Area Rugs History Blog | Hand Made
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Hand Made Traditional Rugs
Hand made Traditional rugs are woven exclusively by hand in the areas of their origin, from the locally available material, with individual colors and unique designs passed along from generation to generation. Traditional rugs usually refer to either traditional Oriental or Persian patterns. With unique designs that can be traced back to past centuries, these rugs are beautiful and finely detailed in pattern and colors. The art, that necessity created, comfort nourished, and luxury matured, has been a process of slow development. People of different races have contributed towards the art of rug-weaving in their own traditional style and have thus preserved the art for many centuries.
There are no records to definitely indicate in what land the art of rug-weaving originated but evidence that now remains points to the civilizations of the Euphrates or the Nile, as the birthplace of this art. Monuments of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia bear witness that the products of the hand loom date a considerable time prior to 2400 B.C. There seems to be a consensus of opinion among archaeologists that the art of rug-weaving was in existence earlier than the 24th century B.C.
The first people to associate with the art of weaving rug, with certainty, were the ancient Egyptians. From ancient literature we learn that the palaces of the Pharaohs were ornamented with rugs and that Cleopatra was carried into the presence of Caesar wrapped in a rug of the finest texture. At Beni-Hassan, on at least two of the wonderful rock-cut tombs, dating 2800-2600 B.C., there are pictures of weavers at work. At Thebes a fresco, dating 1700-1000 B.C., represents three men weaving at an upright loom. The supply of skins having been found inadequate, ancient Egyptians developed the art of making rugs from papyrus. The Egyptian rugs were not made of the same material and weave as the Oriental rugs of today. The pile surface was not made by tying small tufts of wool upon the warp thread. The Chinese seem to have been the first to have made rugs in this way.
The rich valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates were inhabited by Sumerians and Accadians. About the year 3000 B.C., the Semitic race of Chaldees subdued Sumerians and Accadians, and about the year 2500 B.C. built the city of Babylon. By encouraging manufactures, art, and science, Babylonians became noted for their delicate fabrics, magnificent temples, and knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. From classical literature we learn that when Alexander the Great defeated Persians, he honored Cyrus the Great by visiting his tomb and found a Babylonian carpet of a very fine fabric in Cyrus tomb. There is unmistakable evidence of the antiquity of a high state of the textile art among the ruins in the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
About the year 2000 B.C. a number of tribesmen, including Abraham, migrated with their flocks to the upper valleys of the Tigris and founded Nineveh. A century later the land became known as Assyria. From Egypt and Chaldea the manufacture of rugs was carried into Assyria, and then into Asia Minor. On carved walls of the palaces of Nineveh, where dwelt the rulers of Assyria over three thousand years ago, are elaborate drawings indicating that carpets of remarkable workmanship were then in use. In the borders of some of the robes worn by the rulers are designs of rosettes and latch-hooks, and on one is depicted, the tree of life, similar to what may be seen in modern rugs. The Tree of Life is the motif of most of the Persian rug designs. In design and color the rugs woven today in the Orient are similar to the Assyrian and Babylonian textile fabrics of 1000-607 B.C. (Fall of Nineveh) and 538 B.C. (Fall of Babylon). At that early period these were used for awnings and floor-coverings in the palaces of the Assyrian kings Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Sardanapalus.
Persia acquired the art of rug-weaving from Babylon many centuries before Christ. In the year 538 B.C. Cyrus, leader of the Persians, diverted the waters of Euphrates, surprised Belshazzar in his banquet hall and became master of Babylonia. The complete subjection of Asia Minor followed, and for the next two centuries Persians were the dominant power in Western Asia. For a long time the industry of rug-weaving was supreme in the countries mentioned, but about 480 B.C. it arrived at a high degree of perfection in Greece. Later, the art was corrupted by the Byzantine influence. In the year 331 B.C. Alexander, a great leader of Greeks, defeated the armies of Persians and the Persian Empire melted away. From ancient literature we learn that when Alexander visited the tomb of Cyrus, he found a Babylonian carpet of a very fine fabric in Cyrus tomb. Tradition has it that long before the days of Alexander the Great, rugs were woven at Shuster, solely for kings’ palaces, and on the finest gold warp.
