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Oriental Rugs: DesignsBy Charles W. Jacobsen
( Orginally published 1951 )
The origin of designs is still quite a mystery. I do not believe anyone knows with certainty the meaning of most of the designs found in Oriental rugs and I include the weavers. There was a time when the design of an Oriental rug told, with some degree of certainty, the country and city, the village or district where the rugs were woven. That is only partially true today.
There are many hidden meanings in the designs if we knew the key to read them. We can be sure that the designs and figures are symbolical of objects in the weavers daily lives. The Iranians love a garden-it is their Paradise. Certainly many of their rugs represent a garden, full of many types of flowees and trees even hedged in with borders. Some may represent orchards and fields of flowers. Birds and animals are often found in their carpets. Many flowers we can recognize as tulip, rose, narcissus, flower of henna, pinks and many others. The rosette, which is used so much in borders of Persian rugs, is believed by some to represent the "Star of Bethlehem" or Iranian flower. The same small rosette is in the small center of the herati or feraghan design.
There are different general types of designs. One is the repetitive design all over the field which is employed in many of the Persian rugs. The principal repetitive designs of the Persians are the Herati, Pear (Palm Leaf), Gula Henna and Mina Khani. Practically all Tukoman rugs, all Bokharas, Afghans and most all Beloochistans use the repetitive designs. Those in the Bokharas and Afghans usually are octagons or other repetitive geometric figures.
A majority of the Persian rugs use the floral design. The rugs from India invariably used the Persian floral designs until recently when they began making hand made broadloom, plain rugs with an embossed or the carved effect and rugs with a plain field and a figured border. See the Chapter on Rugs from India.
Other rugs use the large medallion designs. The majority of antique carpets from Persia came with the medallion design. These medallion designs were strictly floral as seen in the Sarouks, Kirmans, Ispahans, Kashans, Kasvins, Mesheds and others. The medallion design found in many Persian rugs were also highly conventionalized. The floral was drawn in straighter or stiffer lines and the medallion was in effect geometric though the floral influence was present. This was typical of the Herez and Gorevan carpets.
The floral designs are either with an all over floral design or with a large or small center floral medallion and the remainder of the field is covered with small motifs.
Many of the old Persians also had the medallion on a plain field. The geometric designs are typical of the old Turkish rugs as well as most of the Caucasian rugs and most Turkoman rugs.
Most of the small Prayer rugs came from Turkey. There are very few Persian rugs or rugs from Central Asia in the Prayer design. Few of the Caucasian rugs came in the Prayer design.
The design in a rug will usually tell you its name. That is still true today provided you are a dealer and have kept up with the changing situation and many changes of designs.
If you looked at plates of Kirman rugs in the books written from 1900-1915, you would hardly recognize the thousands of Kirmans that came in right after World War I and up until about 1935. Now, if you look at the Kirmans of today, you will find their designs so very different from both the Kirmans of the 1900-1915 period and the Kirmans of 1921-1935 period. They are also different in color combinations.
The designs of the Sarouks have changed many times during the past one hundred years. They do continue to use the designs that were used after World War I and these were also very different in designs, texture and the color from the Sarouk you read about in the books written in the 1900-1920 period.
In general, the Caucasian rugs and the rugs from Central Asia (Bokhara types ) have adhered to the same designs from time immemorial. The Turkish rugs(none are made, today)discarded their old designs after World War I. See Chapter on Turkish Rugs.
Many of the Persians still follow the traditional designs used by their ancestors hundreds of years ago. This is especially true of the Hamadans, Sena Kurds, Bijars, Shiraz, Herez, Gorevans and many other types.
The Kirmans and Sarouks, and especially the Kirmans, are the ones that have continually changed their designs, colorings and types.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about design is the fact that no two similar designs in the same rug are exactly alike. It is the many little differences and changes that make the Oriental rug so interesting and so beautiful. If each design were exact, the rug would look more machine made and lose much of its charm. One of the most interesting points on designs is the manner in which the Persian weavers obtain certain color effects. If you will examine a Persian rug closely, you will discover that each design is bounded by a color, sometimes so fine as to be almost inperceptible. Yet, this inconspicuous outline has an extraordinary effect on the field of color it encloses. The same color will have an entirely different look or shade, according to the color of the tiny outline.
I could devote a whole book to discussing the many individual designs. Much has been written about the meaning of the Pear design (also called Palm Leaf and many other names), the Tree of Life design, the Swastika (a design that has been found in every land -- even in the Americas long before Columbus crossed the Atlantic). the Lotus Flower, Bird of Paradise, Knot of Destiny, Stars of Medes and many others. Much misinformation and much guess work has been written about these. There is not space in this small booklet to go into detailed discussion of these. I will, in a later volume, devote many pages to a detailed discussion of designs and try to clear away much misinformation that has been written by so many people on this subject.
I could repeat much I have read in all the old books, but I have never met a Persian who had often been to Persia or had lived there for many years who definitely knew the meaning of many of the designs. Much has been written to effect the Tree symbolizes divine power-and bounty, that the circle is said to represent eternity, the Palm a blessing and benediction and the LotusFlower means immortality, The Swastika is said to represent the deity of the Aryons and the motion of the earth on its axis, health, happiness and good luck.
And of course many lines from the Persian poets are often woven in the rugs. Originally (hundreds of years ago), I am sure that each one of these designs had some real significance and that they were passed down from father to son for many generations. TODAY THE FACT REMAINS THAT NOT ONE IRIANIAN IN A THOUSAND HAS ANY IDEA OF WHAT THE DESIGNS HE IS WEAVING MEAN. Usually he is simply copying the design or one his family has always used.