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Contemporary Residences are the Perfect Palette for Antique Persian Rugs

By Jan David Winitz, President/Founder of Claremont Rug Company


Antique Sultanabad Enriches Contemporary European Drawing Room

Like the evocative landscape painting, but on a more immersive scale, a rare ivory field 19th century Persian Sultanabad, carpet adds the element of art to this modernized British living room with its striking custom designed furniture.

While it may initially seem counterintuitive, we often receive requests from clients regarding how to add antique Oriental rugs into contemporary designed residences.They come to see what I first discovered 20 years ago when a client asked us to incorporate a collection of 19th century rugs into a newly built, expansive contemporary residence in Washington State. I observed that 21st century architecture is inclusive. Its open floor plans, voluminous spaces and use of exotic woods, stone and metallic materials can combine perfectly with the age-old naturalistic patterns and time-softened, vegetally dyed palettes of antique Oriental rugs.
A perfect example is the Los Angeles-area home of Jennifer Aniston, who has lately become an oft-quoted interior design aficionado who applied her modernist ethic by softening the sharp lines intrinsic to contemporary architecture.

Tehran Antique Rug in Modern Los Angeles California Dining Room with Oriental Carpets

This light-hued, extremely refined antique Persian Tehran carpet makes a major contribution to the symphony of surfaces in this innovative contemporary space. Its light base and delicate, pinpoint allover design widens the spectrum of tactile experience, adding important detail and texture to the polished metal, marble, mahogany and glass.

A recent article describes her residence as “Old World meets New World, a polyglot mix of hand-painted wallpaper and midcentury furniture, Oriental rugs and polished concrete, antique Japanese screens and Abstract Expressionist paintings.” The article includes photos of her contemporary designed study, which is counter-balanced by the earth tone palette and delicate floral lines of a 19th century Persian Tabriz rug.

In reading this article, I had an immediate affinity with Ms. Aniston’s thought process. Many of our clients’ homes are similarly strikingly modern, with enormous rooms, soaring ceilings and fewer defined spaces than more classical homes. Importantly, what these homes lack is an anchor to ground them and what they need is more soft surfaces to enhance the tactile element. Antique Oriental rugs accomplish both.

With their painstaking detail work and array of earth tone hues, antique Persian Tabriz rugs woven in the workshop of the master carpet designer, Hadji Jallili, are a profound pairing with the exotic woods and stones of much contemporary architecture.

When working with clients who have contemporary residences, we often suggest that they select rugs to effectively define space and to create intimate conversation areas in expansive rooms. We also use rugs to add color to the walls which in contemporary homes are often in metallic or neutral tones.

While I have now worked with clients on a few hundred contemporary homes, I have fond memories of two in particular. In one, a grand townhouse in Greenwich Village, our client wanted an appropriate environment for an important painting that he had just hung. The gentleman made a point of telling me that he derived as much satisfaction from the suite of carpets that created a hallway leading up to the painting as he did from the painting itself.

Laver kirman antique rugs in a contemporary family room

Offering an organic sensibility from their entirely natural materials and dyestuffs, an extended suite of 19th century Persian Laver Kirmans, beloved for their keenly observed, delicate botanical motifs, grace this all green Leeds Certified home. Decor: Sherry Williamson Design, Inc.

The other was a collaboration with clients with a magnificent contemporary residence on Cape Cod that houses a major art collection. They wanted a single rug to grace their living room. We worked closely together to create a Whole Home Rug Display of 28 High-Collectible and Connoisseur-Caliber antique rugs that helped build the full impact of the art.

One of the attributes of antique Persian and tribal rugs is their tremendous variety in size, in style, in colors and in hues. They have the ability to create fully developed environments, to establish ambient spaces and to be inclusive with the furniture and art work that share the space with them. They become an artistic and emotional bridge between the contemporary and the traditional, each enhancing the other.

