Oriental rug

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This article is about pile-woven Oriental rugs. For flat-woven rugs, see Kilim
The Islamic World: Tabula Rogeriana, drawn by Al-Idrisi in 1154, one of the most advanced ancient world maps.

An oriental rug is a heavy textile, made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purpose, produced in "Oriental countries" for home use, local sale, and export.

Oriental carpets can be pile woven or flat woven without pile, using various materials such as silk, wool, and cotton. Examples range in size from pillow to large, room-sized carpets, and include carrier bags, floor coverings, decorations for animals, Islamic prayer rugs ("sajjadah"), Jewish Torah ark covers ("parochet"), and Christian altar covers. Since the High Middle Ages, oriental rugs have been an integral part of their cultures of origin, as well as of the European and, later on, the North American culture.[1]

Geographically, oriental rugs are made in an area referred to as the "Rug Belt", which stretches from Morocco across North Africa, the Middle East, and into Central Asia and northern India. It includes countries such as northern China, Tibet, Turkey, Iran, the Maghreb in the west, the Caucasus in the north, and India and Pakistan in the south. People from different cultures, countries, racial groups and religious faiths are involved in the production of oriental rugs. Since many of these countries lie in an area which today is referred to as the Islamic world, oriental rugs are often also called "Islamic Carpets",[1] and the term "oriental rug" is used mainly for convenience.

Ardabil Carpet

The first rugs[edit]

Woven carpets were initially produced in geographical regions where climatic conditions require protection against the weather, by nomadic peoples who lived on the floors of tents, whose belongings had to be easily transportable. The raw material to produce carpets had to be readily available during the migration. Sheep and goats provided the wool, natural dye could be derived from plants and minerals. As such, woven tissues could serve both utilitarian and decorative purposes, depending on the shape and size in which they were produced.

The beginning of carpet weaving remains unknown, as carpets are subject to use, deterioration, and destruction by insects and rodents. Woven rugs probably developed from earlier floor coverings, made of felt, or a technique known as "flat weaving".[2] Flat-woven rugs are made by tightly interweaving the warp and weft strands of the weave to produce a flat surface with no pile. The technique of weaving carpets further developed into a technique known as loop weaving. Loop weaving is done by pulling the weft strings over a gauge rod, creating loops of thread facing the weaver. The rod is then either removed, leaving the loops closed, or the loops are cut over the protecting rod, resulting in a rug very similar to a genuine pile rug. Typically, hand-woven pile rugs are produced by knotting strings of thread individually into the warps, cutting the thread after each single knot. The fabric is then further stabilized by weaving ("shooting") in one or more strings of weft, and compacted by beating with a comb.


The explorer Mark Aurel Stein found flat-woven kilims dating to at least the fourth or fifth century AD in Turfan, Hotan prefecture, East Turkestan, China, an area which still produces carpets today. Rug fragments were also found in the Lop Nur area, and are woven in symmetrical knots, with 5-7 interwoven wefts after each row of knots, with a striped design, and various colours. They are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.[3]

Carpet fragments dated to the third or fourth century BC were excavated from burial mounds at Bashadar in the Ongudai District, Altai Republic, Russia by S. Rudenko, the discoverer of the Pazyryk carpet. They show a fine weave of about 4650 asymmetrical knots per square decimeter[4]

Other fragments woven in symmetrical as well as asymmetrical knots have been found in Dura-Europos in Syria,[5] and from the At-Tar caves in Iraq,[6] dated to the first centuries AD.

These rare findings demonstrate that all the skills and techniques of dyeing and carpet weaving were already known in western Asia before the first century AD.

Fragments of pile rugs from findspots in north-eastern Afghanistan, reportedly originating from the province of Samangan, have been carbon-14 dated to a time span from the turn of the second century to the early Sasanian period. Among these fragments, some show depictings of animals, like various stags (sometimes arranged in a procession, recalling the design of the Pazyryk carpet) or a winged mythical creature. Wool is used for warp, weft, and pile, the yarn is crudely spun, and the fragments are woven with the asymmetric knot associated with Persian and far-eastern carpets. Every three to five rows, pieces of unspun wool, strips of cloth and leather are woven in.[7] These fragments are now in the Al-Sabah Collection in the Dar al-Athar al-Islamyya, Kuwait.[8][9]

Pazyryk: The first known pile rug

The oldest known hand knotted rug which is nearly completely preserved, and can, therefore, be fully evaluated in every technical and design aspect is the "Pazyryk carpet", dated to the 5th century BC. It was discovered in the late 1940s by the Russian archeologist Sergei Rudenko and his team.[10] The carpet was part of the grave gifts preserved frozen in ice in the Scythian burial mounds of the Pazyryk area in the Altai Mountains of Siberia[11] The provenience of the Pazyryk carpet is under debate, as many carpet weaving countries claim to be its country of origin.[12] Wherewever it was produced, its fine weaving in symmetric knots and elaborate pictorial design hint at an advanced state of the art of carpet weaving at the time of its production. The design of the carpet already shows the basic arrangement of what was to become the standard oriental carpet design: A field with repeating patterns, framed by a main border in elaborate design, and several secondary borders.


An oriental rug is woven by hand on a loom, with warps, wefts, and pile made mainly of natural fibers like wool, cotton, and silk. In representative carpets, metal threads made of gold or silver are woven in. The pile consists of hand-spun or machine-spun strings of yarn, which are knotted into the warp and weft foundation. Usually the pile threads are dyed with various natural or synthetic dyes. Once the weaving has finished, the rug is further processed by fastening its borders, clipping the pile to obtain an even surface, and washing, which may use added chemical solutions to modify the colours.


Materials used in carpet weaving and the way they are combined vary in different rug weaving areas. Mainly, animal wool from sheep and goats is used, occasionally also from camels. Yak and horse hair have been used in Far Eastern, but rarely in Middle Eastern rugs. Cotton is used for the foundation of the rug, but also in the pile. Silk from silk worms is used for representational rugs.


In most oriental rugs, the pile is of sheep's wool. Its characteristics and quality vary from each area to the next, depending on the breed of sheep, climatic conditions, pasturage, and the particular customs relating to when and how the wool is shorn and processed.[14] In the Middle East, rug wools come mainly from the fat-tailed and fat-rumped sheep races, which are distinguished, as their names suggest, by the accumulation of fat in the respective parts of their bodies. Different areas of a sheep's fleece yield different qualities of wool, depending on the ratio between the thicker and stiffer sheep hair and the finer fibers of the wool. Usually, sheep are shorn in spring and fall. The spring shear produces wool of finer quality. The lowest grade of wool used in carpet weaving is "skin" wool, which is removed chemically from dead animal skin.[14] Fibers from camels and goats are also used. Goat hair is mainly used for fastening the borders, or selvages, of Baluchi and Turkmen rugs, since it is more resistant to abrasion. Camel wool is occasionally used in Middle Eastern rugs. It is often dyed in black, or used in its natural colour. More often, wool said to be camel's wool turns out to be dyed sheep wool.[15]


Cotton forms the foundation of warps and wefts of the majority of modern rugs. Nomads who cannot afford to buy cotton on the market use wool for warps and wefts, which are also traditionally made of wool in areas where cotton was not a local product. Cotton can be spun more tightly than wool, and tolerates more tension, which makes cotton a superior material for the foundation of a rug. Especially larger carpets are more likely to lie flat on the floor, whereas wool tends to shrink unevenly, and carpets with a woolen foundation may buckle when wet.[14] Chemically treated (mercerised) cotton has been used in rugs as a silk substitute since the late nineteenth century.[14]


