Antique Oriental Rug Spotlight: Caucasian Rugs, Part One

When the Almighty Spirit first created the Earth, he made the land completely flat. Looking down at his creation, he was satisfied with his work, except for the fact that there were no mountains. So he loaded up an enormous sack with innumerable rocks and boulders, and sped down to distribute them across the surface of the Earth.

As the Almighty Spirit was approaching the planet, his enemy, the Evil One, accompanied by three cohorts – famine, pestilence and hardship – appeared behind him, and slashed open the bag full of mountains. The colossal rocks and boulders tumbled down to Earth, and landed one on top of the other on a narrow strip of land between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Caucasus.

In his anger, the Almighty Spirit issued forth a stern warning to the Evil One; that under no circumstances would he ever be allowed to enter the land of the Caucasus. “For,” as he gravely said, “after what has happened every day of living will be hard enough.”

No better impression of the physical environment of the Caucasus Mountains, where Caucasian antique rugs where made, can be depicted than from this traditional Caucasian folktale. Bordering Iran to the North, the Caucasus ranks among the most grandiose and hostile landscapes in the world. Here lies a single narrow ridge of mountains stretching 400 miles east to west and containing twelve peaks higher than the tallest in the Alps, along with numerous glaciers and tumbling gorges that rival those of the Himalayas. The mountains are climaxed by Mt. Elbruz, towering to 18,493 feet above sea level. Here, in Greek legend, the god Zeus chained Prometheus for eternity as punishment for delivering fire to man.

For centuries, the Caucasus has provided refuge for the nomadic peoples, creators of tribal antique rugs, who were forced to go there after being driven out of more hospitable areas. Before the purges of Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, approximately 350 different tribes resided in the Caucasus, speaking over 150 distinct languages. Along with the Moslem Lesghis, Chechen, and Talish, there were clans of Mountain Jews, Christian Armenians, Buddhist Kalmucks, Norsemen and even a group of Württemburg Germans. These mountain peoples were known both for their spirited sense of independence and their longevity, with many tribal elders apparently living decades past one hundred years. One clan, the Circassians, were noted for the great beauty of their women, who were sometimes either stolen or traded, breeding their olive complexions, striking eyes and distinguished countenances into the ruling families of Turkey.

The existence of the Caucasian tribesperson depended entirely on his ability to cultivate a simple innovativeness of lifestyle, along with a deep understanding of the natural forces which governed him. He learned to find strength and inspiration for the antique Oriental carpets he created in the harsh, yet majestic mountain surroundings. By living a life of almost continuous physical activity, he learned to tap into the instinctive nature hidden in man to guide him.


Oriental Rug Spotlight: Bakshaish, Part Two

Antique Persian Rug, Bakshiash Style

Antique Oriental Bakshiash Carpet, Photograph courtesy of Claremont Rug Company

Bakshaish carpets were the product of the Persian home craft, often woven in roomsize (typically 9ft x 11ft to 11ft x 14ft) on a loom attached to the outside wall of the weaver’s home. Area sizes (normally 4ft 6in x 6ft 6in and sometimes as small as 2ft x 4ft) are only occasionally seen, the best of which are highly prized by serious collectors. Rare examples of very large sizes of these magnificent rugs can occasionally be found in sizes ranging from 11×15 to 12×18. Extremely seldom seen are sizes larger than 12×18, runners and keleges (corridor rugs) found in this style.

The best Bakshaish carpets offer a unique combination of geometric allover design or graphic medallion format with unparalleled use of natural color and soft tones for large format carpets. They fit perfectly into contemporary or casual decors, and brilliantly enhance the casual, organic ambiance of mountainside homes.

Among connoisseurs, early Bakshaish carpets, (especially circa 1875 or earlier, as well as the best late 19th century examples) are the most highly prized of the extremely desirable Northwest Persian village carpets. For lovers of tribal rugs that are only found in smaller sizes, the Bakshaish style offers a similar geometric, folkloric character in carpets of larger sizes.

The 19th-century examples of Bakshaish weaving, if artistically distinguished, memorable in their beauty and in good condition, have performed very solidly as art investments, especially since the mid-1990’s. Because of their great rarity, greatly inspired artistry and overwhelming appeal, the best 19th century representatives are widely sought after. Collectible-level pieces seldom come available on the public market, and when they do, often receive overwhelming demand.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Bakshaish, Part One

Bakshaish Antique Persian Rug - Claremont Rug CompanyBakshaish is a town on the banks of the Talke Rud River in the Heriz region of Northwest Persia. Situated in the mountainous region 60 miles east of the large city of Tabriz, Bakshaish is the oldest rug weaving village in the district of Heriz, noted for carpets with highly artistic, tremendously diverse abstracted adaptations of age-old tribal and classical Persian motifs.

In their softness of color and line, the appearance of antique Bakshaishes somewhat resembles the Sultanabad carpets of Central Persia, yet with designs drawn to substantially more free form, improvisational and geometric proportions. These are folk art masterworks in which the individual artistic creative decision of the weavers can usually be abundantly seen. The viewer will take delight in discovering the idiosyncratic temperament of the Bakshaish weaver, as seldom is one motif drawn in exactly the same fashion twice, and borders and even center medallions are usually playfully misshapen. 

The best antique Bakshaishes are connoisseur’s delights, exhibiting truly original patterns, unusual movement and asymmetry of design, and a richness and maturity of color obtained by the masterful use of natural dyes. They transcend the decorative to become truly one-in-the-world art objects.