Masterful & Meticulous: Antique Mohtasham Kashan Rugs

By: B. Alexandra Szerlip


The reception room of an philanthropist, an impassioned second generation antique rug collector, hosts a stunning, particularly bold room-size Mohtasham Kashan as the centerpiece when the space was not in use.

The antique Persian carpet style known as Mohtasham Kashan (Mo-ta-shom) honors the memory of the 19th century master weaver Hadji Mollah Mohammed Hassan Mohtasham who was, in turn, a descendant — and namesake — of a revered 16th century Persian poet.

Kashan refers to the Central Persian city where his workshop was located, historically a resort area frequented by the ultra-wealthy and royalty, whose support helped create a center of virtuoso craftsmanship. A German librarian, visiting during the 17th century, wrote of clay houses built along narrow alleys that were bright with skeins of dyed wool hung out to dry.

Persian Mohtasham Kashan “Vase Rug”, 4′ 7” x 7′ 1”, mid-19th century
An almost 200-year-old place woven near the beginning of the Mohtasham period, this rug captures both an ordered, formal scene and nature’s multiplicity of expression with chromatic delicacy and fascinating intentional inexactitude.

It’s highly improbable that Hassan Mohtasham actually invented the weaving style named for him, for according to Claremont Rug Company founder and president Jan David Winitz, extant examples date back to the early 19th century. Hassan Mohtasham did, though, promote the style, helping to bring it into prominence.

Though Mohtasham Kashan designs encompass a fairly broad range, from curvilinear shapes and botanical motifs (the 16th century Royal Garden of Kashan, clearly an inspiration, remains intact today) to architectural pillars (representing the Gate of Paradise), these exemplary carpets and rugs share several distinctions, including extraordinarily tightly spun foundations of white cotton warp threads and pale blue, indigo-dyed, double wefts; needle-wrapped edges (often with magenta silk); and a mind-boggling display of uber-precise detail.

Persian Mohtasham Kashan, 8′ 6” x 11′ 11”, Circa 1850
This is the result of a project that was likely years in the making, a best-of-the-best caliber room-size piece with extraordinarily fine knotting and an inimitable beauty in the drawing of its field. A one-of-a-kind border design reveals three different beaded strands meandering around the center, decorated with hanging ornaments.

And all, whether woven of first-shearing lamb’s wool or silk, Mohtashams are recognized for their exceptionally luminous pile and handkerchief-like touch, known as the rug’s “handle.” In design, the most accomplished pieces offer such a wide exploration of a complex pattern language that they could be compared to a musician’s finest solo.

Perhaps most notable and distinctive are Mohtasham Kashans’ extraordinary density, typically 350 to 400 knots per square inch. “Which means,” Winitz said, “in every square inch, there are 350 to 400 or more minute mosaic tiles that create the design. We are talking about individually hand-tied knots, fashioned from extremely lanolin-rich (thus extremely difficult to work with) yarn, fashioned prior to the invention of automated steel looms— an almost inconceivable feat of manual dexterity.”

Winitz explained that some Mohtashams boast as many as 500 knots per square inch! Consider that a dime measures three-quarters-of-an-inch across. Now imagine the width of that dime comprised of 375 meticulously uniform, nearly microscopic, horizontal knots. Most Mohtashams measure between four-by-six and five-by-seven feet. At the smaller end of that spectrum, a 500-knot-per-square-inch carpet is comprised of a total of 144,000 knots; at the higher end, 210,000. Throw in the time required to shear, card and hand-spin the wool, gather and prepare the plants and herbs to create the dyes, then the actual dyeing, then assembling the loom, and a single carpet represents at least a year of intensive work.

Persian Mohtasham Kashan antique rug in waterfront Miami Florida condo with asian inspired decor

An Asian art and antiques collector found the understated elegance of a late 19th century Mohtasham Kashan carpet created an incredible graciousness for the contemplative ambiance of this seaside sitting room.

