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Art Underfoot

A Carefully Chosen Oriental Rug Can Give a Lifetime of Pleasure
Linda Lynton
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 2)

Although fine Persian-style carpets were made for the Ottoman court, most of the Persian-style weaving produced today was introduced into Turkish towns during the revival that took place in the nineteenth century. At that time, Turkish prayer rugs were the thing to possess, and it is only in the past 50 years that collectors have begun to appreciate the other types of rugs that are made in this country.

Among the major rug and carpet weaving areas, the west Turkey town of Ushak is one of the most famous. Its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century "star medallion" carpets are highly coveted by collectors. Since the late nineteenth century, Ushak's urban workshops have produced large numbers of decorative, often pale, Persian- and Turkish-style rugs for European and American markets.

Extremely fine Persian-style rugs are made--usually in silk rather than wool--in Hereke. These rugs, often made to order, are small, finely detailed and generally have pale colors. Village rugs, with their typically highly detailed geometric designs, are produced in the Bergama area and in such surrounding towns as Melas, Kula and Megri. Central Turkey contains the district of Ladik, where many of the prayer rugs for which this country is famous originated.

Turkey's tribal rugs are found in eastern Anatolia. The remote villages and tribal communities of the region are culturally conservative, and their weavers are more likely to stick with traditional designs and colors. The rugs produced here often share the characteristics of those found in the Caucasus, with bright or earthy colors, bold geometric patterns and often a design that has a naive quality.

Some types of Kurdish rugs are known as Yuruk. Most Yuruk rugs are woven with medium fineness and a symmetrical knot and the pile is usually left long and shaggy, which provides extra protection from the region's bitterly cold winters. Other Kurdish rugs are similar, but the colors are often less vibrant and the patterns are more irregular. Many of the rugs traditionally have goat hair, which lacks the stability of wool and results in an irregular shape after use.

In the time of Persia's Safavid emperors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Persian towns developed the fine court rugs that are distinguished by their intricate curvilinear designs. But this large country is also home to many nomadic tribes with different histories. There are the northwestern tribes in the region adjoining Azerbaijan, the Kurdish communities spread over a wide area, and the Lurs and Bakhtiyaris to the south. Further to the south, near Shiraz, are the Qashqa'i tribes, Asshars, and the remains of the Khamseh Confederacy. In the east, the Belouchis border Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Turkmen tribes inhabit the northeast.

Although the design and technical heritage of Iran's urban manufacturers are the fine court rugs of Safavid days, many local tribal and village designs have been incorporated into their creations. Rugs from Tabriz, Kãshãn, Bidjãr and Kermãn--to name a few of the major rug-weaving centers--have recognizable differences, but since most manufacturers also make rugs to order, and are adept at copying other styles, so the local aesthetic "rules" are often broken.

One of the most famous rug-weaving towns is Tabriz in the northwest, near Azerbaijan. Most older Tabriz carpets are recognized by their symmetrical knots and a color palette that consists of soft rust red, cream and indigo. Wide, meander borders are typical and the pile is usually cut low. Tabriz produced large room-sized carpets, as well as prayer rugs with monochrome fields and images of the kind of central hanging lamps that hung in mosque entryways. Today, its weavers produce a wide variety of carpets in virtually every major style.

North of Tabriz, the town of Heriz makes some of Persia's most easily recognized carpets. Because the knot count of these carpets is relatively low, the designs are characteristically angular versions of curvilinear patterns, with cruciform medallions and long, stick-like vines. Their characteristic color scheme includes clear orange-reds, ice blue, black and ivory. Similar to Serapi carpets, which are of a higher grade, Heriz rugs have been a perennial favorite among Western rug buyers for well over a century.

Farther south is the Kurdish town of Bidjãr, which produced quantities of large, sturdy Persian carpets for the nineteenth century European (especially British) and American markets. These heavy carpets are so densely woven and have such a high thread count that they are the most durable carpets ever made. Popular colors include strong madder red, deep indigo and bottle green set against brighter highlights.


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