Carpet history could be traced to the beginning of human civilization. When man realized that he could not live on cold, thorny, and insect-ridden ground, he began to use the skin and mixed wools of the animals living around his residential place. No doubt, the various kinds of the early carpets had a quality like the felt or primary weavings. There is no trace left of primitive carpets and is due to the fact that it has a nondurable quality, so none of historians and researcher’s theories can trace the exact date at which this beautiful human phenomenon was originally produced.
Obviously, Iranians can not claim to be the first producers of the hand-woven carpet, but the historical evidence, especially the discovery of the “Pazirik carpet”, outlines the immense portion which Iranians had in the creation and production of this precious art.
In Homer’s poems, it is mentioned that “The Iranian chariots are covered with purple carpets”. Xenephon in recording the history of Iran’s wars, points out that <Iranians used soft carpets under their beds>. Un Anabasis book, the author speaks about a carpet with a price equivalent a 10 Minaos (the ten Greek currency). Which was equal to 38 Silver pounds.
There have always been various opinions about the real quality of those carpets and the fact that whether they were really carpets, or a kind of felt or painted needle work and as on.
In a book, published in 1950 about the discoveries of professor “RODENK”>, a Russian archeologist, the discovery of a carpet, which has been found from the frozen tomb of a Sokaidking in Altai of Mongolia near the southern part of Siberia, is mentioned. This carpet is called after the place from where it was found, “the Pazirik”. It has surprisingly survived almost intact, because of the eternal ice of Siberian area, and is now kept in Leningrad’s “Armitage” museum. The dimension of this carpet is 6.7 feet by 6 feet equal to 190 by 210 cm2. The number of knots within one square centimeter is about 36 Persian knots. Its colors are dark-red brown, orange, and a kind of greenish blue, known today as pazirik color. Colors used in this carpet are form animal and plant origin.
The age of this carpet, which is a villous and knotty type, goes back to the 5th century B.C., because of its designing and drawing of Persian cavalry with their costumes and arms that belonged to the glorious era of Iranian’s Empire and reminds us “Clearly the Perspolice figures”. The fact is that this carpet had been woven in an Iranian territory, probably in “Khorasan”, or at least in an Iranian dominated land of Media and Parthia.
In any case, whether Iranians are producer of the first woven carpets or not, they can claim that 2500 years ago they were producing woven and knotty carpets with exact technical painting in Iran.
From the supposed date of the production of the “Pasirik” carpet up to 16th century, when the famous carpet of “Ardebil” was woven, no examples are available. Before the discovery of the “Pasirik” carpet, the record of Persian carpet weaving was referred to the “Mongul” or “Seljukian” time. But according to the Islamic geographers and historians, carpets have certainly existed before these times.
We avoid mentioning the sayings of historians and tourists such as “Moghadassi”, “Tbn Batouteh”, “Yagut” and others, because not only there is not any supported evidence, but also, we are not write history. For getting more information about the history of carpets as well as the existing carpets in museums, we can only refer our readers to other books.
In any case, as I mentioned earlier, we do not intend to repeat the historical matters about carpets, such as disrespects of the “Mongul”, “Seljukian”, “Helakooian” and other invaders who did their utmost efforts to impair the cultural and traditional manifestations of this territory as the hardships and bitterness imposed upon the carpet weavers.
The influence of Islamic culture on eastern carpets in general, and Persian carpets is obvious to the extend that we have witnessed the transformation of many mythical and old Iranian design to Islamic symbols which have been mainly religious and dramatic. The best example is the “fish design” known as “MAHI-DARHAM”. The design is, in fact, and improved picture of the fish which once was the symbol of Mehr and Mitra (the sun), the old Iranian myths. This symbol was changed to a curved leaf after Islam.