It’s that density that allowed for such extraordinarily precise and meticulous, petit point detail that Winitz calls, “drawn” because it looks more hand-sketched tha woven. Thin, black outlines, as delicate as those made by the finest pen nib, outline a multitude of shapes, large and small. Mohtasham Kashans are noted for their complex spiral arabesques. Their weavers’ ability to create graceful, swirling lines with lyrical naturalism is unprecedented. And as with all categories of High-Collectible Oriental rugs and carpets, they exhibit a particularly artful use of color.

While some Mohtashans gain visual impact by contrasting richly saturated reds (derived from madder root or cochineal) with deep midnight blues (from indigo), many lean toward softer, pastel tones, including greens, that were difficult to achieve given that there were no direct natural dye source for the color. And yet, by overdyeing indigo with yellows (onionskin, chamomile), Kashan’s dye masters, who Winitz stressed “are more akin to chemists” managed to create delicate celadons, apple greens, mint greens, and pale turquoise. Stunning subtleties were achieved with other colors, too. Some of the finest Mohtashan carpets that have come down to us announce that mastery in spectacular, yet subtle, fashion: a flesh-toned field augmented with a range of creamy, sorbet-like apricots and corals.

The combination of delicate, almost spiderweb outlines, masterful craftsmanship and subtle shading in rugs Winitz showed me resulted in daisies, carnations, clematis, wild rose and peonies (some bursting forth, skyward, from magnificent vases) that seem almost to breathe. Acanthus leaves float, ivy tendrils sway, branch-balanced songbirds and (rarer) peacocks preen, elaborate central teardrop medallions pulse and expand. A quartet of wild boar lounges along branches above four reclining lions, all staring at nearby gazelles. A spate of monkeys munch on just-picked fruit.

Persian Mohtasham Kashan 4′ 4” x 6′ 11”, Circa 1850
Entirely singular in design, this extraordinarily crafted medallion carpet eschews the traditional corner spandrels introducing various half-revealed attendant medallions that appear to be existing on a plane beyond the border, floating on a flower strewn ground. A magical celadon to aquamarine border of great delicacy frames this scene.

Taken together, these images suggest an animated film. There’s a great temptation to luxuriate in their company with a magnifying glass in hand.

Another aspect of the Mohtasham palette is abrash (the Farsi word for “cloud”), the use of striations within a particular color, most often blue (powder blue, sky blue, cornflower blue). This technique, which may have had an unintentional start due to early weavers working with small, differing, seasonal dye batches, is all the more remarkable for having been transformed, early on, into an art form of its own, one that brings almost three-dimensional depth to two-dimensional surfaces. Its use, in combination with exceedingly compact knots, results in as many as twenty tones or shades within the space of a child’s hand.

Noteworthy, Mohtashams continued to be made into the 1920’s. One particularly spectacular silk rug, created in 1921 in shades of beige and gold, incorporated large swathes of calligraphic verses by the medieval Persian poet Sa’adi into its borders and a central motif of enormous birds of paradise. But by the 1930s, commercial pressure led to duplicates (unheard of in 19th-century pieces), and European influence introduced chrome and aniline dyes that quickly superseded traditional vegetable dye baths.

Persian Mohtasham Kashan 8′ 5” x 11′ 4”, Circa 1850
This extraordinary room size carpet’s soaring artistry, petit point knotting, and mesmerizing palette of exquisite naturally dyed colors reflect an unimaginable patience of execution that is palpable to the observer. Luminous lamb’s wool heightens the effect of the corn-silk toned field and sensitive secondary tones.

Today, the term “Mohtasham” is widely used to describe all superb-quality, lamb’s wool 19th century Kashans. Winitz says, “The best pieces are exemplars of color, pattern and scale in harmonious balance. All exhibit painstakingly fine knotting, nearly unfathomable detail work, a tremendous range and delicacy of color, and extremely luxurious pile.”

That said, the rarest and most sought-after — what Winitz terms “the high-collectibles” — remain the “early” pieces, those created between the second quarter 19th century to the 1880s. These virtuoso pieces are significantly finer, thinner and more flexible than those that followed, and the wool cut closer to the knots, another reason why the design details emerge so cleanly and sharply. Even the tapestry-like, nearly pixelated backsides of these rugs are exquisite.