Bakshaish weavers employed both soft reds and navy tones for the base color of the field, with the use of ivory or sometimes, golden Camelhair grounds being particularly rare and beloved. Exceptional blues are a hallmark of these carpetswith hues of azure, turquoise, peacock and teal. Muted salmons, corals, buffs and yellows as well as rich spring to jade greens can also be found in abundance. Bakshaish carpets have a structure similar to others of the Heriz group, although their weave is usually somewhat finer.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Tabriz


Tabriz Antique Persian Rug, Claremont Rug Company

The major city of Tabriz, located near the Turkish border, is the center of classically designed carpets in Northwest Persia. At the foot of the beautiful Elbruz Mountains, Tabriz has a noteworthy history, both as the Persian market center most linked geographically to European and Western commerce, and as the source of the most venerated weavings: the inspired carpets of the Shah Abbas period during the 15th and 16th centuries.

With such auspicious beginnings, during the second half of the 19th century, the city boasted some of the most famous 19th century weaving masters such as Kurban Dai, Sheik Safi, Faradji. and most notably, the luminary Hadji Jallil, all of whom were responsible for the reclamation of this celebrated past by reinventing a truly memorable carpet production.

Since the early part of this century, Tabriz has lead a resurgence in carpet-weaving both for domestic use and for export. With strict standards of craftsmanship and quality of materials used, Tabriz weavers produced tight densely-knotted structures and elaborate floral displays. Some of the finest workshop rugs, woven exclusively for carpet aficionados among the nobility, are technical achievements unsurpassed by any other weavings of the 20th century.

Like Kashan and Isfahan carpets, Tabriz weavings capture the sophistication and refinement of the classical Safavid Court carpets. Reflected in many fine examples of Tabriz carpets is this rich heritage of the elegant court tradition combined with subtle innovations inspired by Western taste and artistry.

The Tabriz weavers drew on a varied repertoire of delicate designs: multi-faceted flowerheads, subtle arabesques, lush vinery rendered in naturalistic detail, and precise allover “Herati” patterns, all woven in jewel-toned colors.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Serapi, Part 2

Antique Oriental Rug

Antique Oriental Serapi
Courtesy of Claremont Rug Company

The women of this area were master dyers able to deeply dye the superb, silky, local wool with a great range of soft-shaded or “abrashed” color. The wide palette of hues came from many carefully brewed plants and minerals, colors for which the recipes are now lost. Watermelon to terra cotta tones came from madder root. The blue tones, from sky and aqua to periwinkle and deep navy, came from the indigo plant. Gold and yellow tones are from chamomile and a variety of other plants. The weavers also frequently used large areas of undyed and unbleached wool,whose ivory and camel tones provided contrast to the wide range of vegetable color.

Until they began rising in value in the 1980’s, Serapis were an inexpensive alternative to classical floral carpets that were often used in heavily trafficked areas of the home. This use helped to soften the color, giving the Serapis the muted tonalities they are renowned for by collectors and interior designers around the world.

The heavy use that Serapis often withstood also meant that significant restoration commonly was necessary to preserve many of the finest pieces. If done skillfully and thoroughly, restoration not only allows the continued use of these majestic carpets, but also increases their investment value. 19th century pieces with only a moderate amount of skillfully executed restoration are quite rare and, if of excellent quality and strong artistic impact, are extremely desirable.

Antique Serapis are usually found in the room size format from 9×12 to 11×14. Happily, oversize Serapis measuring 11×15 to 12×18 are sometimes found, and the best examples woven pre-1900 are deeply prized.Very occasionally extremely large antique examples woven in sizes up to 16x 26 can be found. Area-size Serapis, measuring 4ft x 5ft to 5ft x 6ft 6in are very seldom encountered and cherished by connoisseurs. Although rarely found,Serapi runners and keleges (corridor-size runners) make stunning complements to decors featuring room size or oversize Serapis.

Having had the pleasure to place so many of these wonderful carpets, we can attest to the magical element they bring to a wide range of decors. The rarity of the best antique Serapis with pure vegetable dyes, graphic designs and inspired artistry make them excellent investments, occupying an important position in both the American and international art markets.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Serapi, Part 1


Serapi Antique Oriental Rug - Claremont Rug Company

Fine 19th-century Serapis include some of the most rare and desirable large size decorative carpets. Woven in the rugged mountains of Northwest Persia, Serapis are a distinct Heriz region style, with finer knotting and more large-scale spaciously placed designs than other rugs from this area.

Although it was the grandest of the antique Heriz styles, the Serapi format is seldom seen after 1910, because of the remoteness of the mountains in Northwest Persia presented. Carpets had to be taken by their weavers to Serab, 30 miles distant, to be marketed. “Serapi” is not a place or tribal name; rather it is a market term derived from “Serab-i,” meaning “of Serab”.

Serapis combine design elements borrowed from many traditions. The bold geometric designs are probably connected to the tribal Caucasian traditions across the Aras River to the north. The elegant court carpets of Tabriz to the west certainly would have influenced the weavers’ understanding of balance and the central medallion format.

Serapi carpetswere woven on the level of a family or small workshop with multiple weavers working several years to complete each rug. The weaving was done almost exclusively by women. Highly skilled artisans, they continually reinterpreted the design as they wove, creating highly spontaneous and inventive artistry. In general, the Serapis made in small workshops are more finely woven and formal, and pieces woven on a family level are more rustic and symbolic in design.

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.