About the year 226 A.D. an able leader of one of the Persian tribes founded the dynasty of the Sassanides, which during the reign of Chosroes (531-579 A.D.) and his grandson Chosroes II (590-628 A.D.) ruled over the country from the Oxus on the north to Arabia and Egypt on the south, and from India on the east to Assyria on the west. During the time of the Sassanian kingdom carpets of elaborate design and finish were produced in Mesopotamia and Syria. Most of them were of the wool of sheep or goats; and in them were represented designs of trees, birds, animals, and other figures. When Ctesiphon fell into the hands of the Arabs in the year 637 A.D., they found in the royal palace a colossal carpet of 1051 square metres, which was originally made for Chosroes I. The carpet was called the Spring of Chosroes because on it was represented a beautiful pleasure ground with brooks and interlacing paths, with trees and flowers of springtime. It was also called the Winter Carpet because it was used in bad weather, when real gardens were unavailable. Its material consisted of silk, gold, silver, and precious stones. It represented the importance of the textile art during the Sassanian dynasty.
After the fall of the Sassanian dynasty, in the seventh and eighth centuries the Saracens came into power in the Persian Empire and in the African and Syrian provinces. Saracen was the name given by the later Romans and Greeks to certain of the nomadic tribes on the Syrian borders of the Roman Empire. Later, the name was applied to the Arab followers of Mohammed. On their western campaigns, the Saracens carried rug-manufacture into Sicily, Spain, France, and Italy; and thus it was introduced throughout Europe. The conquests of Mohammedans had not only a political and religious significance, but also an important influence on art at a time when Europe was sunk in ignorance and barbarism. The Caliphs founded great capitals in Assyria, Egypt, and Spain, and built palaces that have histories which sound like fairy tales. Castle of the Alhambra still remains as a powerful reminder of their taste and artistic genius. It is largely to the influence of this race that were due many of the beautiful Spanish rugs such as Queen Eleanor in the thirteenth century took to England from Cordova and Granada, as well as those of other periods. Moreover, in some of the choicest pieces of Asia Minor and Persia, woven during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, are traces of this early Saracenic art.
In the middle of the thirteenth century, when Mongols captured and sacked Bagdad and, crossing the Tigris and Euphrates, pillaged the important cities of Asia Minor and Persia, there was no longer the same incentive to work, so that art for a time languished. But in some cities the artistic spirit of the people prevailed over the loss of independence, and the more skilled workmen were encouraged by their new masters, who, recognizing the beauty of the Persian carpets, sent many Persian artists to China and brought many Chinese artists to Persia, that the different races might derive advantages from the instruction of one another. With all his atrocious barbarities, Tamerlane had a higher appreciation of art than his Mongolian predecessors. At his capital were assembled skilled artisans from Eastern and Western Asia; and there at the beginning of the fourteenth century European travelers saw innumerable art treasures, including carpets of wonderful workmanship and beauty.
The manufacture of rugs was introduced into India by the Mohammedans at their first invasion in the beginning of the eleventh century. Mohammedans were still in ascendency, when Tamerlane crossed the mountains and attacked Delhi. After the lapse of more than a hundred years his descendants, Babar, Akbar, and Shah Jahan, rose to power. The magnificence of their courts and the splendor of the temples which Moguls built stimulated Indian art; and under the instruction of Persian artisans, who were induced to settle in that country, the natives attained their highest skill in weaving.
With the death of Tamerlane, in 1405, the Ottoman power in Persia and Asia Minor rose again but Shah Ismael of the family of the Safavids defeated the Turkomans in 1502, and founded a new dynasty in Persia. With his rise began one of the most splendid periods in Persian history. Within a few years victories extended his empire from the Euphrates to Afghanistan and from the Oxus to the Persian gulf. The golden age of Persian art started when Shah Abbas of the Safavid dynasty encouraged art even to the extent of sending to Italy, for study, a number of the most skilled artists of Persia. These in time returned and exerted an influence that appeared in the more elaborate designs of carpets of a subsequent period. Various kings of Persia cultivated certain branches of art and industry, but Shah Abbas especially gave a decided impetus to rug-weaving. He had a particular fondness for the beautiful creations of this industrial art. It is also probable that he rendered valuable assistance to King Akbar of India in founding carpet-weaving in that country.
The Arab conquerors of Spain, or the Moors as they are often called, are believed to have taught the Spaniards and Venetians the art of rug-weaving. It is believed that in the sixteenth century, when the Spaniards arrived in that section of North America which was inhabited by the Pueblo tribe of Indians, they communicated to them the industry of weaving rugs, and that the Pueblos taught it to the Navajos. Thus it appears that the weaving of traditional hand-made Navajo rug was a result of the Moors’ invasion of Europe. The sheep, which are raised by thousands, were also introduced by the Spaniards.
References & Thanks to:
1) Title: Rugs: Oriental and Occidental, Antique & Modern by Rosa Belle Holt
2) Title: Oriental Rugs, Antique and Modern by Walter A. Hawley
3) Title: The Practical Book of Oriental Rugs by George Griffin Lewis
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