On the other hand, to respect the pictures and the names of the saints as well as the Qoranic verses, painted on foot carpets, the art of carpet weaving witnessed the appearance of a new type of carpet which took the decorative and curtainlike forms. These later type of carpets ere the first ones which were exported to Europe and were known as “Sajedehei” and “Janamazi Mehrabi”.
THE GOLDEN YEARS OF CARPET AND ITS ENTRANCE EUROPEAN MARKET
Although the beginning of the period during which carpet presented itself as an artistic – economic good in Iranian society is not known, but the time of its culmination which is equal to the period of production of precious and commercially oriented carpets has almost been determined. There are certain documents that indicate the carpet industry was in its culmination during the reign of Safavid. The famous carpet known as “Sheikh Safei” which has been woven for the tomb of “Sheikh Safieddin Ardebili”, the funder of this dynasty, is now preserved in the Victoria Albert Museum. Other carpets, belonging to this period that are preserved in different museums throughout the world, are the best evidence that the Persian Carpet attained its perfection for almost 100 years for the sake of its designing and coloring.
The Safavid period, especially during the reign of the first three kings of this dynasty, was golden age for carpet. Many of the most beautiful designs, paintings, and textures, such as inconceivable beauty of mosques and historical monuments are indebted to this period. Because of the protection that was carried out for the artists in general and designers and painters in particular, many souvenirs of that golden age can now be seen on the Iranian carpet. Visitors and travelers such as Tavernier and Chardin reported of specific ateliers located near the royal palaces where exquisite carpets were often woven for foreign princes and governors, and at the come time great designers and painters like “Reza Abassi” created their valuable works in there.
We can not talk about this period without remembering with regret that many delicate and priceless carpets which were sent out of Iran in different ways with the help of some companies and brokers. These carpets are now exposed to the sight and pleasure of art lovers from different countries.
Since it is our intention to discuss about more important aspects of Persian carpet, we will allude briefly to some famous carpets, including “Sheikh Safei” known as “Ardebili Carpet” (A similar carpet to this one is preserved in U.S.A). An important characteristic of this carpet is the weaver’s name and the weaving date which have been mentioned in the margins of the carpet in the following form:
AMAL MAGHSOUD KASHANI 946 Having no shelter, except your threshold, this is all my wealth.
Since the evaluation of carpets, especially the artistic ones, is mostly considered for historical point of view, the date and quality of weaving would be of much importance. It is so, because a carpet like other artistic works, reflects the features and problems of its time.
Due to the modesty of the Iranian artists, most of the old carpets, like other handicrafts do not hold the weaver’s name and the weaving date. However, we have some relatively clear criteria for tracing the time and place of the production of the carpets. These criteria are such as:
The technical and scientific methods used in carpets, the specific principals such as the usage of different materials (wool, silk, cotton, natural and chemical dyes), it degree of wearing out, the degree paleness for determining the age, the type of drawing and coloring, the weaving method and etc.
Despite all these, the name and the date mentioned on a famous carpet like “Sheikh Safei” does not lead us to a clear conclusion, because, while the definite place of carpet is the tomb of “Sheikh Safi Arbebil”, but we know the type of knots and weaver’s name apparently show that carpet has been woven in Persian style in “Kashan”. Although this matter ins not definitely established, it is likely to be correct. It is on the account of the fact that much carpet weaving was not then practiced in “Isfahan” and the city of Tabriz also was not considered a safe place for this purpose because of the “Ottman Turks” invasion.
Other famous carpets, some of them the most valuable objects of museums, are such as: the famous “Hunting” carpet kept in the “Vienna Museum”, “Chelsi” carpet and “Medallyon” carpet with base design in the Victoria Albert Museum in London, carpet including flower and animas design in the “Poldi Pezzoli” Milan, another carpet with a same style in the “Metropolitan” museum, New York city and hundred more Persian Carpets which are priceless masterpieces and are kept in foreign museums and private collections. It is not known how and when these carpets were transferred to these new places.
