The earliest allusion to Spanish rugs was made by Edrisi, the Mohammedan geographer of the twelfth century. One of the oldest Spanish rugs in existence, belonging to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, is described at length by Dr. Sarre in his book and is used by him to show the relationship of Spanish design to that of Asia Minor, and the persistence through several centuries of certain patterns and of a distinctly Spanish technique of knotting.
This carpet, called the Castle Carpet, is only a fragment but Dr. Bode believes it to have been at least four times as long as it was wide. The field is pale pink, the borders dull blue and the colors in the pattern are not particularly harmonious. A slim tree, more like a pole, occupies the center of the field and stretches out gaunt horizontal arms from which hang castles like rigid blossoms. These form medallions of considerable size and frequency and are identical with one another. They have high pointed roofs and ornate walls. Around the narrow border runs a continuous repetition of the sentence, "There is no God but God," written in the long strokes characteristic of Spanish orthography.
Its woolen threads are not, as is usual in rugs of the Orient, knotted in a continuous column over the same warp threads, but alternate, each row leaving every other thread untied. The result is a particularly sharp pattern. The method is characteristic of rug work in Europe in the Middle Ages.
Dr. Sarre says that the pattern of this rug had its origin in the Oriental Tree of Life which originated about the year 600 and which is Islamic. It appears in Spain in 961 on a column in the Mosque of Cordova, where are found also other features present in the design of this carpet and of allied work in later centuries. In fact Spanish rugs constantly rehearse the elements of design present in the Castle Carpet.
In the inventory of Princess Juana on her marriage to the Count of Foix in 1392 five carpets made of blue wool with a design of lions, horses and doves are mentioned. In the inventory of Kaiser Karl V are listed carpets from Alcarez and in the records of the Monks of the Escurial allusion is made in 1575 to an Alcarez carpet given to Philip H. Countess d'Aulnay says that the dais of the throne room in the palace of Charles II was covered with wondrous carpets.
About 1724 carpets in the Turkish style were made in Spain under the direction of Cornelius Vandergoten. Fine specimens are found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington. These are mostly of the seventeenth century, although some belong to the sixteenth. One is knotted of colored wools on woolen warps. On its deep blue ground are three medallions, every one of which has a well-balanced arrangement of small flowers and leaves on a slender stalk. The border design is formed of vases of flowers and monsters, ending in leaf-like scrolls.
The length is nine feet ten and a half inches by five feet three and a half inches.
Antique Spanish rugs are fine and firm in texture. The so-called Gothic Sanctuary Rugs are both very attractive and very rare. The field is of soft yellow relieved by rich blue. Sometimes a deep red adds a harmonious contrast. The designs are restful and simple. Many of them are suggestive of church emblems. The lily, at times as a single flower and again in a vase is seen, and frequently a wine glass or chalice. There are graceful arabesque forms with running vines, crosses and scrolls. Fine specimens are seen in the Palace of the Escurial and in the Prado Gallery in Madrid.
In the Province of Granada is the district of Alpujarra and probably the rugs bearing the name of this district were made there. An Alpujarra rug that I owned was on a dark blue field with ivory flower-filled vases arranged symmetrically over the field. In a serrated square center was an amusing little duck-like figure with webbed feet and a spreading tail, worked in red. In the four corners were small ducks. The wide border had harmoniously-arranged plants, alternating with daisies on stalks which, however, had no blossoms. Above the ivory serrated lines of the border were three lively-looking animals resembling unicorns, and below the top border were the same creatures. Between every one was an eight-pointed star, and there were stars and small trees and ducks in the field. The Alpujarra is again being woven in Granada, and we are now seeing with increasing frequency these specimens of Spanish loom work.
( Originally Published Late 1900's )