That they were created at least a century after (but were very much informed by) the so-called “Golden Age of Persian Weaving” during the rule of the Safavid dynasty (also a golden age of Persian ceramics, miniatures and embroideries) is all the more noteworthy, considering that Kashan’s 19th century weavers were no longer supported by Safavid Court funding, as they had been during the 16th and 17th centuries.

This lovingly curated space features a very rare, very early Mohtasham Kashan that effortlessly coexists with this client’s wide-ranging art collection.

In 1987, Christie’s sold an 8′ x 10′ Mohtasham Kashan for just under $19,000 US. In 2004, a larger piece (just under 14′ x 23′) went under the auction hammer for $287,500 US., setting a world record. “Its celadon, green-eau de nil ground color,” wrote Hali Magazine (the international publication for carpet and textile scholarship), “made the blooms look like Monet water lilies on a dreamlike pool.” Winitz said, “Given its size and condition, the price could almost be considered a bargain today.” The record was broken again in 2010 — $345,645 US for a “tour-de-force” 8×10-footer, made during Hassan Mohtasham’s tenure and bearing an inscription cartouche immortalizing the rug’s commissioner, a local Kashan merchant.

Still, the creme de la creme rarely come to market; since 2005, only a handful of these have appeared in major auction houses. Because Winitz consistently, and strategically, purchases long-held family collections, some amassed over generations, Claremont has acquired many extraordinary examples. During their 39 years in business, a total of over 200 of what is considered, by the cognoscenti, to be the most technically advanced of all 19th century weavings, have passed through Claremont’s doors. This number points to a significantly larger output than could have been achieved by the single-family, two-generation workshop of Mohtasham and his son.

Persian Mohtasham Kashan, 10′ 5” x 13′ 10”, Circa 1875
Exemplifying the awe-inspiring combination of elegance and precision of the quintessential Persian city carpet, this oversize masterpiece with its wondrous spectrum of myriad details and sublime palette is a supreme achievement.

There is some talk within the rug market about ‘signed’ Mohtashams– meaning the workshop’s name is woven in calligraphy into borders or cartouches. This was likely done to capitalize on the Mohtasham family name which, in turn, drew gravitas from a revered, 16th-century Persian religious poet of the same name whose mausoleum still stands in Kashan today. But the signed pieces are, explains Winitz, “the rare exception, not the rule, and not necessarily the most artistically accomplished pieces. Anonymity was considered an act of humility before one’s Creator and the cosmic force that blessed the weavers and dyers with the ability to create objects of such beauty and harmony.”

It’s impossible to know how many Kashans were made in the Mohtasham style, but with or without a signature, they embody an extraordinary moment in the entire world history of rug weaving. They are the carpets of choice for many seasoned connoisseurs— people who appreciate that yesterday’s masterpieces both have the power to transform today’s homes and appreciate them as viable art investments. “There are a lot of unknowns about Mohtashams,” adds Christine Hunt Winitz, who operated Claremont with her husband, “but at the end of the day, the rugs’ spectacular artistry speaks for itself.”

Persian Mohtasham Kashan, 4′ 4” x 7′ 0”, Circa 1850
Antique Persian Mohtasham carpets as a whole reflect an incredibly wide range of artistic exploration. While many offer colorful fields of densely configured blossoms, this brilliant example emphasizes the larger color zones themselves, with complementary shifting tones of oranges and blues that combine to mesmerizing effect.

Three of Claremont’s clients have assembled collections of 30-45 Mohtasham examples. “Each of my Mohtashams is a world unto itself,” said one, “a world I study endlessly.” Another client, who had previously focused on tribal rugs, wrote to Winitz of his excitement after having included a circa 1875 room-size Mohtasham into the mix. “Walking around the house, I always alter my course to pass by this incredible work of art.”