Silk is an expensive material, and has been used for representative carpets of the Mamluk, Ottoman, and Safavid courts. Its tensile strength has been used in silk warps, but silk also appears in the carpet pile. Silk pile can be used to highlight special elements of the design in Turkmen rugs, but more expensive carpets from Kashan, Qum, Nain, and Isfahan in Persia, and Istanbul and Hereke in Turkey, have all-silk piles. Silk pile carpets are often exceptionally fine, with a short pile and an elaborate design. Silk pile is less resistant to mechanical stress, thus, all-silk piles are often used as wall hangings, or pillow tapestry. Silk is more often used in rugs of Eastern Turkestan and Northwestern China, but these rugs tend to be more coarsely woven.[14]


S-twist and Z-twist yarns

The fibers of wool, cotton, and silk are spun either by hand or mechanically by using spinning wheels or industrial spinning machines to produce the yarn. The direction in which the yarn is spun is called twist. Yarns are characterized as S-twist or Z-twist according to the direction of spinning (see diagram).[16] Two or more spun yarns may be twisted together or plied to form a thicker yarn. Generally, handspun single plies are spun with a Z-twist, and plying is done with an S-twist. With the exception of Mamluk carpets, nearly all the rugs produced in the countries of the rug belt use "Z" (anti-clockwise) spun and "S" (clockwise)-plied wool.


Naturally dyed wool in a Turkish carpet manufacture

The dyeing process involves the preparation of the yarn in order to make it susceptible for the proper dyes by immersion in a mordant. Dyestuffs are then added to the yarn which remains in the dyeing solution for a defined time. The dyed yarn is then left to dry, exposed to air and sunlight. Some colours, especially dark brown, require iron mordants, which can damage or fade the fabric. This often results in faster pile wear in areas dyed in dark brown colours, and may create a relief effect in antique oriental carpets.


Traditional dyes used for oriental rugs are obtained from plants and insects. In 1856, the English chemist William Henry Perkin invented the first aniline dye, mauveine. A variety of other synthetic dyes were invented thereafter. Cheap, readily prepared and easy to use as they were compared to natural dyes, their use is documented in oriental rugs sine the mid 1860s. The tradition of natural dyeing was revived in Turkey in the early 1980s, and later on, in Iran.[17] Chemical analyses led to the identification of natural dyes from antique wool samples, and dyeing recipes and processes were experimentally re-created.[18][19]

According to these analyzes, natural dyes used in Turkish carpets include:

Some of the dyestuffs like indigo or madder were goods of trade, and thus commonly available. Yellow or brown dyestuffs more substantially vary from region to region. In some instances, the analysis of the dye has provided information about the provenience of a rug.[20] Many plants provide yellow dyes, like Vine weld, or Dyer's weed (Reseda luteola), Yellow larkspur (perhaps identical with the isparek plant), or Dyer's sumach Cotinus coggygria. Grape leaves and pomegranate rinds, as well as other plants, provide different shades of yellow.[14]

Insect reds

Carmine dyes are obtained from resinous secretions of scale insects such as the Cochineal scale Coccus cacti, and certain Porphyrophora species (Armenian and Polish cochineal). Cochineal dye, the so-called "laq" was formerly exported from India, and later on from Mexico and the Canary Islands. Insect dyes were more frequently used in areas where Madder (Rubia tinctorum) was not grown, like west and north-west Persia.[15]

Synthetic dyes

With modern synthetic dyes, nearly every colour and shade can be obtained so that it is nearly impossible to identify, in a finished carpet, whether natural or artificial dyes were used. Modern carpets can be woven with carefully selected synthetic colours, and provide artistic and utilitarian value.[21]


The appearance of slight deviations within the same colour is called abrash (from Turkish abraş, literally, “speckled, piebald”). Abrash is seen in traditionally dyed oriental rugs. Its occurrence suggests that a single weaver has likely woven the carpet, who did not have enough time or resources to prepare a sufficient quantity of dyed yarn to complete the rug. Only small batches of wool were dyed from time to time. When one string of wool was used up, the weaver continued with the newly dyed batch. Because the exact hue of colour is rarely met again when a new batch is dyed, the colour of the pile changes when a new row of knots is woven in. As such, the colour variation suggests a village or tribal woven rug, and is appreciated as a sign of quality and authenticity. Abrash can also be introduced on purpose into a pre-planned carpet design.[22]


A variety of tools are needed for the construction of a handmade rug. A loom, a horizontal or upright framework, is needed to mount the vertical warps into which the pile nodes are knotted. One or more shoots of horizontal wefts are woven ("shot") in after each row of knots in order to further stabilize the fabric.

Horizontal looms

Nomads usually use a horizontal loom. In its simplest form, two loom beams are fastened, and kept apart by stakes which are driven into the ground. The tension of the warps is maintained by driving wedges between the loom beams and the stakes. If the nomad journey goes on, the stakes are pulled out, and the unfinshed rug is rolled up on the beams. The size of the loom beams is limited by the need to be easily transportable, thus, genuine nomad rugs are often small in size. In Persia, loom beams were mostly made of poplar, because poplar is the only tree which is easily available and straight.[15] The closer the warps are spanned, the more dense the rug can be woven. The width of a rug is always determined by the lenghth of the loom beams. Weaving starts at the lower end of the loom, and proceeds towards the upper end.

Traditionally, horizontal looms were used by the

Vertical looms

The vertical loom enables weaving of larger rug formats. The most simple vertical loom, usually used in villages, has fixed beams. The length of the loom determines the length of the rug. As the weaving proceeds, the weavers' benches must be moved upwards, and fixed again at the new working height. Another type of loom is used in manufactures. The wefts are fixed and spanned on the beams, or, in more advanced types of looms, the wefts are spanned on a roller beam, which allows for any lenghth of carpet to be woven, as the finished part of the carpet is rolled up on the roller beam. Thus, the weavers' benches always remain at the same height.

Other tools

Few essential tools are needed in carpet weaving: Knives are used to cut the yarn after the knot is made, a heavy instrument like a comb for beating in the wefts, and a pair of scissors for trimming off the ends of the yarn after each row of knots is finished. From region to region, they vary in size and design, and in some areas are supplemented by other tools. The weavers of Tabriz used a combined blade and hook. The hook projects from the end of the blade, and is used for knotting, instead of knotting with the fingers. Comb-beaters are passed through the warp strings to beat in the wefts. When the rug is completed, the pile is often shorn with special knives to obtain an even surface.[15]

Warp, weft, pile[edit]

Warps and wefts form the foundation of the carpet, the pile accounts for the design. Warps, wefts and pile may consist of any of these materials:

warp weft pile often found in
wool wool wool nomad and village rugs
cotton cotton wool manufacture rugs
silk silk silk manufacture rugs
cotton cotton silk manufacture rugs

Rugs can be woven with their warp strings held back on different levels, termed sheds. This is done by pulling the wefts of one shed tight, separating the warps on two different levels, which leaves one warp on a lower level. The technical term is "one warp is depressed". Warps can be depressed slightly, ore more tightly, which will cause a more or less pronounced rippling or "ridging" on the back of the rug. If one warp is very deeply depressed, only one loop of the knot may be visible, which has to be considered when assessing the knot density of a rug. A rug woven with depressed warps is described as "double warped". Central Iranian city rugs such as Kashan, Isfahan, Qom, and Nain have deeply depressed warps, which make the pile more dense, the rug is heavier than a more loosely woven specimen, and the rug lies more firmly on the floor. Kurdish Bidjar carpets make most pronounced use of warp depression. Often their pile is further compacted by the use of a metal rod which is driven between the warps and hammered down on, which produces a dense and rigid fabric.[14]


The pile knots are usually knotted by hand. Most rugs from Anatolia utilize the symmetrical (Turkish double knot). With this form of knotting, each end of the pile thread is twisted around two warp threads at regular intervals, so that both ends of the knot come up between two warp strings on one side of the carpet, opposite to the knot. The thread is then pulled downwards and cut with a knife.