Persian’s Carpets well known quality and beauty facilitate its penetration to the international market. Although Turkish and Chinese came to this market at the same time or probably before Iranians, with the appearance of Persian carpets. Apart from the extraordinary preservation of the Pazirik, there is not any other trace of Persian carpets, except for few occasions, before the sixteenth century. It is very difficult to estimate when Persian carpets came to foreign market as a commercial commodity but according to the visitors’ and travelers’ references, there are documents proving the presence of Persian rugs in: “Venice” and “Geneva” markets alongside with “Anatoli”, “Caucasian” and other carpets. It is an exaggeration to think that Iranians were the first exporters of carpet to European and other markets. There were some other countries, especially Turkey and Anatoli, with traditional Islamic design that have opened this market door before or least at the same time with Persian carpets.
The different kind of these carpets which gradually became the traditional carpet design of Iran are “Mehrabi”, Janamazi Sjadeh” and “Goldani” that are mastered in style, design and production.
DESIGN & COLORING:
In the absence of a good design and color, the carpet. In its best condition, can be only judged by its fine texture. From artistic point of view, a good carpet is one that is designed by “Behzad”, “Bahadori”, “Srchang”. Or other famous designers or at least has the traditional Eastern form even if it does not include an exceptionally fine texture.
The designs of Abrabzadeh, Rostam, Shirazi, and Binam Tabrizi show such a concept. On the other hand, a good design with its firmness can improve a carpet from the state of a mere commercial object into an artistic work.
But Iranian’s carpet design, which in fact reflects painting and gilding art, is connected to a chain based on which all other limited but perfect Iranian’s arts such as calligraphy, Engraving, designing carved-works, Gilding and even diaphoretic, are found. Although traditional and social restriction in some Iranian artistic fields limited them; it influenced the creative mind of artists and caused their work in poetry or writing full of deep sensibility. Carpet-weaving became a vast field where all those hidden arts, in old, buried books came out of their exiles and after a hard work, were combined with fine design and color that created many fine carpets for the future generation.
Whenever carpet designing was protected; it was not only a good chance for showing the artistic ability of its generation, but also an opportunity for the symbolic presentation of historical, social, and national concepts.
Blossoming arts such as calligraphy designing, and gilding are the best results drawn from the combination of the young Islamic ideas with the old Sassanid works. Carpet designing is the continuation of arts such as: gilding and writing in Iran. Traditional designing reached its perfection at the Safavid age. Although “Pazirik” or other designs on the works like “cachmere” and “needle lace” show that 2000 years ago there was a kind of primitive but at the same time planned designing; there is no document which could show us when carpet designing exactly began to change. Since there has always been a linkage between the decorative and drawing arts in the Iranian handicraft, we can estimate that at least carpets produced in cities, were like gilding, tilework, and other arts in whose perfection, designing played the major role. The perfection of the tenth and eleventh centuries’ art was the continuation of the above-mentioned styles.
The glorious period of carpet-designing in Iran belongs certainly to the Safavid age. Carpet-designing like other artistic works, was improves by the support of the government. Although in carpets that are presented in museums, we see no trace of famous artists such as Reza Abbasi, Behzad or Soltan Mohammad; the production of such beautiful and valuable carpets is the result of their and talent.
The support of designing carpet-weaving during Safavid age, not only enriched today’s world with the most beautiful assemblage of artistic work, but also affected the history of carpet-weaving of Iran greatly years after it. The effort in the ground of carpet-weaving not only led to the development of classical designs but also created a new field in carpet-weaving, which was the use of figurative painting (miniature). The use of painting made Persian carpets, the most unrivalled kind in the world.
After the Safavid age, a recession began in the carpet industry. Although we have some slight movements during and after Qajar dynasty; it was nothing more than the repetition of the gold design. It is not necessary to repeat that any other art except carpet needs to change itself whit time in order to survive, but in carpets-weaving; although, the designs of 500 years ago with its particularities and colors are still used; it does not lose its attraction and beauty.