Silk Carpets and Rugs
Article Summary: Silk Carpets and Rugs were usually made specifically for Kings and Courts that knew exactly what they wanted. This article looks at where they originate from and why they were made.
The quality of these carpets and rugs has varied throughout the centuries as the material has gained and then lost favor with various Kings and leaders. Today the most elaborate and decorative examples of silk carpets and rugs appear to come from around the 16th Century, perhaps the most famous of which is the Vienna Hunting Carpet, which is currently held by the Vienna Museum, in Osterreichisches. One particular King, Sigmismund III of Poland, was rather particular about his silk carpets, so much so that he sent an aide to Kashan to oversee the production of rugs ordered from the area
Silk carpets and rugs at the time were not of a comparable quality to that of others. They commonly used a much lower number of knots per square inch, in the order of 200 compared with nearly 700 for others destined for sale in the markets of Europe. The main areas of silk carpet production were in North West Persia (Iran) – Tabriz, central Persia – Kashan, Joshagan and Isfahan, and Eastern Persia – Herat. Carpets that were directly ordered by order of the court could have come from any of these regions.
It would be expected that in the home area of the Shah, Tabriz, he would have had a marked influence on the design and quality of rugs and carpets produced in that area. It appears that this is in fact not the case mainly because there were sufficient high-quality artisans living elsewhere who could produce silk carpets at better prices. There were however Royal workshops set up by the Shah in the vicinity of the Palace in Isfahan, mainly in order to better supervise the production of better quality rugs and carpets and hence improve the overall quality of what was available locally.
It is important to note that when looking at a silk carpet from around the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the place of production is not really of critical importance, mainly because of the fact that the Court commissioned rugs and carpets with strict guidelines on what exactly they wanted in their design, be it strict geometrical patterns or more free flowing designs. Whatever the Court demanded, the Court received. If you go to any good museum that has rugs displayed you will note that the museum will place greater emphasis on which Court commissioned the rug, rather than the area of production.
Another interesting fact can be found hidden in written contracts from the Court of the time. It was understood even back then that no two carpet makers would make the rug using exactly the same methods. Therefore it was clearly stated that “whoever starts the rug must finish the rug”. If two people worked on the same piece, the result was often a rug that stood out for reasons such as; different number of knots per inch throughout the rug, mixed loose and tight knots, different angles of knots. These carpets and rugs had to be almost perfect – almost, but not quite. A religious belief at the time was that only Allah was perfect. For this reason each carpet would have a deliberate error weaved into the rug. It may not have been at all obvious to the purchaser of the rug, but to create the “perfect” carpet would have been a serious error for the artisan.
Carpets and rugs should not be viewed in isolation of the piece itself. Remember when you next look at a beautiful work of art, there is always a story behind it, a reason why it was made, and a history. Creations of the time were a part of that history and we are very lucky that these fine pieces of art have survived to give us an insight into what life was like all those years ago. That is why fine carpets and rugs will never lose their value and over time as people come to recognize the beauty of these items, they will increase even more. I hope that by learning a little of what life was like all those years ago you too will gain more from your silk carpets and rugs.