Most rugs from other proveniences use the asymmetric, or Persian knot. This knot is tied by winding a piece of thread around one warp, and halfway around the next warp, so that both ends of the thread come up at the same side of two adjacent strings of warp on one side of the carpet, opposite to the knot. The pile, i.e., the loose end of the thread, can appear on the left or right side of the warps, thus defining the terms "open to the left" or "open to the right". Variances in the type of knots are significant, as the type of knot used in a carpet may vary on a regional, or tribal, basis. Whether the knots are open to the left or to the right can be determined by passing one's hands over the pile.[14] On the back of the rug, the two loops of one knot will then remain visible, and will have to be counted as one knot when assessing the knot density.

A variant knot is the so-called jufti knot, which is woven around four strings of warp, with each loop of one single knot tied around two warps. Jufti can be knotted symmetrically or asymmmetrically, open to the left or right.[14] A serviceable carpet can be made with jufti knots, and jufti knots are sometimes used in large single-colour areas of a rug, for example in the field. However, as carpets woven wholly or partly with the jufti knot need only half the amount of pile yarn than traditionally woven carpets, their pile is less resistant to wear, and these rugs do not last long.[15]

Another variant of knot is known from early Spanish rugs. The Spanish knot or single-warp knot, is tied around one single warp. Some of the rug fragments excavated by A. Stein in Turfan seem to be woven with a single knot. Single knot weavings are also known from Egyptian Coptic pile rugs.[14]

Irregular knots sometimes occur, and include missed warps, knots over three or four warps, single warp knots, or knots sharing one warp, both symmetric and asymmetric. They are frequently found in Turkmen rugs, and contribute to the dense and regular structure of these rugs.

The upright pile of oriental rugs usually inclines in one direction, as knots are always pulled downwards before the string of pile yarn is cut off and work resumes on the next knot, piling row after row of knots on top of each other. When passing one's hand over a carpet, this creates a feeling similar to stroking an animal's fur. This can be used to determine where the weaver has started knotting the pile. Prayer rugs are often woven "upside down", as becomes apparent when the direction of the pile is assessed. This has both technical reasons (the weaver can focus on the more complicated niche design first), and practical consequences (the pile bends in the direction of the worshipper's prostration).


Once the weaving is finished, the rug is cut from the loom. The sides or selvages are usually overcast in wool. The selvages consist of up to ten warp threads. Especially Anatolian village and nomadic rugs have flat-woven kilim ends, sometimes including pile-woven tribal signs or village crests. The remaining ends of the warp threads are often knotted together to form the fringes. The pile of the carpet is shorn with special knives in order to obtain an equal surface. In parts of Central Asia, a small sickle-shaped knife with the outside edge sharpened is used for pile shearing. Knives of this shape have been excavated from Bronze Age sites in Turkmenistan (cited in[14]). In some carpets, a relief effect is obtained by clipping the pile unevenly. This feature is often seen in Chinese and Tibetan rugs. Finally, the carpet is washed before it is used or goes to the market.


Oriental rugs are known for their richly varied designs, but common traditional characteristics identify the design of a carpet as "oriental". With the exception of pile relief obtained by clipping the pile unevenly, rug design originates from a two-dimensional arrangement of knots in various colours. Each knot tied into a rug can be regarded as one "pixel" of a picture, which is composed by the arrangement of knot after knot. The more skilled the weaver or, as in manufactured rugs, the designer, the more elaborate the design.

Rectilinear and curvilinear design[edit]

Left image: Silk Tabriz Persian rug with a predominantly curvilinear design
Right image: Serapi carpet, Heriz region, Northwest Persia, circa 1875, with a predominantly rectilinear design

A rug design is described either as rectilinear (or "geometric"), or curvilinear (or "floral"). Curvilinear rugs show floral figures in a realistic manner. The drawing is more fluid, and the weaving is often more complicated. Rectilinear patterns tend to be bolder and more angular. Floral patterns can be woven in rectilinear design, but they tend to be more abstract, or more highly stylized. Rectilinear design is associated with nomadic or village weaving, whereas the intricate curvilinear designs require pre-planning, as is done in manufactories. Workshop rugs are usually woven according to a plan designed by an artist and handed over to the weaver to execute it on the loom.[23]

Field design, medaillons and borders[edit]

Book binding from Collected Works (Kulliyat), 10th century AH/AD 16th, Walters Art Museum

Rug design can also be described by the way how the surface of the rug is arranged and organized. One single, basic design may cover the entire field ("all-over design"). When the end of the field is reached, patterns may be cut off intentionally, thus creating the impression that they continue beyond the borders of the rug. This feature is characteristic for Islamic design: In the Islamic tradition, depicting animals or humans is prohibited even in a profane context, as Islam does not distinguish between religious and profane life. Since the codification of the Quran by Uthman Ibn Affan in 651 AD/19 AH and the Umayyad Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan reforms, Islamic art has focused on writing and ornament. The main fields of Islamic rugs are frequently filled with redundant, interwoven ornaments in a manner called infinite repeat.[24]

Design elements may also be arranged more elaborately. One typical oriental rug design uses a medallion, a symmetrical pattern occupying the center of the field. Parts of the medallion, or similar, corresponding designs, are repeated at the four corners of the field. The common "Lechek Torūnj" (medaillon and corner) design was developed in Persia for book covers and ornamental book illuminations in the fifteenth century. In the sixteenth century, it was integrated into carpet designs. More than one medallion may be used, and these may be arranged at intervals over the field in different sizes and shapes. The field of a rug may also be broken up into different rectangular, square, diamond or lozenge shaped compartments, which in turn can be arranged in rows, or diagonally.[23]

In Persian rugs, the medaillon represents the primary pattern, and the infinite repeat of the field appears subordinated, creating an impression of the medaillon "floating" on the field. Anatolian rugs often use the infinite repeat as the primary pattern, and integrate the medaillon as secondary. Its size is often adapted to fit into the infinite repeat.[25]

In most Oriental rugs, the field of the rug is surrounded by stripes, or borders. These may number from one up to over ten, but usually there is one wider main border surrounded by minor, or guardian borders. The main border is often filled with complex and elaborate rectilinear or curvilinear designs. The minor border stripes show simpler designs like meandering vines or reciprocal trefoils. The latter are frequently found in caucasian and some Turkish rugs, and are related to the Chinese "cloud collar (yun chien)" motif.[26] The traditional border arrangement was highly conserved through time, but can also be modified to the effect that the field encroaches on the main border. Seen in Kerman rugs and Turkish rugs from the late eighteenth century "mecidi" period, this feature was likely taken over from French Aubusson or Savonnerie weaving designs. Additional end borders called elem, or skirts, are seen in Turkmen and some Turkish rugs. Their design often differs from the rest of the borders. Elem are used to protect the lower borders of tent door rugs ("ensi"). Chinese and Tibetan rugs sometimes do not have any borders.

