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Bijan's Oriental Rug Gallery

Bijan’s Oriental Rugs
Hand-made Oriental Rugs, selected with care and sold with Integrity.

Oriental Rugs - A buyer’s Guide

  • Floral
    The image of a lush and fecund garden is one that is deeply rooted in both the religious and cultural heritage of the Persian people. Not only has the arid nature of the land inspired successive rulers to create the most exquisite and luxuriant ornamental gardens in their palaces and towns; it has  also spurred generations of textile artists to compensate for the harshness of their environment by weaving emblems of foliate abundance into their rugs.  The weavers were no doubt further inspired by their belief in the Islamic afterlife, which promises that the faithful dwell in Paradise (also the Persian word for garden).  It is therefore not surprising that floral and garden designs feature prominently in Persian rugs.
  • All over floral
    Designs which feature floral forms without the addition of a medallion, vase or other primary motif. They were popular with older Caucasian (mainly Karabagh) groups, and may still be encountered on a number of village and workshop rugs. Perhaps the most popular and satisfying all over floral scheme is the Lilihan design, which forms a substantial part of the repertoire of the Sarough weavers of west central Persia.
  • Repeating floral
    Designs employing floral motifs which is then systematically repeated across the entire field.  Naturalistic versions were found on older Caucasian rugs, and may still be encountered on some contemporary Persian workshops rugs.  The most common use of this design is in the highly stylized, Geometric interpretation found on Beshir and some Belouch rugs.
  • Garden
    Designs usually based on the formal gardens of ancient Persia, with their abundance of flora separated by pathways and ornamental ponds. They sometimes take the form of a palace garden seen from above; but more often a garden is simply implied by the juxtaposition of vegetal and foliate forms.  Gardens are most closely associated with the Kerman weavers of southern Persia, but may be found in rugs from a number of workshop groups.
  • Paneled garden
    The field is divided into panels or compartments either individual motifs or identifiable segments of the overall scheme. Sometimes 3 or 4 motifs are repeated in alternate panels across the field, and sometimes the same, or totally separate, motifs are used. Sophisticated versions may be found in a number workshop rugs, particularly Kerman and Ghoum, but perhaps its finest and most definitive expression is encountered in the more primitive rugs of Bakhtiari tribe.
  • Aubusson and Savonnerie
    Designs based on the opulent floral schemes of the 17th and 18th century French workshops of the same names. These usually consist of large, naturalistic floral garlands or medallions set against an open or sparsely decorated field.  Their influence can be seen in rugs from a number of weaving groups, but more faithful version are now usually confined to Chinese rugs.
  • Shah Abbas
    These designs  derive their name from Shah Abbas, who was instrumental in stimulating the renaissance of Persian textile art in the 16th and 17th centuries. They consist of a series of slightly different palmettos and floral forms, and are found either in an all over format or in conjunction with a central medallion. They are closely associated with the major workshop groups of central Persia, particularly, Isphahan, Meshed and Nain, but also feature strongly in rugs from countries which specialize in copying Persian designs.
  • Prayer Rugs
    Prayer rugs have been used in Muslim countries for centuries, and are an integral part of the religious experience of the Islamic world. An orthodox Muslim is expected to pray 5 times a day on a “clean spot” facing the holy city of Mecca, and a special rug is an extremely convenient way of ensuring that this directive is obeyed.  In addition, the basic design of all prayer rugs reproduces the physical area of the mosque.  In early mosques, the focal point for prayer was a sacred stone (the qibla), which was set in a wall facing Mecca; it later became customary to enclose this stone within an arch shaped niche known as a mihrab, or prayer niche.
    In prayer rug designs this arch shaped form is usually found at the top end of the composition, although it is sometimes employed at both ends in what are generally referred to as “double ended” prayer rugs. It represents both the physical mihrab of the mosque and the spiritual archway to Paradise, and is often flanked by the “pillars of wisdom”  The area below the mihrab, which is knelt upon when praying, is known as the prayer field, and can be taken symbolizing the floor of the mosque in front of the mihrab. In addition to the prayer niche and prayer field, which are the essence of all prayer rugs , a number of religious objects, particularly incense burners and washing vessels, are often employed.  The prayer field is sometimes left open, or undecorated, but vase, tree of life and other motifs are frequently incorporated.  Such schemes are sometimes referred to as paradise or ceremonial designs.
    Prayer rug deigns are traditionally associated with Anatolia and still constitute the underlying format of most Anatolian rugs.  Their interpretation, however, ranges from the exceptionally intricate floral inspired schemes of the Hereke workshops to the more simplified geometric versions favored by village groups. Persia produces far fewer prayer rugs, but the design is still found in some workshop pieces.  Prayer rugs also form the fundamental basis of most Belouch, and a number of other tribal schemes.  India is noted for its high quality interpretations of traditional Persian and Anatolian compositions; and Pakistan produces some similar rugs, in addition to those in its more distinctive Mori Bokhara range.
  • Saph designs
    Composed of a series of adjacent prayer rug schemes, and often referred to as “family” or “multiple” prayer rugs.  Anatolia, particularly Kayseria, produces a number of such rugs, but the majority come form Pakistan are marketed as Mori Bokhara or Jaldar Saphs.
