By Jan David Winitz, President & founder of Claremont Rug Company
Over three millennia, Oriental rug-weaving became a central craft and art form of countless peoples living in tribal, village, town, and city settings. In Part 1, I examined the fascinating background of tribal rugs. Now, I will discuss the village rug-making tradition in Persia and the Caucasus.
Among the most inventive of village rugs were those woven in the mountains to the northeast of the city of Tabriz in Persian Azerbaijan. However, I must say that as precious little documentation specific to the activities of this region in the 1700s and 1800s can be found, exactly how this artistic milieu arose is shrouded in mystery. Yet, the rugs I have been privileged to collect and present to my clients over four decades clearly speak for themselves. Their weavers demonstrated a singular confidence in spontaneous inspiration at the loom, coupled with exquisitely dyed tonalities akin to Impressionist paintings. A true folk-art movement was surely afoot!
The mountain village of Heriz was the hub of this artistic explosion. Starting early in the 19th century, this humble, backcountry village at an elevation of 4500 feet wove exquisite, densely knotted silk rugs that to this day fetch significant winning bids at auction. Although scholars I have spoken with have shrugged their shoulders as to how this came to pass, it is clear that at that time, there was great weaving prowess already in place. During the 18th century, Turks from the west and Armenians from the north moved into the area for political reasons. Both came from long-established weaving traditions that were village-based, unlike the multitude of nomadic peoples who also frequented the area.
From what can be pieced together, the Heriz silk rug weaving venture stopped as abruptly as it started. However, the production of larger geometric wool carpets, usually with dominant center medallions, known as Heriz, Ahar or Gorevan and the famed Serapis with their spacious, graphic patterns, vibrantly continued well into the 20th century.
Bakshaish, a smaller nearby village and attended hamlets, began as early as 1800 or before making enigmatic room size carpets, some with asymmetrically positioned center medallions and others with elaborate all-over patterns. These rugs were often either ethereal or earthy in coloration and captured an uncanny sense of movement not seen often in other styles.
Bakshaish rugs woven in the 19th century exemplified the native penchant for experimentation, the call to personal expression and spontaneity. These settled pastoral weavers borrowed from the tribal tradition an incredible roster of geometric shapes, along with the artistic technique of abrash (intentional color striation). Bakshaish was one of the few villages that produced larger room size to oversize carpets.
In the 19th century, there were literally thousands of rug-weaving villages in the Caucasus range, the country of Persia, and the Azerbaijanian corridor that lay between. Often, they had been populated for many hundreds of years. Living in breathtaking natural settings, their inhabitants attuned their lives to a simple agrarian routine dictated by the rhythm of the seasons. Where the artistry of tribal rugs could be said to be at once powerful and introspective, many village rugs are observant of nature’s delicate changes and celebrate its boundless beauty. This is often expressed through the use of harmonious, shifting colors that is greatly valued by connoisseurs.
19th-century village rugs were created for the use and enjoyment of the weaver’s family and as gifts for special occasions. Any surplus weavings were sold in the local market where an eager clientele was composed of international visitors, agents of the ruling family, and non-weaving households. Individual artistic nuances and insights were enthusiastically appreciated.
Other than the Heriz region, village weavings were typically created in the area size up to 5×7, runners and keleges (gallery carpets two to three times longer than their width) formats. Village men, highly skilled in natural dyeing, created family recipes that were guarded as intellectual property for generations.
The names of these folk-art rugs indicated either their tribal association, the village or province where they were created. From Northwest Persian Azerbaijan also came multi-medallioned Karajas, Serabs (often using undyed camel hair), more elemental Kurdish and Shahsavan rugs, and many others from small villages whose names have been lost over time and those whose rugs are simply called “Northwest.” In Central and South Persia, a few village rug styles are generally known, such as Malayer, Tafresh, Veramin, Lillihan, and Niriz. From the Caucasus Mountains, the Kazak rugs are often known by their village names, whereas the rest of the styles reflect their province’s name, such as Lesghi or Shirvan.
Late in the 19th century, many village weavers became part of a cottage industry initiated by merchants from Tabriz. At first, the weavers were supplied with wool to make carpets of their own invention, but by the 1910s, control over the weaving process tightened and the design pool narrowed to accommodate the taste of the burgeoning international market. Today, although the best 19th century examples have become extremely difficult to find, there remain available a variety of village rugs that are respectable representatives of this tradition, rife with spontaneity and sensitive color combinations, that flourished over thousands of years.