Smaller and composite design elements[edit]

The field, or sections of it, can also be covered with smaller design elements. The overall impression may be homogeneous, although the design of the elements themselves can be highly complicated. Amongst the repeating figures, the boteh is used throughout the "carpet belt". Boteh can be depicted in curvilinear or rectilinear style. The most elaborate boteh are found in rugs woven around Kerman. Rugs from Seraband, Hamadan, and Fars sometimes show the boteh in an all-over pattern. Other design elements include ancient motifs like the Tree of life, or floral and geometric elements like, e.g., stars or palmettes.

Single design elements can also be arranged in groups, forming a more complex pattern:[15][23]

  • The Herati pattern consists of a lozenge with floral figure at the corners surrounded by lancet-shaped leaves sometimes called "fish". Herati patterns are used throughout the "carpet belt"; typically, they are found in the fields of Bidjar rugs.
  • The Mina Khani pattern is made up of flowers arranged in a rows, interlinked by diamond (often curved) or circular lines. frequently all over the field. The Mina Khani design is often seen on Varamin rugs.
  • The Shah Abbasi design is composed of a group of palmettes. Shah Abbasi motifs are frequently seen in Kashan, Isfahan, Mashhad and Nain rugs.
  • The Bid Majnūn, or Weeping Willow design is in fact a combination of weeping willow, cypress, poplar and fruit trees in rectilinear form. Its origin was attributed to Kurdish tribes, as the earliest known examples are from the Bidjar area.
  • The Harshang or Crab design takes its name from its principal motive, which is a large oval motive suggesting a crab. The pattern is found all over the rug belt, but bear some resemblance to palmettes from the Sefavi period, and the "claws" of the crab may be conventionalized arabesques in rectilinear style.
  • The Gol Henai small repeating pattern is named after the Henna plant, which it does not much resemble. The plant looks more like the Garden balsam, and in the Western literature is sometimes compared to the blossom of the Horse chestnut.
  • The Gül design is frequently found in Turkmen rugs. Small round or octagonal medaillons are repeated in rows all over the field. Although the Gül medaillon itself can be very elaborate and colourful in itself, their arrangement within the monochrome field often generates a stern and somber impression. Güls are often ascribed a heraldic function, as it is possible to identify the tribal provenience of a Turkmen rug by its güls.[27]

Special designs[edit]

A different type of field design in a specific Islamic design tradition is used in prayer rugs. A prayer rug is characterized by a niche at one end, representing the mihrab, an architectural element in mosques intended to direct the worshippers towards the Qibla. Prayer rugs also show highly symbolic smaller design elements like one or more mosque lamps, a reference to the Verse of Light in the Qu'ran, or water jugs, potentially as a reminder towards ritual cleanliness. Sometimes stylized hands or feet appear in the field to indicate where the worshipper should stand, or to represent the praying person's prostration.[23] Other special types include garden, compartment, vase, animal, or pictorial designs

Intra- and intercultural contexts[edit]

Cultural interactions in traditional carpet production

Four "social layers" of carpet production can be distinguished: Rugs were woven simultaneously by and for nomads, rural villages, towns, and the royal court. Rural village, and nomad carpet designs represent independent artistic traditions.[28] Elaborate rug designs from court and town were integrated into village and nomadic design traditions by means of a process termed stylization.[1] When rugs are woven for the market, the weavers adapt their production in order to meet the customers' demands, and to maximize their profit. As is the case with Oriental rugs, adaptation to the export market has brought forth both devastating effects on the culture of rug weaving, but has also led to a revival of old traditions in more recent years.

Representative ("court") carpets[edit]

Persian miniature by Mir Sayyid Ali, circa 1540. British Museum, London

Representative "court" rugs were woven by special workshops, often founded and supervised by the sovereign, with the intention to represent power and status:[23] The East Roman (Byzantine) and the Persian Sasanian Empires have coexisted for more than 400 years. Artistically, both empires have developed similar styles and decorative vocabularies, as exemplified by mosaics and architecture of Roman Antioch.[29] An Anatolian carpet pattern depicted on Jan van Eyck's "Paele Madonna" painting was traced back to late Roman origins and related to early Islamic floor mosaics found in the Umayyad palace of Khirbat al-Mafjar.[30] Rugs were produced in the court manufactures as special commissions or gifts (some carpets included inwoven European coats of arms). Their elaborate design required a division of work between an artist who created a design plan (termed "cartoon") on paper, and a weaver who was given the plan for execution on the loom. Thus, artist and weaver were separated.[13] Their appearance in Persian book illuminations and miniatures as well as in European paintings provides material for their dating by using the "terminus ante quem" approach.

Town, village, nomadic rugs[edit]

High-status examples like Safavid or Ottoman court carpets are not the only foundation of the historical and social framework. The reality of carpet production does not reflect this selection: Carpets were simultaneously produced by and for the three different social levels. Patterns and ornaments from court manufactory rugs have been reproduced by smaller (town or village) workshops. This process is well documented for Ottoman prayer rugs.[1] As prototypical court designs were passed on to smaller workshops, and from one generation to the next, the design underwent a process termed stylization, comprizing series of small, incremental changes either in the overall design, or in details of smaller patterns and ornaments, over time. As a result, the prototype may be modified to an extent as to barely being recognizable. A mihrab column may change into a detached row of ornaments, a Chinese dragon may undergo stylization until it becomes irrecognizeable in a Caucasian dragon carpet.[1]

Stylization in Turkish prayer rug design

Pile rugs and flat weaves were essential items in all rural households and nomadic tents. They were part of a tradition that was at times influenced, but essentially distinct from the invented designs of the workshop production. Frequently, mosques had acquired rural carpets as charitable gifts, which provided material for studies.[31] Rural carpets rarely include cotton for warps and wefts, and almost never silk, as these materials had to be purchased on the market.

With the end of the traditional nomadic lifestyle in large parts of the rug belt area, and the consequent loss of specific traditions, it has become difficult to identify a genuine "nomadic rug". Tribes known for their nomadic lifestyle like the Yürük in Anatolia, or the Kurds and Qashqai in contemporary Turkey and Southwestern Iran have voluntarily or by force acquired sedentary lifestyles. Migration of peoples and tribes, in peace or warfare, has frequently happened throughout the history of Turkic peoples, as well as Persian and Caucasian tribes. Some designs may have been preserved, which can be identified as specifically nomadic or tribal.[32][33][34][35][36] "Nomadic" rugs can be identified by their material, construction, and colours. Specific ornaments can be traced back in history to ancient motifs.[36]

Criteria for nomadic production include:[37]

  • Unusual materials like warps made of goat's hair, or camel wool in the pile;
  • high quality wool with long pile (Anatolian and Turkmen nomads);
  • small format fitting for a horizontal loom;
  • irregular format due to frequent re-assembly of the loom, resulting in irregular tension of the warps;
  • pronounced abrash (irregularities within the same colour due to dyeing of yarn in small batches);
  • inclusion of flat weaves at the ends.

