Persian Village Weaving Tradition
Arak District, Northwest Persia
Sultanabad carpets from the 19th century and turn of the 20th century have become perhaps the most desirable among Persian village weavings, as they appeal strongly to both connoisseurs and interior designers. These two important groups of buyers are attracted to them as outstanding examples of casual, surprisingly contemporary designs and for their sophisticated, yet often whimsical, highly decorative aesthetic. As a result, the best antique examples have become very difficult to find in the international market.
Often the finest in the antique Sultanabad style render spacious, very unique variations upon classical Persian allover patterns, such as the Herati (repeated diamond and curling leaf), the Mina Khani (repeated circular flowerhead) and Harshang (highly stylized dragon and blossom), often in subtle, glowing pastels and earth tones. Finally, a small number of pieces can be found that employ wonderfully detailed renditions of the beloved Mustafvai (stylized "Garden of Paradise") motif. Most Sultanabads feature these flowing, allover motifs, while a small number present the central medallion format, seen often in other Persian carpet styles.
The carpets from Sultanabad were a product of the cottage industry in and around this Northwest Persian village and were often produced on the family level. Therefore, they usually use a moderate weave, and somewhat thicker pile, similar to tribal and nomadic rugs. Nevertheless, they have now taken an equal seat beside the highly reputed and more finely knotted Ferahan and Mahajiran Sarouk styles from this same Arak district.
An even more exclusive class in the Sultanabad style, referred to as the "Ivory Sultanabads" for their glowing ivory to beige grounds, are now considered to be among the most highly desired carpets on the international market with good reason, for in their finest examples, their visual impact of dramatically drawn motifs against the lighter base is often beyond compare. Nineteenth-century Ivory Sultanabads are found mostly in the 9ft x 12ft to 10ft 6in x 14ft size, and larger examples create quite a stir if they are beautifully conceived and in good floor condition.
Ivory Sultanabads often possess a charming naiveté, along with a palette based in undyed sheep's wool, in hues of ivory, cream and beige. Often with lattice works of vinery and flowerheads in soft pastels, a secondary drama of shading is played out in marvelous color striations otherwise known as ‘abrash'. The finest and hardest to find of both the ivory ground pieces, and the entire Sultanabad group use allover designs of spaciously placed, extremely overscale blossoms, asymmetrically arranged across a sparsely adorned field.
In the late 1870s, a new style of Sultanabad was developed as a result of venture capital money invested by Ziegler & Co. of Manchester, England, which subsidized one-of-a-kind commissioned pieces particularly for export to England and France. This resulted in the noted "Ziegler Sultanabad" style. Distinguished by a significantly finer weave and thinner fabric, and stylish, allover patterns in delicate color, Zieglers met with great success in Europe, immediately recognized by the more decoratively inclined Western markets. Although based on classical Persian patterns, Zieglers offer delightfully inspired English translations, often to impressive overscale proportions.
Zieglers are beloved among many fine interior designers and art lovers for their marriage of causal motifs and superlative craftsmanship. Yet, another school among connoisseurs prefers the more loosely woven, heavier piled "village" Sultanabads for their highly abstracted, naive renditions of both tribal motifs and traditional Persian Court and Garden designs.
Exemplary Sultanabad carpets are preferred by many for their originality and inspired artistry, and have forged an important niche in today's decorative market for their compatibility and versatility with the finest interiors and other works of art. Because of their rarity, desirability and innovative spirit, the best 19th-century and turn-of-the-20th-century pieces will continue to grow as art investments for many decades to come.
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.