Bakshaish: Woven in a remote mountain village in Northwest Persian Azerbaijan, the best antique Bakshaish rugs are true connoisseur’s delights, full of unique details, intentional asymmetry and idiosyncratic takes on traditional patterns. Bakshaish weavers were masters at combining age-old geometric motifs and highly stylized renditions of classical Persian patterns, often with an intriguing use of asymmetrical design and color.
Although many Bakshaish rugs use a small-scale all-over repeating pattern known as the Herati design, the most collectible pieces employ either large-scale geometricized allover designs or intentionally misshapen center medallions on sparsely ornamented fields. Bakshaish weavers are well known for their skills with natural dyes, with a stunning “Bakshaish Blue” tone being a particular specialty, and for their use of natural, undyed camelhair.
See which of these rare, enrapturing antique Bakshaish rugs are available here, in the gallery.
Heriz: Heriz rugs present a striking hybrid of styles, combining the scale and grandeur of a city carpet with the charm and rustic appeal of traditional tribal rugs. Heriz carpets are thought to be the result of merchants from Tabriz approaching groups in the surrounding area with an existing tradition of weaving to produce room-size carpets for export.
The hallmarks of a Heriz rug is the warm-toned color palette done entirely in natural dyes, a large central medallion, and oversized corner-pieces. Heriz rugs are typically found in room sizes and larger, and have geometrically inspired designs.
To browse a selection of exquisite antique Heriz carpets in the gallery, click here.
Serapis represent some of the best-known and widely recognized Persian carpet styles, as they were the carpet of choice in many early federal buildings. Serapi carpets showcase a style that draws inspiration from both Caucasian geometric patterning and grand scale court carpets, featuring a central medallion with open reserves and bold colors.
The Serapi palette is quite vibrant, showcasing the exceptional skill set of the local women when it comes to natural dyes. The bold red tones have their origins in the madder root, while the rich variety of blues come from the indigo plant. Serapi carpets are typically found in room size dimensions, though smaller and larger carpets can occasionally be found, much to the delight of rug connoisseurs.
To view a selection of antique Serapi rugs in the gallery, click here.
Malayer: Malayer refers to rugs woven in the weaving center of Malayer and the surrounding villages. Rugs produced here are beloved as some of the most decorative village weavings, with boteh, flower heads, scrolling vines, and stylized birds being popular designs.
Malayer weavers incorporated these patterns into both the all-over designs preferred by westerners and the traditional medallion style carpets.
Malayer rugs frequently employ bold blue tones as a ground color, accentuated with a rich variety of naturally dyed hues. Occasionally one can find a Malayer rug that uses natural undyed Camelhair as a ground tone, and these are among the pieces most coveted by collectors. The best-of-the best Malayer rugs come from the village of Mishin and are known as “Mishin Malayer”.
To see more of these extraordinary antique Malayer rugs in the gallery, click here.
The village of Serab was known for producing distinctive runners and corridor carpets. Very few small size rugs and rugs 9×12 and larger were woven there, thus, are extremely difficult to find in today’s market. The traditional Serab pattern language features heavily geometric designs with multiple diamond-shaped medallions on delicately rendered latticework fields.
Serab was the one area in Persia that primarily wove rugs using large amounts of undyed camelhair of varying shades. Serab pieces tend to be finely woven and use the Ghiordes (Turkish) knot. The finest 19th century Serab rugs and runners are in high demand by art connoisseurs as their angular designs and earth tone color palettes provide the perfect foundation to contemporary artworks displayed on the walls.
To browse a selection of exquisite antique Serab carpets in the gallery, click here.
Karaja rugs represent a stylistic blend between village and tribal rug traditions. Karaja are recognized principally by their distinctive pattern, a latchhook diamond flanked by two architectural medallions along a central vertical axis.
Their patterning is always very geometric, and can be highly similar to the imagery of antique Heriz rugs, woven approximately 45 miles distant. Saturated red and indigo colors are typical. Runners and area size carpets predominate, with room size rugs woven only very rarely.
To view a selection of antique Karaja rugs in the gallery, click here.
See Our Entire Antique Village Rug Selection HERE