“Only poets could have designed it,” observed Mercedes Palau-Ribes, a veteran, Madrid-based art historian, more familiar with 19th century paintings, who was recently shown her first Mohtasham Kashan. “And only angels could have woven it.”

The Brilliance of Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh)

By: B. Alexandra Szerlip


A large seating area in this grand, casual home hosts a luxurious Camelhair Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rug.

A large seating area in this grand, casual home hosts a luxurious Camelhair Bakshaish rug.

“It could be argued that of all the categories of antique Oriental rugs, Persian Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) weavings have the most exuberant and idiosyncratic world view,” says Jan David Winitz, president and founder of Claremont Rug Company whose art-caliber inventory draws an international clientele.

Scholars believe that the peoples of this region first learned the art of symmetrical knotting from Seljuk invaders in the 11th century. Most 18th and 19th-century Middle-Eastern weavings — be they Persian Kashan, Kirman, Tabriz or Turkish Herekes or Mudjur — can be recognized by a certain regularity of design or pattern. What sets Bakshaish (pronounced back-shy-EEsh) rugs apart, and what makes them increasingly beloved by knowledgeable collectors, is their astonishing diversity.

Created in a series of villages tucked into the remote Elbrus Mountains of Azerbaijan in Northwest Persia, 60 miles east of the major city of Tabriz, these astonishing loom works embody the visual and metaphysical DNA of the various cultures which, over the course of many generations managed to navigate an often-inhospitable landscape to reach them — Persians, Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Turkomans.

A large seating area in this grand, casual home hosts a luxurious Camelhair Bakshaish rug.

A large seating area in this grand, casual home hosts a luxurious Camelhair Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rug.

The result of this ongoing cultural “mix” was that staid, and traditional design configurations were forsaken in favor of improvisation. Supported in part through exposure to the smaller geometric tribal rugs of the nearby Caucasus Mountains, symmetry was replaced with asymmetry and abstraction, always with an eye to experimentation and a freeform playfulness.

Winitz enthuses, “Bakshaish weavers (Bakhshayesh) were masters of deconstruction, of ‘taking apart’ classic styles and reinventing them as something uniquely their own. Their rugs are, in fact, the legitimate precursors of the abstraction that characterizes much of 20th-century Western art.

Until recently, little has been written about these particular masterworks, which are by far the most idiosyncratic of larger Oriental rugs. The name Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rarely even appeared in print, with all the rugs of the vast Azerbaijan region lumped together as “Northwestern.” Even the ground-breaking German rug scholar Ulrich Shurmann in his book “Oriental Carpets” (1968), refers to the provenance of a Dragon Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rug as “Heriz,” the largest town and carpet market in Azerbaijan.

And as those of other Persian weaving centers overshadowed the limited number of Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) looms, these carpets were rarely seen (or appreciated, when they were) by Westerners. Adding to the lack of exposure was a preference by gallery owners, both in the East and the West, for more traditional, formal designs and extremely tight weaves of the rugs from the Persian cities to loosely knotted rustic, carpets from Bakshaish with their irregular, geometric designs.

A large seating area in this grand, casual home hosts a luxurious Camelhair Bakshaish rug.

ABOVE, FROM LEFT:
Mid-19th century Persian Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh)) with a singular design that includes horses and riders on brilliantly striation field.
Persian “Dragon Rug” shows exotic dragon forms within the medallion and rapturous use of “ Bakshaish blue”, c. 1875.

Fast-forward to the 1990s, when Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rugs were finally “discovered.” Prices in Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions were regularly reaching their highest bids and Bakshaish began showing up in the retail offerings of the most prestigious carpet galleries worldwide.

Today, the supply of art-caliber 19th century Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) carpets in floor- worthy condition is drastically limited, and their prices reflect this scarcity. Winitz is one of the few purveyors to offer a range of fine examples of Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) artistry, who works with connoisseurs and collectors, individually answering to their requests with the finds of his global buying network and holding private collection events where the rarest pieces of all the important rug styles are offered.