Within the genre of carpet weaving, the most authentic village and nomadic products were those woven to serve the needs of the community, which were not intended for export or trade other than local. This includes specialized bags and bolster covers (yastik) in Anatolia, which show designs adapted from the earliest weaving traditions.[38] In Turkmen tents, large wide bags (chuval) were used to keep clothings and household articles. Smaller (torba) and midsize (mafrash) and a variety of special bags to keep bread or salt were woven. They are usually made of two sides, one or both of them pile or flat-woven, and then sewn together. Long tent bands woven in mixed pile and flat weave adorned the tents, and carpets known as ensi covered the entrance of the tent, while the door was decorated with a pile-woven door surround. Turkmen, and also tribes like the Bakhtiari nomads of western Iran, or the Qashqai people wove animal trappings like saddle covers, or special decorations for weddings like asmalyk, pentagonally shaped camel coverings used for wedding decorations. Tribal signs like the Turkmen Gül can support the assessment of provenience.[1]

Cultural effects of commercialization[edit]

Since the beginning of the Oriental rug trade in the High Middle Ages, Western market demand has influenced the rug manufacturers producing for export, who quickly adapted to the market needs. The commercial success of oriental rugs has led producers to initiate weaving activities either in their home countries, or in the rug-producing countries themselves. In the United Kingdom, Axminster carpets were produced since the mid-eighteenth century. In France, the Savonnerie manufactory began weaving pile carpets by the mid-seventeenth centuries, but turned to European-style designs later on, which in turn influenced the Anatolian rug production during the "mecidi" period. The Manchester-based company Ziegler & Co. maintained workshops in Tabriz and Sultanabad (now Arak) and supplied retailers such as Liberty & Company and Harvey Nichols. Their designs were modifications of the traditional Persian. A. C. Edwards was the manager of the Oriental Carpet Manufacturers' operations in Persia from 1908 to 1924, and wrote one of the classical textbooks about the Persian carpet.[15]

In the late nineteenth century, the Western invention of synthetic dyes had a devastating effect on the carpet industry, deplored already by the authors of the earliest Western textbooks.[39][40] During the early twentieth century, carpets were woven in the cities of Saruk and Arak, Iran and the surrounding villages mainly for export to the U.S. While the sturdy construction of their pile appealed to U.S. American customers, their designs and colours did not fit in with the demands. The traditional design of the Saruk rug was modified by the weavers towards an allover design of detached floral motives, the carpets were then chemically washed to remove the unwanted colours, and the pile was painted over again with more desirable colours.[15]

In its home countries, the ancient art and craft of carpet weaving has been revived. Since the early 1980s, initiatives were ongoing like the DOBAG project in Turkey, and Iran[17] as well as a variety of social initiatives in Afghanistan and amongst Tibetan refugees in Northern India. Naturally dyed, traditionally woven rugs are available on the Western market again.[21] With the end of the U.S. embargo on Iranian goods, also Persian carpets (including antique carpets sold at auctions) may become more easily available to U.S. customers again.


Oriental rugs have always attracted collectors' interest, and sold at high prizes.[41] This has also been an incentive for fraudulent behaviour.[13] Techniques used traditionally in rug restoration, like replacing knots, or re-weaving parts of a rug, can also be used to modify a rug so as to appear older or more valuable than it actually is. Old flatweaves can be unravelled to obtain longer threads of yarn which can then be re-knitted into rugs. These forgeries are able to overcome chromatographic dye analysis and radiocarbon dating, since they make use of period material.[42] The Romanian artisan Teodor Tuduc has become famous for his fake oriental rugs, and the stories which he delivered in order to gain credibility. The quality of his forgeries was such that some of his rugs found their way into museum collections, and "Tuduc rugs" have become collectibles by themselves today.[43]

Rugs by regions[edit]

Oriental rugs can be classified by their region of origin, each of which represents different strands of tradition: Persian rugs, Pakistani rugs, Arabian rugs, Anatolian rugs, Kurdish rugs, Caucasian rugs, Central Asian rugs, Turkestanian (Turkmen, Turkoman) rugs, Chinese rugs, Tibetan rugs and Indian rugs.

Anatolian (Turkish) rugs[edit]

Main article: Turkish carpet

A Turkish carpet is produced mainly in Anatolia, including neighbouring areas. Carpet weaving is a traditional art in Anatolia, dating back to pre-Islamic times, and integrates different cultural traditions reflecting the history of Turkic peoples. Turkish carpets form an essential part of the Turkish culture.

Amongst Oriental rugs, the Turkish carpet is distinguished by particular characteristics of dyes and colours, designs, textures and techniques. Usually made of wool and cotton, Turkish carpets are tied with the Turkish, or symmetrical knot. The earliest known examples for Turkish carpets date from the thirteenth century. Distinct types of carpets have been woven ever since in workshops, in more provincial weaving facilities, as well as in villages, tribal settlements, or by nomads. Carpets were simultaneously produced for these different levels of society, with varying materials like sheep wool, cotton, and silk. Pile woven as well as flat woven carpets (Kilim, Soumak, Cicim, Zili) have attracted collectors' and scientists' interest. Following a decline which began in the second half of the nineteenth century, initiatives like the DOBAG Carpet Initiative in 1982, or the Turkish Cultural Foundation in 2000, started to revive the traditional art of Turkish carpet weaving by using hand-spun, naturally-dyed wool and traditional designs.[44]

The Turkish carpet is distinct from carpets of other provenience in that it makes more pronounced use of primary colours. Western Anatolian carpets prefer red and blue colours, whereas Central Anatolian use more red and yellow, with sharp contrasts set in white. With the exceptions of representative court and town manufacture designs, Turkish carpets make more pronounced use of bold geometric, and highly stylized floral patterns, generally in rectilinear design.[45]

Persian (Iranian) rugs[edit]

Main article: Persian carpet

The Persian carpet or Persian rug is an essential and distinguished part of Persian culture and art, and dates back to ancient Persia. Persian carpets are classified by the social setting in which they were woven (nomads, villages, town and court manufactories), by ethnic groups (e.g. Kurds, nomadic tribes such as the Qashqai or Bakhtiari; Afshari, Azerbaijani, Turkmens) and others, or by the town or province where carpets are woven, such as Heriz, Hamadan, Senneh, Bijar, Arak (Sultanabad), Mashhad, Isfahan, Kashan, Qom, Nain, and others. A technical classification for Persian carpets is based on design, colour, type of fabric, materials, and weaving technique.

Egyptian Mamluk rugs[edit]

The Baillet-Latour Mamluk Carpet

Under the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt, a distinctive carpet was produced in Egypt. Called "Damascene" carpets by previous centuries, there is no doubt now that the center of production was Cairo.[46] In contrast to nearly all other oriental rugs, Mamluk carpets used "S" (clockwise) spun and "Z" (anti-clockwise)-plied wool. Their palette of colours and shades is limited to bright red, pale blue, and light green, blue and yellow are rarely found. The field design is characterized by polygonal medaillons and stars and stylized floral patterns, arranged in a linear way along their central axis, or centralized. The borders contain rosettes, often alternating with cartouches. As Edmund de Unger pointed out, the design is similar to other products of Mamluk manufacture, like wood- and metal work, and book bindings, illuminated books and floor mosaics.[47] Mamluk carpets were made for the court, and for export, Venice being the most important market place for Mamluk rugs in Europe.[46]

After the 1517 Ottoman conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt, two different cultures merged, as is seen on Mamluk carpets woven after this date. The Cairene weavers adopted an Ottoman Turkish design.[48] The production of these carpets continued in Egypt, and probably also in Anatolia, into the early 17th century.[49]

Caucasian rugs[edit]

Main articles: Armenian carpet and Azerbaijani rug

The Caucasian provinces of Karabagh, Moghan, Shirvan, Daghestan and Georgia formed the northern territories of the Safavid Empire. In the Treaty of Constantinople (1724) and the Treaty of Gulistan, 1813, the provinces were finally ceded to Russia. Russian rule was further extended to Baku, Genje, the Derbent khanate, and the region of Talish.

