The antique rugs of Ispahan (so called), are now known by most authorities as Herats. From investigations this seems to be a fact, at any rate, the rugs are magnificent, extremely rare and very valuable. The modern Ispahan rug is absolutely not in the same category with the older rugs. The texture of the former is, however, firm and durable. There are several interesting Herat rugs in the Imperial Museum at Constantinople. They appear to have been woven in the sixteenth century.
Garden rugs. There is a romantic fascination about this rare type of rugs. The usual pattern is laid out in squares and oblongs representing flower beds, pools, paths and streams flowing into channels. The pattern is said to have its origin in a woven textile made for Chosroe I, Sassanian king of Persia in the sixth century, and which, according to the story, was designed to bring into the palace the spirit of flowering summer and to represent a royal pleasure park. The ground is said to have been of gold thread and the leaves of silk. Inlays of precious stones and crystal enhanced the beautiful texture.
In the year 637 the Arabs plundered the palace and took possession of the rug, the beauty of which made such an impression upon them that descriptions of it were written in their chronicles. Moreover, the tradition of its decorative scheme was so poignant a thousand years after its capture as to suggest to the Persians a revival of the same design in a true knotted rug. The excellent technique of the rare existing examples of this type of rugs sets it apart from other rugs composed like it of small fields.
Notable among these early Garden rugs is one which belongs to the late sixteenth century and now owned by Dr. Figdor of Vienna. Another, equally fine, has arrived in the United States by way of Constantinople and Berlin, where it was in the collection of Wagner, the antiquarian.
The Figdor rug is of wool with a silk warp. Gold and silver threads are interwoven, particularly in the flower and animal forms, in a manner to suggest the texture of the so-called Polish rugs. Birds and flowers are extraordinarily vibrant in color. A four-legged creature defying classification moves under the shade of trees. A slender border framed by two plain bands is filled with delicate tracery of vines broken by flower forms and lancet leaves. It is not, however, laid out in the squares characteristic of Garden rugs, though it has the typical canals.
The carpet from the Wagner collection can not be ascribed to an earlier period than 1640 and may be Kirman work. It shows a central pool from which issue four canals and animals playing among the surrounding trees.
Later rugs of this type are stiffer in design. Good examples are those in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, the one formerly in the collection of Mr. Lamm at Naesby, Sweden, and others loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Frankfort Museum of Decorative Art. The Lamm rug seems to have been produced in the seventeenth or possibly the eighteenth century and may be Shiraz work.
In the Art Journal in 1891 Sir Martin Conway describes a rug once in the possession of Sir Sidney Colvin and which since has disappeared. He thinks its original length must have been eighteen or twenty-seven feet and the predominant color was blue, shown in the paths and border. In the center was a pavilion from which emerged four streams. At the corners were four reclining trees. Parterres of flowers, branches of trees, and birds gave beauty and naivete to the field. The wide border has a design of cyprus trees, shrubs and billing birds.
Sir Martin also describes in the Burlington Magazine a similar rug which is woven of wool throughout and is thirty-one feet long by twelve feet three inches wide. In the center is a pool or tank and along each side are four pavilions with four trees at right-angles to them. The border, composed like that of the Colvin rug, of cyprus trees and flowers surrounds the two principal canals, forming a cross through the middle of the carpet. This example and that of the Lamm rug are, according to Sir Martin, the only complete survivals of this type known today.
Vase rugs show a certain type of floral pattern which uses blossoms en masse or single flowers set in vases. Their forms and colors date them in the second half of the sixteenth century, the Sefevi period, during which knotting was in the state of highest perfection. The blossoms often are of great delicacy and are arranged with symmetrical precision. Diagonal vines, frequently so slim in outline and inconspicuous in color as to escape notice, make a background for the vase motifs, which may be surrounded by flower forms of an angular and much conventionalized type. The borders usually are narrow, but when wider they remind one of the borders of animal rugs to which, undoubtedly, they are related. Such carpets are to be seen in the museums and collections of England, Germany, Austria and Sweden. England is particularly rich in them.
A rug in the Ottoman Museum, Constantinople, is of special magnificence. The field is filled with diamond forms, each showing a different floral design. The Leipzig Museum of Decorative Art has a vase rug into which animals are introduced, which is interesting as pointing again to the relationship between these types.
( Originally Published Late 1900's )