry, created by adding small amounts of indigo to the madder red dye bath. These regal reds are often complemented by a wide palette of delightful, deeply saturated naturally-dyed colors. In the finest pieces, a high quality, lanolin-rich wool is used, which carries a highly silky luster and provides increased longevity, even with many decades of high traffic use.

Meshed is famous for its master weaver-designers and their family-operated weaving manufactories. During the 1900-1940 era, there was a dramatically increased production of fine carpets in patterns and colors designed to appeal to domestic and international markets. This could not have occurred without the growth of a number of important professional carpet designers in this area.

The singularly famous master weaver was Emoghli, who perfected finely knotted masterpieces with spiraling vines, scrolling floral latticework, radiating palmette medallions and a wide array of precisely rendered original interpretations of classical motifs. His incomparable skill earned him a number of illustrious students who carried on his impeccable tradition into the 1950’s.

The most notable student of Emoghli was Saber, whose workshop produced a small quantity of extremely fine pieces on commission to prominent patrons, which usually employed a particularly luminous wool quality, deeply saturated, naturally dyed colors and highly inventive designs. Among connoisseurs, Saber’s work is respected for its artistic inspiration just as Emoghli’s carpets are enamored for their unsurpassed refinement.

As in the other central regions for urban weaving, Meshed produced a great quantity of handsome yet not especially noteworthy carpets for the Western market, beginning in the 1920’s. However, the finest pieces woven from the mid 19th century into the 1930s, often produced in the nearby town of Dorasht, are among the most distinguished of all classical Persian carpets, valued for their great decorative impact as well as their investment potential.

Oriental Rugs Spotlight: Agra and Amritsar Rugs

Agra and Amritsar Antique Persian Rug - Claremont Rug Company

The historic Indian city of Agra, best known as the home of the Taj Mahal, has a long and illustrious tradition of carpet weaving. Although the weaving industry in Agra was limited, its workshops produced graceful carpets, recognized for their superb artistry and excellent workmanship. Antique and semi-antique Agra carpets, as opposed to modern “Indo” rugs, are highly sought after, ranking among the finest of decorative carpets.

An elite group of the very finest 19th-century Agra region carpets is attributed to the town of Amritsar. These are known for their extremely fine craftsmanship, extraordinarily lustrous wool, and highly artistic designs and color combinations. The most prized Amritsars show very clearly drawn and spaciously placed designs, often based on “Garden of Paradise” themes. Large Amritsars are quite rarely found and are highly sought after for their grandeur and decorative impact.

Weaving in Agra dates to the founding of the Mogul Empire in India in 1530. The Mogul emperors were deeply affected by Persian art and culture, especially Persian carpets, in what is called “The Golden Age of Persian Weaving”. Their art sought to replicate the beauty of the Persian court where the first Mogul Emperor had spent time in exile and to which the later Emperors remained connected. The resulting “Mogul” carpets were masterworks of creative endeavor which are the forebears of antique Agra carpets still available today.

In 1584, the Third Mogul emperor, Akbar the Great (1556-1606), established his capital at Agra, where his grandson, Shah Jahan, was to build the Taj Mahal. Surviving records from Akbar’s reign speak of royal patronage of weaving, with Persian craftsmen being invited to India to help establish the carpetmaking industry. These records speak glowingly of the high regard with which Agra or “Mogul” carpets were viewed.

Agra carpets combine the grandeur and grace of well-known Persian court designs with new motifs of their own creation. Overall designs of spiraling vinery are frequently combined with small animal forms, sometimes including birds, elephants or people. A very famous Agra design, developed for the Mogul emperors, consisted of rows of flowers in vases. This design was, in turn, adopted by the Persians and can be found in Persian floral carpets. The artistic “cross pollination” between Agra and Persia continued until the end of the nineteenth century.

The weavers of Agra were masters at vegetable dyeing and developed a unique palette of color. Soft mid-tone blues and a profusion of golds are often found in Agra carpets. They also use a range of soft rust-reds to pinks and a unique and appealing lavender tone.These colors give many Agra carpets a light, ethereal appearance which is stunning in the home.

The Agra pieces produced in the early 20th century are often of a commercial nature, and lack the quality and inspiration of their earlier counterparts. However, the finest 19th-century Agra carpets are universally respected by both collectors and interior designers, and are to be considered as individual and highly praised works of art, whose delicate palette of color and whimsical drawing is unique among antique decorative carpets. Undoubtedly, the cream of the 19th-century Agra carpets will continue to appreciate as superb art investments.

Oriental Rugs Spotlight: Afshar

Afshar Antique Persian Carpet, Claremont Rug CompanyFor centuries, the Afshar nomads were the preeminent Persian tribal group, populating numerous regions within their country’s borders. By the twentieth century, however, their ranks had been diminished to an area in the southeast corner of Iran. Although historians dispute their exact origins, they do agree that their Turkish dialect points to either Azerbaijan or East Turkey. Another interesting fact is the striking similarity to rugs woven in the Caucasian village of Chajli in the Shirvan district (part of Russian Azerbaijan).

Despite the decline of the tribe’s stature, antique Afshar weavings uphold their once great legacy. Nineteenth-century Afshar rugs and carpets are renown for their consistently high quality of materials and craftsmanship, along with a unique aesthetic. Three of their most prolific designs include simple diagonal rows of “boteh” (experts believe that Afshar weavers may have been the first to use “boteh” in carpet weaving), the classic “cornerpiece and all-over field” design, and a vertical axis of three stepped medallions. Their most intriguing design is the “Dragon and Phoenix”, a rarely seen, highly abstracted version of an ancient motif dating back over 5000 years to China. Other designs include the lattice or “Tulip” design, prayer rugs, “Stars of Wisdom”, and rows of repeating shield medallions. Most designs belie their heritage: Caucasian designs with a South Persian flare!

High-quality Afshar weavings display deeply saturated dyeing techniques, and they almost always sparkle from the lanolin-rich wool culled from their own flocks. Typically, rugs were finished at either end with intricate flatweave and the sides with multi-colored selvedge. A majority of their weavings are found in area sizes between 3ft x 5ft and 4ft x 7ft; however, they also wove keleges (5ft x 10ft), small bags, flatweaves, and only occasionally larger roomsize pieces.

Like their venerable neighbors, the Qashqai tribe, antique Afshars have become more and more scarce, and therefore more valuable. Many who collect the high-profile Caucasian and Qashqai weavings almost always include Afshars as well, making stunning floor pieces and excellent wall hangings.