When you buy an oriental carpet you are not just choosing an object of great beauty to enhance your home, you are buying part of a great tradition that stretches back to before recorded time.
Academics have argued long and hard over precisely where and when the first carpets(or, more accurately, simple floor coverings) were made. some favor the early Egyptians others the Chinese or even the Mayas. others argue that all these people and more probably began to make carpets at about the same time. Though they had no contact with each other, they were driving by the same impulse to make themselves warm and comfortable. woven carpets were softer than animal skins, and therefore more suited to their purpose.at this stage carpets were unlikely to have had any artistic pretensions, they were simply functional items.
It was only as the life of these early peoples became easier that they were left with the time to ornament themselves and their surroundings. we know that this began many centuries before christ- the many cave paintings which still remain around the world indicate that early man very quickly began to explore his artistic talents. It is likely that the earliest carpet designs were similar to these cave paintings, depicting stylized scenes of hunting, animals, and people.
some of the earliest literary references to carpets are made in the Old Testament and in many classical writings, including Homer’s Iliad and the plays of Aeschylus. In Agamemnon, Clytemnestra strews fine carpet at the feet of her home-coming husband. He protests that to walk on this carpet is an honor reserved for the gods, though eventually he is persuaded, much against his will:
great the extravagance, and great the shame I feel
to spoil such treasure and such silver’s worth of webs.
it is apparent, even from this brief example, that by the time Aeschylus was writing, in about 500BC, richly worked carpets they are being made and were held in high esteem.
In fact, the earliest surviving carpet dates from about the same time. it is called the Pazyryk, after the region in the Altai mountains Siberia where it was found. This beautiful carpet, piled in wool on a wool and camel-hair foundation, formed part of the funerary accouterments of a Scythian prince. In ancient times, the bodies of the aristocratic were buried with all the possession necessary to insure they passage to the next life and preservation of their earthly status there. Such tombs made rich pickings for grave rubbers and Scythian prince’s tomb was robbed shortly after it was sealed. The carpet, however, was left behind and ironically this rubbery insured its preservation, since the imperfectly sealed tomb allowed water to seep in with then frozen into parma-ice, protecting the rug from ageing and decay. It remained untouched until 1947, when it was discovered by a Soviet archaeological team.
It is clear from the great skill with which this carpet ( rug ) was made that the practice of weaving must already have been well established before this time. Although the Pazyryk carpet is the earliest complete carpet in existence, there are fragments form earlier times which have been attributed to many part of the Near and Middle East. Since this carpet were mostly made of wool, many thousands more must simply have decade over the centuries. Recently, finding of complete pile weavings made entirely of flax have been published. These textiles, which are probably bed covers, were excavated in Tomb of Ka in Egypt earlier this century and have been preserved almost undamaged. They date from about 1500 B, some 1000 years before the Pazyryk.
there are a variety of carpets and fragments both piled and flat -woven, which date from between the 5th and 15th centuries AD. many are associated with the Coptic Christian cultures of Egypt and Nubia and are generally dated to between the 6th and 9th centuries. the earliest Turkish rugs are usually dated to the Seljuk period between the 12th and 14th century and there are also many Spanish rugs from the 14th and early 15th centuries made by the Moors and therefore part of the Islamic weaving tradition.nothing much survives of complete or nearly complete Persian carpets from before the early Safavid period at the beginning of the 16th century.
The 'Ardebil' carpet, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is probably the best noun of all old Persian carpets. it is one of a pair which came to England in 1893, virtually in totters. the decision was made to sacrifice one carpet so that the other could be restored. the cost of this work was prohibitively high, even for a museum, and it was only after an extensive public appeal that sufficient funds were raised for work to go ahead. there can be little doubt that in this case, the end justified the means. the carpet, measuring 38 long by 18 wide, is an extremely fine specimen bearing an inscription by the weaver. this inscription reads:
I have no refuge in the world other than thy threshold. there is no protection for my head other than this door.
the work of the slave of the threshold Maqsud of Kashan in the year 946.
translating these data into the Christian calendar shows that the carpet was woven around the years 1539-40 during the reign of Shah Tahmasp, one of the great patrons of carpet weaving. the incomplete remains of the other 'Ardebil' carpet, which bears the same inscription and date, was given by J. Paul Getty to the Los Angeles County Museum.
other great carpets exist now only in legend. of these, perhaps the most famous is the Spring Carpet of Chosroes. Chosroes I was a Persian king who ruled from 531 to 579 AD.to celebrate his defeat of the Romans and his Conquest of Southern Arabia he ordered that a wonderful carpet be made. it was very large, perhaps as big as 400 long by 100 wide, and represented a garden; it was inset with hundreds of Jewels. in such an arid country, gardens were highly prized, and this carpet was so large that the king could walk around its 'paths' and admire the fruits and flowers work in precious stones and gold thread. Unfortunately for present-day enthusiasts, the Sasanian Persians were defeated by Arab Invaders at the Battle of Ctesiphon in 641 AD and the Spring Carpet, which was one of the great treasures of the Royal Place of Ctesiphon, was cut into pieces as booty.
y the advent of Islam in the seventh century. carpet weaving has already been in existence as art for at least 2000 years. however, from this time on the history of Islam became in many ways the history of the carpet. as the faith was spread by warlike tribes, a large part of the Near East and Central Asia was converted and subjugated, and this effective Centralization of power created a stable Society. the energies which had once been put into war were now directed towards artistic and social achievements.
A brilliant period of Islamic art began with the rise to power of the Seljuks, a Turkic people from Central Asia, in the 12th to 13th centuries. As the Islamic artistic style flourished under court patronage, the great artists began to apply the same design to carpets. in Persia, existing geometric patterns were gradually replaced with more refined flowering patterns. Particularly popular was the range of designs based on the central Medallion which was also a firm favorite of illuminators of the Koran, the Islamic holy book.
Weaving was not limited to carpets. the nomadic people living in a largely barren and arid land had, and still have, a consuming passion for color and pattern. Thus every household item, from the great bags which were their 'cupboards' to the bridles of the horses and camels (the nomads' most prized possessions) were Fashions from intricately knotted or woven pieces. But carpets were not just prized for their beauty. for both city dwellers and Nomads, they are also a symbol of Financial Security. while some carpets are necessary for a comfortable life, others were woven for sale in the bazaars or kept as a sort of insurance in case of financial hardship later on.
The trade-in carpets probably reached Europe for the first time with the return of the 11th century crusaders. certainly, by the fourteenth century, they were so popular that they begin to appear in European painting. Italian artists frequently used these richly patterned rugs in their works and many great public figures, including Queen Elizabeth I of England, were painted against a background of carpets. indeed, one type of richly patterned red carpet is it still sometimes known as 'Holbein' after the court artist in whose painting they so often appeared. another is called: Lotto' after the 16th-century Italian painter for the same reason.
At this time styles constantly began refined and developed, often under the patronage of the court. No one dynasty had more influence on carpet production than that of the Safavids, who ruled through the 16th and 17th centuries. It was during this period that court painters were first given the opportunity to influence design resulting in some of the finest carpets ever made. At the same time, carpets reached new heights of popularity in Europe.
To Be Continued …