The Four Traditions of Antique Rug Weaving: (2) VILLAGE

By Jan David Winitz, President & Founder

Part Two of Four Parts
(Read Part One: Tribal; Part Three: Town; Part Four: City)

Oramon village in Eastern Kurdistan was built in tiers of stone and wood without mortar, typical of many mountain villages there, as well as in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.

Left: Persian Serapi, circa 1850, the style that brought renown to carpets from the village of Heriz, acclaimed for their commanding medallions and organically drawn motifs. Above right: Collector’s entry hall decorated with a small Serapi and early 19th century Bakshaish. Lower right: High-Collectible Caucasian Chi Chi, circa 1850, reflecting an exquisite design and masterfully nuanced, kaleidoscopic colors.

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 for 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 arose in this wild and undocumented area!

Masterful Persian Bakshaish woven in the 1860s, its continually changing design akin to an Impressionistic lush forest complete with birds roosting.

Circa 1900 photo of women in the village of Serab, close to Heriz, showing two side-by-side vertical looms traditionally used for weaving room-size rugs, each about 12 feet high.

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. We have not personally seen or found published Northwest Persian village rugs before the end of the 18th century. However, early in the 19th century, a humble, backcountry village of Heriz, at an elevation of 6,200 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 there was great weaving prowess already in place at that time.

From what can be pieced together, the 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.

A small hamlet in the higher elevations of the Caucasus Mountains, characteristic of the environment in which the intrepid weavers of this major tribal style lived, some of them hosting as few as 30 families.

Map of the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, and Persian areas, highlighting the major weaving villages and provinces.

Bakshaish and a cluster of smaller villages began making enigmatic room-size carpets as early as 1800 or before, 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 motifs, along with the artistic technique of abrash (intentional color striation). Bakshaish and Heriz were the two major Persian villages that produced full-scale spectrums of geometric room size to oversize carpets. These dimensions were usually woven only in the towns and cities where a stylized floral or curvilinear aesthetic was followed.

Left: Room size Persian Karaja, late 19th century, a hard-to-find style from the Heriz region. Above right: Antique copper samovars from the village of Luhij in the southern Caucasus, an important craft and weaving center since the Middle Ages. Lower right: Extremely finely knotted Gubpa Shirvan, 170 years old.

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 celebrative of its boundless beauty. This ethos is often expressed through the use of harmonious, shifting colors that connoisseurs greatly value.  

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.

A circa 1875 room-size Bakshaish, expressing effusive joie de vivre with its original rendition of the medallion and corner piece design and spirited color choices.

A comparison of the tribal and village rug weaving traditions’ treatment of the diamond shape. Left: Caucasian Fachralo Kazak—presenting tribal symbols with sharply rendered angles that speak a shared inner language. Right: Persian Bakshaish—its axis of geometricized botanical motifs acting as the effective balance point for the entire design.

Other than in 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 guarded as intellectual property for generations.

The names of these folk-art rugs indicated either their tribal association, or the village or province where they were created. For example, from the region of Northwest Persian Azerbaijan that birthed the Bakshaish and Serapi traditions, also came multi-medallioned Karajas, Serabs (often using undyed camel hair), elemental Kurdish and Shahsavan rugs and runners. Today we still see many weavings from small villages whose names have been lost over time. In Central and South Persia, a few village rug styles are generally known, such as Malayer, Tafresh, Veramin, Lillihan, and Niriz. The Kazak rugs are often known by their village names from the Caucasus Mountains, whereas the rest of the styles reflect their provincial names, such as Lesghi or Shirvan.

A rare kelege-shaped Serab Camelhair rug on grand display in the passageway of this collector’s Great Room.

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. By the 1910s, control over the weaving process tightened, and the design pool narrowed to accommodate the perceived taste of the burgeoning international market. Today, although the best 19th century examples have become extremely difficult to find, a variety of village rugs remain available that are respectable representatives of this tradition, rife with spontaneity and sensitive color combinations that flourished over thousands of years.

Above: The isolation and inspiration of village life of many weavers is vividly captured in this aerial image of a hamlet in the Persian Alborz range near the Caspian Sea. Lower left: A majestic, over 150-year-old 12×18 Serapi, offering a staggeringly beautiful color palette and overscale design. Lower right: Two 19th century Caucasian Shirvan runners add character to this contemporary bedroom.

A spectacular, spaciously designed, oversize Serapi, its soft mid-toned palette is partially the result of the high copper content in the local water that contributed to the hues’ legendary chromatic depth and radiance.

12′ 0″ x 14′ 10″
3rd Quarter, 19th Century

BakshaishWoven 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.

5′ 0″ x 6′ 11″
Circa 1900 (High-Decorative)

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.

10′ 8″ x 13′ 6″
Late 19th Century (Connoisseur-Caliber)

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.

4′ 5″ x 6′ 6″ (135cm x 198cm)
Late 19th Century (High-Decorative)

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.

8′ 0″ x 12′ 0″
Circa 1875 (Connoisseur-Caliber)

Serab: 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.

9′ 7″ x 11′ 4″
Late 19th Century (Connoisseur-Caliber)

KarajaKaraja 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.

To browse a selection of exquisite antique Veramin carpets in the gallery, click here.

6′ 9″ x 10′ 9″
Circa 1900

Veramin: Veramin are among the most seldom produced of carpets in the antique 19th-century town carpet category, and are highly prized for their consummate refinement and exquisite, luxurious weave.  Though nomad-woven rugs were produced in the region for a longer period, Veramin became an important Village-tradition weaving center of extended family during the second half of the 19th century.  
Veramin carpets are known for being durable and typically have an allover design, woven without a cartoon to a very high degree of intricacy. Antique Veramin rugs are best known for a unique rendition of the Poppy Rosette design and the rich color palette that was typically used.

To browse a selection of exquisite antique Veramin carpets in the gallery, click here.

See Our Entire Antique Village Rug Selection HERE

(Read Part One: Tribal; Part Three: Town; Part Four: City)