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The Flower Filled Rugs Of Persia
Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, was laid in his rock tomb in his garden on a couch of solid gold set on purple flowered carpets. Indeed he built his Empire on the high culture of Babylon with her gold and ivory couches, embroidered and jeweled cloth of gold garments, and her flowered and fountained gardens-this last due to the city's irrigation system.
The palace gardens, the terraced gardens of the recessed temples, the Queen's famous Hanging Garden, the gardens of the people, were all recorded in the flowered purple rugs traded throughout the ancient world.
Alexander rode his roistering miles back from India through arid Baluchistan to Babylon in a conveyance spread with the dead Darius' flowered carpets. Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Roman, put his 200 gold banquet couches on "flowered Babylon carpets of finest wool with the pattern on both sides."
Mohammedan armies took Ctesiphon with its flowered carpets. They destroyed the silk and gold garden rug, Spring of Chosroes, for its jewel flowers and leaves.
Today Persia's rugs, close clipped to show the rich pattern detail, are still full of flowers so real you want to pick them up and smell them.
Materials and Colors in Persian Rugs
Persia's antique rugs are mostly of wool. Modern rugs have cotton warp and weft and wool pile. Camel hair made the Hamadan rugs. Goat hair was sometimes mixed with wool.
The rich had rugs of silk, gold and silver. Shah Abbas' garden court and palace at Ispahan were spread with them. Similar rugs were sent to European courts during Elizabeth's time. Poland preserved some and later displayed them in an exhibit at Paris, so they are called Polonaise.
The Persians were master dyers. Their royal purple (a cardinal red), made from kermes and too expensive for other than royalty, held a place in history. For red was the joy color of the East. Madder and sheep's blood gave red too. After the discovery of America, cochineal and Brazil wood were also used.
Persia's famous color was her deep, luminous blue-the color of lapis lazuli, of old tiles-a burnished metallic blue, dark, rich, beautiful. It was made of indigo over madder-and what else? One wonders if powdered lapis lazuli, plentiful in East Persia, might have given its blue here as for Italian paintings.
The greens of garden foliage-and Solomon's magic carpet-came from overlaying indigo and yellow. Fields of crocus were grown for their saffron bearing stamens. Persian berries, turmeric and sumac also gave yellow. Gray came from gallnuts; some black from iron filings soaked in vinegar and set with pomegranate juice; and purple from indigo and madder, leeched ashes and cochineal, and from grape juice and milk.
Persian Rugs Are Flowered Rugs
Certain designs are typical of Persian rugs. The tree of life may be a flowered sprig or a full branched tree. The famous "flame design" (pear, pine cone, or river loop) maybe was a fig, as some say the fig tree was ancient Mesopotamia's tree of life. This flame (or fig) is almost invariably filled with flowers. Often it sits on a gather of leaves and a flower makes its tip. - Sehna and Sarabend rugs use this pattern extensively.
The Herati or Feraghan rugs show shaded (half light, half dark) lancet leaves closing in a rosette. The stems gather in a flower filled diamond. The whole makes the famous Herati diaper or lattice pattern over the field. Sometimes the flowering henna plant substitutes for the lancet leaves group.
The Mina Khani pattern has peony, palm.ette and henna. Five flowers-at center and corners of stem-formed diamond-fill the field. The Shah Abbas pattern (sometimes called Ispahan) includes U-shaped Chinese cloud bands, palmettes and peonies in an Ispahan red or Persian blue field.
Always the garden dominates the Persian rug with curving vines, shaded leaves, trees, and flowers "painted" with yarns in highlights, shadows, and roundness so they seem real. The nap is short so the flowers and leaves show detail as in embroidery or naturalistic painting.
Typical Persian Patterns Are Few, Borders Many
Persian garden rugs show trickling stream and center pool, sometimes tiled and sometimes with fish. Flower beds, flowering trees, flowering vines and shrubs are fenced in with taller trees, often cypress. The shrubs, stems, flowers, and leaves CURVE.
Persian Animal rugs and Hunting rugs show animals slinking through greenery, attacking each other, and being hunted by man.
Vase rugs are sometimes so flowery, leafy, and viney the vases holding the flowers are all but lost. Others, such as an old Kirman, have neat rows of vases holding red roses and swaying buds-each flower is said to be a Persian "thought bouquet."
Medallion rugs are as old as the sacred hearth rug of nomad chief which gave sanctuary as sacred as medieval church. These medallions became rich circles or star forms filled with flowers at Tabriz in Persia's golden 15th and 16th centuries.
Prayer rugs, exquisitely flowered, with ail. iridescent glow from many colors, have elaborately curved niches. Shiraz long produced very fine ones much favored by pilgrims Mecca bound. The usual Shiraz tufts of colored yarns marked the corners. The webbed ends were stitched with colored pattern.
The borders, with row on row of curving vine and graceful flower, close in the fields of Persian rugs and help identify them. Some have three or more borders, as the Shiraz, Suruk, and Kirman. Others have from seven up, such as the Sarabend, Sehna, and Feraghan.
Making and Faking Persian Rugs
The old Persian knot was the single knot, made famous by the super fine rugs of Sehna. Wind a yarn under your second finger, up and across it and down under your fore finger, then up. You have made a Persian or Sehna knot. A row of them across warp threads in a loom is held there by one or two cross threads (weft), pounded down tight against the knots with a weaver's comb. A weaver's shears trims the knot ends (pile) close to the rug so the pattern details show. Eight to 20 knots to the inch make the fine detailed pattern. The front of the rug shows the pattern in a velvety pile, the back in close packed knots.
Old rugs were all wool, vegetable dyed, except palace rugs of silk, gold, silver and jewels. Modern rugs are rarely of silk. Generally they have cotton warp and woof and wool pile. The dyes may be vegetable or analine, vegetable preferred. Antiques may be faked by fading with chemicals or washes. Even the yarn fringes at the ends may be rotted to fake worn edges.
A rug is only as strong as its back. Test its strength by pushing your fists up against it-if weak, the warp or woof will break.
The fields of saffron are dust, and the great earthen pots of the master dyers scattered and broken. But the rugs of Persia still beautify our homes with their rich garden colors and life-like flowering patterns.