“The Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) weavers were unabashedly creative,” Winitz explains. “Their best pieces are filled with constant irregularity, with enigmatic shapes and unexpected color shifts.” Seldom is one motif woven twice in exactly the same way; instead, they reappear as whimsical, idiosyncratic. Yet through it all, the weavers managed — and here’s their true genius — to meld and integrate the seemingly disparate into artistic balance and harmony. Winitz emphasizes, “In a highly successful Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rug, every aspect of the composition stands independently, yet works together as a completely harmonious whole.”

In a gracious den of a connoisseur couple, this High-Collectible Bakshaish carpet adds much enjoyment to their daily visits to this room.

In a gracious den of a connoisseur couple, this High-Collectible Bakshaish carpet adds much enjoyment to their daily visits to this room.

In good weather, four to six women (friends, family members, neighbors) would sit close together on a handcrafted scaffold loom attached to the outside wall of a weaver’s home. Depending on the size of the carpet they envisioned, the loom might rise as high as 18 feet. The head weaver would begin chanting “instructions,” based on a loose drawing or sketch. Then all would chant together, establishing a consistent rhythm.

“The variety that emerged from this small region was tremendous,” adds Winitz. “Think jazz versus symphonies or concertos. The weavers would get together and just ‘jam’. Each new carpet was a new melody.” As in the finest musical improvisations, everything came together as a unified, cohesive whole.

A complex and meticulous one. It wasn’t unusual for one piece to take nearly a year to complete. And yet, they managed to capture and embody spontaneity in the final result.

Center medallions appear boldly, intentionally off-center, often seeming to move or float.” Winitz said, “The finest Bakshaishs (Bakhshayesh) were created by teams of tremendously dexterous weavers who certainly had the skill to position a perfectly shaped medallion at the exact center of their rug, but they simply preferred not to, because they believed that a much greater visual impact could be achieved through the collaboration of symmetry and asymmetry than by the use of symmetry alone.”

Persian Bakshaish Camelhair “Tree of Life” design carpet with eccentric “Bakshaish blue” border, 3rd quarter, 19th century.

OPPOSITE, FROM LEFT:
Persian Bakshaish Camelhair “Tree of Life” design carpet with eccentric “Bakshaish blue” border, 3rd quarter, 19th century.
Important Persian Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) carpet with a highly asymmetrical medallion and unfettered playfulness in its drawing, early 19th century.

Even repetitive palmettes, crosses and cartouches, set into diamond latticework, contain unique variations. Vertical borders are often narrower than horizontal ones, or vice versa.

While motifs at the top and bottom “correspond,” they also exhibit astonishing variety. Given a field of rosettes, each will be slightly different. Flowering trees tilt and sway at various angles, tendrils and serrated leaves seem to float, even move.

A magnificent, highly collectible ‘Tree of Life’ Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) from Claremont’s current inventory features a spacious ‘shield’ border that counterbalances a dense, tree-strewn center field.

Another 1875 Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) offers a central field of muted, almost pastel tones of more than a dozen medallions “held in” by a mustard border of blossoms and winding vines. Still, others boast folkloric borders dense with what appear to be stylized butterflies and kites, or fields dotted with horses (each with a different saddle) or human figures with hands on their hips.

A mid-19th century “center medallion on an open field” Bakshaish carpet brings patina and striking pattern language to this contemporary loft in a renovated warehouse space.

A mid-19th century “center medallion on an open field” Bakshaish carpet brings patina and striking pattern language to this contemporary loft in a renovated warehouse space.

At times, the geometrics of Bakshaish rugs suggest a bird’s-eye view. One “Garden of Paradise” Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) in Claremont’s trove boasts variations of cylindrical, evergreen-like trees as if seen from above, surrounded by exuberant yellow, red and blue flowering plants, and weeping willows, the natural “organic” forms bound – and counterpointed – by a stately border of stylized rosettes and oak leaves. (Rosettes represent Nature cultivated by man, while the oak leaves recall Nature in its “un-tamed” state.) Technically two-dimensional, this brilliantly conceived rug manifests three-dimensional depth and perspective.