In 1728 the Polish Jesuit Thaddaeus Krusinski wrote that at the beginning of the seventeenth century Shah Abbas I of Persia had established carpet manufactories in Shirvan and Karabagh.[50] The caucasian carpet weavers adopted Safavid field divisions and floral motifs, but changed their style according to their ancient traditions. Characteristical motifs include stylized Chinese dragons in the so-called "Dragon carpets", combat scenes of tigers and stags, or floral motifs. The style is highly abstract to an extent that the animal forms become unrecognizable, unless compared to earlier Safavid animals and 16th century "vase style" carpets depicting the same motifs.[39] Among the most popular groups of Caucasian rugs are the "Star Kazak"[51][52] and "Shield Kazak" carpets.[53]

Turkmen rugs[edit]

Main article: Turkmen rug
Two Turkmen men standing on a carpet in front of a yurt. (1905-1915)

Turkmen tribes inhabited the area between the Amu Darya river, the Caspian Sea, Aral Sea and towards the borders of modern-time Iran and Afghanistan. They produced rugs and smaller pile woven textiles in various sizes, including main carpets (halı), tent door hangings (ensi), and other household items like tent door decorations (khalyk or kapunuk), tent bags (torba), large bags (chuval), smaller bags (mafrash), saddle bags (Khordjin), animal covers (asmalyk), and tent bands.

Many archaic components of Turkmen representative arts have survived into the early twentieth century.[54] The original Turkmen were an ancient, Iranian-speaking ethnicity in the western Central Asian steppes and oases. Their military administrative organization in tribes was traced back to the influence of the Huns.([55] cited in[56]) Turkish influence came with the Hephthalite Empire in the sixth century AD, and, to a larger extent, by the immigration of the Oghuz Turks in the ninth and tenth century AD. The Oghuz assimilated the local population, who converted to Islam.[56] The Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century AD led to the destruction of the cities and agricultural irrigation systems, and reduced the Turkmen people to a nomadic lifestyle which they have kept throughout their later history, living at the borders of more powerful states like the Persian Empire, the Khwarazmian dynasty, and the Khanate of Bukhara. Less amenable to assimilation than their neighbours, they were able to preserve much of their traditional culture. During the nineteenth century, the Turkmen came under the influence of the Russian Empire. With the end of the Soviet Union, the former Turkmen socialist republic turned into the independent state of Turkmenistan.

The history of the Turkmen tribes is characterized by migrations, alliances, inter-tribal warfare, even by the violent extinction of regional populations. Knowledge of both the history of a Turkmen tribe and its migrations, and the characteristics of their structure and design, often allows for the attribution of a rug or pile-woven household item to a certain tribe, and to a certain period in its history. The diversity of the colours and ornaments, as well as their potential symbolic meaning, constitutes the subject of a large, sometimes controversial, body of research.[57][58]

Typical for nomad weaving, the wool of Turkmen rugs is of high quality, with a fairly long pile. Sheep wool, goat's hair and cotton are used for the foundation. The pile is made from wool, and often also contains silk. The predominant colour in nearly all Turkmen rugs is madder red, which was obtained locally, and allows for dyeing in various shades. The different tribes used distinct shades of red. The predominance of the red colour in Turkmen rugs creates a monotonous impression on first sight, but the minor ornaments are woven in a great variety of colours. The most prominent ornament in Turkmen rugs is the göl, a medallion-like polygonal pattern which is arranged in rows all over the field. Specific göl were used as tribal emblems in a heraldic manner.[59] Generally, main and secondary, less elaborate göl can be distinguished. Göl were also used depending on the type of rug or household item. Main carpets usually display the main göl of the tribe, whereas tent door covers and bags show special secondary göl.[54]

Primary göl in Turkmen rugs include:[60]

  • Tekke göl: Round shape set on the coordinates of a dark blue lattice, which divides each gül into four sections with diagonally opposed colours.
  • Chuval or Saryk göl: Similar to the Tekke göl, but not arranged on a lattice framework. Often seen on Saryk main carpets.
  • Dyrnak göl - literally: "Comb göl". Rhomboid göl adorned with rows of hooks, resembling combs. Used by the Yomud tribe
  • Kepse göl: Used mainly by the Yomud tribe, rhomboid göl surrounded by two-coloured crenellations.
  • Tauk-Nuska göl: Divided into four quarters in diagonally opposed colours, each quarter shows two stylized animals. Common in many tribes.
  • Gülli göl: Lobed göl which includes a square ornament, from which tre-foiled ornaments on a stem protrude. Used by the Ersari Turkmen, but also seen on Uzbek and Kirghiz weavings.

Turkmen carpets can be woven with both symmetric, and asymmetric knots, open to the left and to the right. Irregular knots are also frequent, including missed warps, knots over three or four warps, single warp knots, or knots sharing one warp, are seen, both symmetric and asymmetric. Often warps are deeply depressed. Pile, warp and weft yarns are excellently balanced. The ratio between horizontal and vertical knots is frequently close to 1:1. Rugs woven in this manner are very dense and durable.[54]

The Salor confederation (consisting mainly of the Salor proper and Saryk) is believed to have lived originally in the Amu Darya valley, and the oases of southern Turkmenistan, including Merv. They used bright shades of madder red. The typical Salor göl has a lobed rosette shade, upright-cross division and motif-filling. Its four central quarters are dyed in diagonally opposed colours. The style of colouring is labelled "Central Asian". The göl are arranged on the main field of a carpet in a way that makes them appear to "float" on the field, creating the impression of a diagonal movement.[54] A group of Turkmen carpets with common structural features were termed "S-group" and identified as Salor rugs by Mackie and Thompson.[34] The carpets of the "S-group" are asymmetrically knotted, open to the left. Warps are ivory, with alternate warps deeply depressed, wefts of two-ply brown wool, occasionally dyed red. Their pile is less supple than other Turkmen rugs, fairly long. Sometimes silk is used, but rarely cotton. Red colour is mostly from madder, but lac and cochineal reds have been found.[34] Older Saryk weavings often have symmetric knots.

Tekke rugs are distinguished by the use of the Tekke göl. They are asymmetrically knotted, almost always open to the right. Alternate warps are rarely deeply depressed. The red colours are dyed in madder, but also cochineal red can be found. In the nineteenth century, synthetic dyes have been used. Warps are often of ivory yarn with a large component of ivory goat's hair. The selvage is overcast in dark blue.[61] Yomud rugs are of a similar structure, with less depressed warps. The red field colour of Yomud rugs is more subdued with a brown hue. Knots are asymmetric, open to the left. Typical göl are dyrnak and kepse göl.[61] The most common field colour of Chaudor rugs is a purplish "Chestnut" brown. White apperas more prominently, also dark and light blue, green and yellow. The warps are made of dark wool, whereas the wefts include white cotton. Knotting is asymmetrical and open to the right, which helps distinguishing Chaudor from Yomud rugs. Tauk nuska göls are common in Chaudor rugs.[62] The Arabatchi, Ersari and Beshiri rugs are less well defined, and subject to ongoing debates.