  • Vase
    This term is applied to a number of compositions employing a vase, or group of vases, as the principal design element.  The motif was most probably introduced into Persia from China, where it had been used for centuries as a symbol of peace and tranquility, and has subsequently been adapted to fulfill both the schematic and symbolic requirements of Islamic weavers.  It now forms a substantial part of the repertoire of several Persian Anatolian and Indian workshop groups, particularly when incorporated ass subsidiary element into prayer rug, tree of life and medallion and corner schemes.  However, vases are the primary motifs in two designs outlined below:
  • Floral Vase
    Variations of all over floral schemes, which use vases as the sources of flowering sprays, and are found primarily on workshop rugs from Persia, Anatolia, India and Pakistan.
  • Zel-i-sultan
    Composed of an all over arrangement of repeating vases and considered by many experts to be one of the most aesthetically accomplished of all Persian designs. Rugs employing this scheme are becoming increasingly rare and, although it may still be found on some workshop rugs , the only group to use it with any regularity are the Abadeh weavers of south central Persia.  India and Pakistan make a few rugs in this design.
  • Tree of life
    Tree of life designs are based on one of the oldest and most universal of all religious and mythological symbols, predating both Islam and Christianity. Reference to a “tree of life” as the connecting link between the human and heavenly worlds are found in diverse cultures throughout Europe, Asia Minor and the Orient.  In Islam, it symbolizes the bridge between Paradise, the world of men and the world below, and still retains a religious significance that is no longer evident in the West. It is usually used in conjunction with a garden, vase or prayer rug design.  Several workshop groups in Persia, Anatolia, India and Pakistan produce extremely intricate and naturalistic interpretations of this scheme, and more stylized, geometric versions are found on a number of village and nomadic rugs from Persia, Anatolia and Afghanistan.  It is also a popular field decoration on Belouch prayer rugs.
  • Pictorial
    The depiction of people and animals is less common in the East than it is in the West, and, despite the fact that vegetal and architectural forms are at the heart of most motifs and designs, the oriental textiles artist rarely portrays landscapes or figurative groups. Pictorial designs based on scenes taken from life, history or mythology, are largely confined to workshop rugs from Persia, in particular, Kerman, Tabriz and Kashan, India and to lesser extend China and Pakistan.  Sometimes they comprise a single identifiable scene or group of figures, and sometimes they take the form of series of tableaux.  They are always distinguishable from other designs which show human and animal forms by the prominence of the figures and the clear narrative quality of the scene.
    There is no pictorial tradition in Anatolia, Afghanistan or the Caucasus, although human and animal figures are often used as subsidiary decorative motifs in Caucasian rugs, but some nomadic and tribal groups, specially the Belouch, occasionally produce rugs with pictorial themes. China has its own pictorial tradition, and copies of Persian schemes are produced in India and Pakistan.
  • Hunting designs
    Feature either human figures, usually on horseback, engaged in a formal hunt, or predatory animals pursuing their pray amidst a fecund under growth of foliate forms. These latter scenes are sometimes employed in conjunction with a central medallion, and may possibly be merely developments of the medallions corner design.  Formal hunting scenes are firmly rooted in the traditions of the Persian Shahs and princeliness who loved to have themselves depicted as noble hunters and horsemen; such scenes represent the nearest examples of portraiture to be found in traditional rug designs.  Hunting designs are still produced by Persian workshop groups, particularly Kashan and Tabriz, are now mainly found on rugs from India, China  and Pakistan.
  • Novelty
    Made by several Persian, Indian and Pakistani workshops, they may feature anything from copies of famous Western painting to reproductions of dollar bills.
  • Medallion
    A medallion design can be anything based around a dominant central form, and is arguably the most frequently encountered scheme in rugs from every producing country. The number of individual variations is enormous, with each group providing its own distinctive interpretation.  Allowing for certain stylistic overlaps, all medallion designs can be divided into two broad categories.
  • Medallion and corner
    Sometimes referred to as the “book cover” or Koran design because it was evolved during the 15th and 16th centuries from the magnificent tooled leather covers used to bind the Koran; these had themselves been inspired by the inside of mosque dome, with its central boss and intricately decorated surround.  This scheme was first transposed into carpets in the 16th century, and has remained the dominant feature of Persian compositions ever since.  In workshop rugs, the medallion is usually floral inspired and articulated in extremely intricate, curvilinear forms, whereas village and nomadic interpretations are generally bolder, more geometric, and not necessarily floral inspired. Both geometric and curvilinear versions are also produced by weavers in Anatolia, India Pakistan, and China.
  • Amulet/Medallion
    Posses an overtly heraldic quality which appears to stem from some ancient tribal emblem or standard rather than the Koran “book cover” design.  They are distinguished from medallion and corner schemes by the totemistic quality of the forms and frequent repetition of the dominant motif. This design is produced predominantly in Caucasus, Anatolia and by several nomadic and village groups throughout Persia.  When 2 or 3 of these central forms are joined together they are referred to as pole medallion.

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