And then there are the dragons. Associated with evil and chaos in the West, dragons were revered in the East as the heavenly force, the guardians of springs and waterways, creators of lightning and, ultimately, symbols of good luck. Highly stylized dragon forms sometimes appear in tandem with phoenixes, a mythological pairing that represents Yin and Yang, female and male, the two elemental forces that combine to create the animated world.

Fifteenth-century fragments from this region reveal an undeniable link to the construction and prominence of the dragon form still alive in the 19th-century Bakshaishs (Bakhshayesh) we see today.

Winitz believes that the seasonal solitude and the daily dramatic weather changes of their mountainous environs are the basis for their very distinctive and profound artistic tradition. He said, “Surrounded by the peaks of the Elbrus range, (the highest soaring above 8,000 feet) amidst the constantly changing mountain light, I can see that the weavers were inspired to create abstracted, impressionistic depictions of the strength and grandeur of the landscape around them.”

A mid-19th century “center medallion on an open field” Bakshaish carpet brings patina and striking pattern language to this contemporary loft in a renovated warehouse space.

The distinctiveness of this contemporary home with its mid-century modern sensibility is heightened by the alluring artistry of a 150-year-old Bakshaish oversize carpet.

The Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) homeland informed both human longevity and the luminous, lanolin-rich wool obtained from local sheep. Abundant rainfall encouraged lush, hardy plant life, which in turn provided materials (flowers, roots, bark, rinds and nut shells) for radiant natural dyes. Wild indigo, in particular, thrived here. Though the plant is notoriously difficult to work with, the Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) weaver’s masterful and quixotic dye techniques resulted in strikingly iridescent, and ultimately resilient, tones (ranging from azure, turquoise, peacock and teal so uniquely vibrant that they’ve come to be known, collectively, as “Bakshaish Blue.”

The carpets were woven out of doors. In some cases, horizontal, intentionally variegated bands of lighter color were woven in, likely meant to simulate rays of sunlight falling across the carpet. Always a brilliant stroke!

Along with sheep’s wool was the much rarer, undyed camel hair. With breathtaking skill, the Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rug makers showcased its shifting tones, from blond and beige to shades of coffee and goldenrod. Such neutral colors are, it turns out, particularly well-suited to 21st-century Western homes, where they complement a broad range of contemporary building materials, like wood, stone, and glass, as well as contemporary paintings, photographs, and sculpture.

Inspired by his many collections, this art aficionado chose a magnificent one-and-one-half centuries-old Bakshaish carpet for his master bedroom.

Inspired by his many collections, this art aficionado chose a magnificent one-and-one-half centuries-old Bakshaish carpet for his master bedroom.

The majority of today’s most sought-after Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) weavings were made during the first third-quarters of the 19th century, created by and for the weavers themselves (sometimes as a wedding gift, or to celebrate the birth of a child), and for tribal khans, who were patrons of the arts. They can be as large as 12×19 or as diminutive as 2×4. By the 1880s, Tabriz merchants set up workshops with an eye to commerce and a Western market and the maverick Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) pattern language becoming increasingly standardized and their vast pool of colors significantly limited.

The Bakshaish weavers created a rich, irreplaceable, labor-intensive legacy with the materials available to them— hand-carted, hand-spun, hand-dyed and hand-woven manifestations, “maps” if you will, of both their world and their world view. Remarkably, that legacy continues to resonate today, a great gift to collectors worldwide, who desire to live with the timeless beauty, exuberance and craftsmanship of these venerable antique weavings — true works of art that “speak,” among other things, of achieving harmony in the midst of an always less than harmonious world.

Watch educational video on antique Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) rugs below.

    Learn More About the Fascinating History of Antique Bakshaish (Bakhshayesh) Weaving, Click Here. >


B. Alexandra Szerlip is a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and author of The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes & the Invention of 20th Century America (Melville House, NY/London), voted “One of the Top Ten Arts Books of 2017” by the American Library Association.