Fine 19th-century antique Serapi carpets include some of the most rare and desirable large size decorative Persian carpets. Woven in the rugged mountains of Northwest Persia, Serapi rugs are a distinct Heriz region style, with finer knotting and more large-scale spaciously placed antique carpet designs than other rugs from this area.
Although it was the grandest of the antique Heriz rug styles, the Serapi rug format is seldom seen after 1910, because of the remoteness of the mountains in Northwest Persia presented. Persian 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”.
Serapi antique carpets 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 Serapi carept weavers’ understanding of balance and the central medallion format.
Antique Serapi carpets were woven on the level of a family or small workshop with multiple weavers working several years to complete each Persian 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 antique Serapi rugs made in small workshops are more finely woven and formal, and Serapi carpets woven on a family level are more rustic and symbolic in design.
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 Serapi carpets 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, Serapi antique Persian rugs 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 Serapi rugs the muted tonalities they are renowned for by collectors and interior designers around the world.
The heavy use that Serapi carpets often withstood also meant that significant restoration commonly was necessary to preserve many of the finest Serapi antique Oriental rugs. If done skillfully and thoroughly, restoration not only allows the continued use of these majestic antique carpets, but also increases their investment value. 19th century antique carpets 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 Serapi carpets are usually found in the room size format from 9×12 to 11×14. Happily, oversize Serapi carpets measuring 11×15 to 12×18 are sometimes found, and the best examples woven pre-1900 are deeply prized. Very occasionally extremely large antique carpets woven in sizes up to 16x 26 can be found. Area-size Serapi rugs, measuring 4ft x 5ft to 5ft x 6ft 6in are very seldom encountered and cherished by connoisseurs. Although rarely found, Serapis runners and keleges (corridor-size runners) make stunning complements to decors featuring room size or oversize Serapi carepts.
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.