Commercialization and revival

With the beginning of commercialization in the nineteenth century, carpets were produced for export in Russia and Afghanistan. Known under the trade name of "Bokhara rugs", they show designs inspired by Turkmen carpets, but the colours and the quality of design did not match the original. With the end of the Soviet Union, national states were established in the area. Within general activities to revive the ancient tradition of hand-spinning, natural dyeing, and hand weaving, projects to support refugees from Afghanistan have taken a part in the "carpet renaissance".[21] Although the ancient tribal context is lost, the tradition of the Turkmen rug has seen a revival.[63][64]

The Oriental rug and the Western World[edit]

Oriental rugs were probably known to Europe since the High Middle Ages. Travellers' stories, court annals, home inventories and testaments and, most importantly, paintings bear evidence of rugs and carpets as goods of luxury. As such, they were absorbed into European material culture, providing a context of prestige and dignity which is still understood today.[65] Since the late nineteenth century, art historic and scientific interest in oriental rugs awoke, and they began to be regarded as genuine objects of art. Rugd were collected in museums and by private collectors, and provided the material for scientific research. Nearly every aspect of the manufacture, design, colours, and cultural significance has been, and still is, analyzed and appreciated.

Goods of luxury: From the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Hans Holbein the Younger - The Ambassadors, 1533 (National Gallery, London), with a "large pattern Holbein" carpet

In the early fourteenth century, Marco Polo wrote in the account of his travels about Anatolian rugs:

"...et ibi fiunt soriani et tapeti pulchriores de mundo et pulchrioris coloris."
"...and here they make the most beautiful silks and carpets in the world, and with the most beautiful colours."[66]

Other thirteenth-century European travellers who journeyed to the court of the Mongol Empire were André de Longjumeau, William of Rubruck and Giovanni da Pian del Carpine with Benedykt Polak. None of them visited China except Marco Polo. The Moroccan merchant Ibn Battuta travelled with the Golden Horde and through China in the early-to-mid-14th century. The 14th-century English author John de Mandeville wrote an account of his journeys in the East. The travellers sometimes cursorily mention carpets, but only the luxurious carpets which they saw at royal courts seem to have attracted greater interest.

By the late twelvth century, the Republic of Venice, strategically positioned at the head of the Adriatic, became a flourishing trade center. In 1204, Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, led the Venetian contingent in the Fourth Crusade which ended in the Sack of Constantinople, and established Venetian predominance in the trade between western Europe and the Islamic world. Occasional reports appear about carpets and rugs being bought in Venice. In a series of letters[67] from Venice dated 18 August - 13 October 1506,[68] the Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer mentions "two nice and large" carpets which he bought for a friend amongst other luxury goods. Objects of courtly representation and prestige initially, oriental rugs became affordable to wider groups of European citizens with the growing wealth and influence of merchant families and private persons. Inventories and testaments of Venetian citizens found in the archives document extensive collection of carpets.[13][69]

Oriental rugs are depicted in a large number of Renaissance paintings.[13] Since the late nineteenth century, attempts were made to determine the date when specific rugs were woven, and carpets were identified with designs similar to these reproduced in the paintings. As a rug could not have been woven later than it had appeared in a painting, the age of a carpet can be assessed by this "ante quem" method.[70] However, the scientists who established the method soon realized that their approach was biased, as it focused on representative carpets. Only these were deemed worthy of being reproduced by artists.[28] Village or nomadic rugs were not depicted in paintings aiming to represent dignity and prestige, and not until the mid twentieth century was their artistic and art historic value appreciated in the Western World.

Collectors and Scientists: Late nineteenth century until today

In the late nineteenth century, western art historians developed scientifically productive approaches to the Oriental rug. In 1871, Julius Lessing published his book on oriental carpet design, still relying more on European paintings than on the examination of actual carpets, which he thought were largely lost.[71] The collecting of oriental rugs as an art form began in the 1880s. It was confirmed by two ground-breking exhibitions. The first took place in Vienna in 1891, focusing on the rugs of the imperial collection of the House of Habsburg, but including specimen from private collections as well.[72] The second was held in London in 1892. For the first time, the Ardabil Carpet was presented to the public.[73] In 1893, the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), advised by William Morris, purchased the Ardabil carpet, recognised today as one of the finest carpets in the world. The high price that was to be paid for the Ardabil carpet required public collection of money, and Oriental rugs came to be understood as objects of great value by a larger audience.

In 1882, Robinson published a book on eastern carpets,[74] where he deployed the analytical terms that were emerging in decorative arts scholarship for the carpet's design elements, recognising medallions, floral tracery, cloud bands or the "so-called cloud pattern", and scrollwork on the outer border.

In 1891, Alois Riegl published his book on "Old Oriental Carpets".[75] For the first time, Oriental carpets were analyzed in their geographic, cultural, and sociological context, which marks the first time when Oriental rugs were recognized as an art in itself. Following a first essay in 1892,[76] art historian Wilhelm von Bode published his book,[39] which still is considered as a standard textbook. Wilhelm von Bode's donation of his carpet collection to the Berlin Museum in 1904-5 was the foundation of the Islamic Museum, Berlin, today the Pergamon Museum. With Wilhelm von Bode as its first director, his successors Friedrich Sarre, Ernst Kühnel, and Kurt Erdmann created and established the "Berlin School" of history of Islamic Art. They developed the "ante quem" method for dating based on Renaissance paintings, recognized the "four social layers" of carpet production (nomadic, village, town and court manufacture) with their different approaches to design and stylization, and established the method of structural analysis to determine the historical framework of the rug weaving traditions within the Islamic world, from a Western perspective.[77]

The London 1892 exhibition, especially the display of the Ardabil carpet, led to a growing interest in collecting oriental rugs by private collectors, who, mainly in the United States, also started publicly exhibiting their collections. Later on, private collectors donated their collections to museums. U.S. American collectors and philanthropists (Charles T. Yerkes, J. P. Morgan, Joseph L. Williams, James F. Ballard, Benjamin Altman, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., George H. Myers and Joseph V. McMullan[78]) donated to, or bequeathed their collections to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. James F. Ballard donated both to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and to the St. Louis Art Museum. George Hewitt Myers donated his private collection to found the Textile Museum, Washington.[79]

The first major exhibition of oriental rugs in the United States was held in Chicago in 1893. Further exhibitions include the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1922;[80] the Ballard Exhibition at the Art Club of Chicago, 1922,[81] and the Art Club of Chicago exhibition, 1926,[82] culminating in the 1939 New York World's Fair, in Flushing.

Many of the dealers who set up booths at these exhibitions then started galleries in America’s major cities. In New York, most of these stores were run by Armenian immigrants and concentrated in lower and mid-town Manhattan. At the turn of the century, the best known stores belonged to Dikran Kelekian, Hagop Kevorkian, S. Kent Costikyan and H. Michaelyan. In 1932, a group of collectors and rug enthusiasts, amongst them Arthur Dilley, Joseph McMullan, and Maurice Dimand, then curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, founded the Hajji Baba Club.[83] With their exhibitions and publications, they have contributed ever since to the knowledge and appreciation of oriental rugs.

