Persian Village Weaving Tradition
Azerbaijan District, Northwest Persia
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 carpets were 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.
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 9x12 to 11x14. Happily, oversize Serapis measuring 11x15 to 12x18 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, Serapis 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.
Jan David Winitz, President and Founder of Claremont Rug Company in Oakland, CA, has built a global reputation among carpet collectors and connoisseurs since he founded the company-at age 25-in 1980. Born into a New York family of art collectors and scientists, "Winitz inherited two things from his grandmother: a collection of great rugs and a love of art." (Financial Times). His stated vision was, "to introduce fine families to antique carpets possessing equal or greater artistic magnitude as works of art usually displayed on the wall." Claremont Rug Company continues to be a leading source of 19th century museum-level Oriental carpets in the world. The author of "The Guide to Purchasing an Oriental Rug," Winitz has an international clientele for whom antiques are a great passion.