Important Collections[edit]


A vast body of literature exists about oriental rugs. The bibliography is set up as to provide a selection of what is considered relevant information for further reading or reference.

Comprehensive Bibliographies

  • M.-E. Enay, and S. Azadi: Einhundert Jahre Orientteppich-Literatur, 1877-1977. Hannover, 1977[90]
  • G. O'Bannon: Oriental Rugs - A Bibliography. Metuchen, NJ and London, 1994[91]

General Textbooks

  • J. Lessing: Ancient Oriental Carpet Patterns after Pictures and Originals of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, 1877[71]
  • A. Riegl: Altorientalische Teppiche, 1892[75]
  • J.K. Mumford: Oriental Rugs, New York, 1901[92]
  • W. von Bode: Antique Rugs from the Near East, 1st ed. 1902 - 5th ed. 1985[39]
  • F.R. Martin: A history of oriental carpets before 1800 (Vienna, 1906-8)[93]
  • F. Sarre: Altorientalische Teppiche/Ancient oriental carpets, Leipzig 1908
  • F. Sarre and H. Trenkwald: Alt-orientalische Teppiche/Ancient oriental carpets, Vienna 1926[94]
  • R. Neugebauer and J. Orendi: Handbuch der Orientalischen Teppichkunde/Handbook of Oriental Carpets[40]
  • G. Lewis: The practical book of oriental rugs, London 1911[95]
  • W.A. Hawley: Oriental rugs, antique and modern. New York 1913[96]
  • W. Grothe-Hasenbalg: Der Orientteppich, seine Geschichte und seine Kultur/The oriental carpet - its history and culture. Berlin, 1922[97]
  • A. Kendrick and C. Tattersall: Handwoven Carpets, Oriental and European, London 1922[98]
  • K. Erdmann: Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets, 1970[13]
  • K. Erdmann: Oriental Carpets, New York, 1960[99]
  • P.R.J. Ford: Oriental Carpet Design, London, 1981[23]
  • M.L and M. Eilland: Oriental Rugs - A complete Guide, London, 1998[14]

Earliest rugs and fragments

  • F. Spuhler: Pre-Islamic Carpets and Textiles from Eastern Lands, Farnborough 2013[9]
  • F. Spuhler: Carpets from Islamic Lands, London, 2012 (Sasanian carpet fragments of Afghanistan)[7]
  • S. Rudenko: Frozen Tombs of Siberia, 1970 (Pazyryk carpet; translation of the 1968 Russian edition)[10]
  • F.R. Martin: A History of Oriental Carpets before 1800, Vienna, 1908 (Konya fragments)[100]
  • R.M. Riefstahl: Primitive Rugs of the "Konya" type in the Mosque of Beyshehir, 1931[101]
  • C.J. Lamm: The Marby Rug and some Fragments of Carpet found in Egypt, Stockholm 1937 (Fostat fragments)[102]
  • R. Pfister and L. Bellinger The Excavations at Dura-Europos; IV Vol. 2 - The Textiles[5]
  • H. Fujii and H. Sakamoto: The marked characteristics of carpets unearthed from the At-Tar caves, Iraq. Berkeley, 1993[6]

Persian rugs

  • A. Pope and P. Ackermann: A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, London 1938,[103]
  • A.C. Edwards: The Persian Carpet. London, 1953[15]
  • J. Opie: Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia, Portland, Oregon, 181[35]
  • E. Gans-Ruedin: Splendeur du Tapis Persian. Fribourg-Paris, 1978[104] - probably the last textbook on Persian carpets published before the Iranian Revolution, sponsored by the last Queen of Persia.
  • L. Dadgar, ed.: The Indigenous Elegance of the Persian Carpet, Tehran 2001[85]

Turkish rugs

  • E. Schmutzler: Altorientalische Teppiche in Siebenbürgen / Ancient Oriental Carpets in Transylvania. Leipzig, 1933[105] - historic work on Transylvanian carpets
  • K. Erdmann: The History of the Early Turkish Carpet. London, 1977[28]
  • W. Brüggemann and H. Boehmer, Carpets of the Peasants and Nomads in Anatolia, Munich, 1982[37]
  • S. Ionescu: Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania, Rome, 2005[106]

Mamluk rugs

  • K. Erdmann: Cairene Carpets Part I. European and Islamic Sources from the 15.-18. Century. Ann Arbor, 1938[46]
  • E. de Unger: The Origin of the Mamluk Carpet Design. London, 1980[47]
  • R. Pinner and M. Franses: Ottoman Cairene carpets, London, 1981[49]

Caucasian rugs

  • S.U. Azadi, L.Karimov, W. Zollinger: Azerbaijani-Caucasian rugs, Switzerland 2001[107]
  • U. Schürmann: Caucasian rugs. 1974[108]
  • R. Tschebull: Kazak; Carpets of the Caucasus. New York, 1971[109]
  • I. Benett: Oriental Rugs Vol. 1: Caucasian.[110]

Turkmen rugs

  • E. Tsareva: Turkmen Carpets. Stuttgart, 2011[54]
  • E. Moshkova: Carpets of the people of Central Asia of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Tucson, 1996. Russian edition, 1970. publication[111]
  • R. Pinner, and M. Eilland jr.: Between the Black Desert and the Red : Turkmen carpets from the Wiedersperg collection. San Francisco, 1999[112]

Tribal rugs

  • J. Housego: Tribal Rugs. New York, 1978[32]
  • D. Black and C. Loveless: Woven Gardens: Nomad and Village Rugs of the Fars Province of Southern Persia. London, 1979[33]
  • L. Mackie and J. Thompson: Turkmen: Tribal Carpets and Traditions. Washington D.C., 1980[34]
  • J. Opie: Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia, Portland, Oregon, 181[35]
  • J. Opie: Tribal rugs, 1992[36]


Anatolian rugs[edit]

Persian rugs[edit]

Caucasian rugs[edit]

Turkmen rugs[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Denny, Walter B. (2014). How to Read Islamic carpets (1st ed.). New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-1-58839-540-5. 
  2. ^ Pinner, R. (1983). "The First Carpets". Hali 5 (2): 11. 
  3. ^ a b Spuhler, Friedrich (1987). Die Orientteppiche im Museum für Islamische Kunst Berlin (1st ed.). Munich: Klinkhardt and Biermann. ISBN 3-7814-0270-3. 
  4. ^ Rudenko, S.J.; Thompson, M.W. (transl.) (1970). Frozen Tombs of Siberia. Littlehampton Book Services Ltd. pp. 302–3. ISBN 978-0460077156. 
  5. ^ a b Pfister, R.; Bellinger, L. (1945). The Excavations at Dura-Europos; IV Vol. 2 The Textiles (1st ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  6. ^ a b Fujii, Hideo; Sakamoto, Kazuko (1993). Eiland, M.L., ed. "The marked characteristics of carpets unearthed from the At-Tar caves, Iraq". Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies (Berkeley) IV: 35–40. 
  7. ^ a b c Spuhler, Friedrich (2012). Carpets from Islamic Lands (1st ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 14–19. ISBN 978-0-500-97043-0. 
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