The Mystique and Magic of the Oriental Carpet

Antique Turkish rug

To clarify the distinction between Persians & Orientals, “Orientals” strictly speaking refers to ALL those that were and are skillfully and lovingly crafted by hand, close to and including Persia or in that general region of the East which includes India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Central Asia — and even Egypt, the Balkans, Nepal and others - because all these countries or regions were to a greater or lesser extent influenced by Persian culture, art and techniques of making carpets. However, the term Persian is often loosely used for any of these “Orientals”. The Persians are simply the most renowned, and for good reason! They have the most illustrious and longest known history. But, all these regions have in the past and still today produce examples that range from mediocre to good to outstanding! As is true for any art or craft form.

Oriental carpets are knotted by hand on looms and they are differing from machine-made ones in quality and durability. Loosely speaking, there are two different types of oriental carpets: vertically knotted and horizontally woven ones. First ones are carefully and finely knotted. Thereby warp threads are worked in lengthwise and the weft threads across. The knotter then knots around warp and weft so that the desired patterns arise. In contrast to that, kilims are flat woven on horizontal looms. These carpets, made by nomads, are usually coarser and flatter, and they look the same from both of their sides, so that each side can be used. If a carpet is finished, it is sheared into uniform length. In addition to that, it will be cleaned, before bringing it into the market.

Why have Persians & Orientals become so admired & prized?

Why does the term Oriental carpet conjure up, for most people, such luxury, beauty, exclusivity? The reason is quite simple: whether it is painting, sculpture, architecture, or other forms of visual art, there is something about the design, colour, texture & the form, that touches or moves us emotionally. That causes awe & admiration. And so with Persians & Orientals — plus the added magic of the East!

And when you see these carpets in different styles of interiors - whether traditional, art- nouveau, eclectic, or ultra-modern - a beautiful Persian or Oriental carpet in the right style for you, and the right setting, creates with its textures, colours and designs a feeling of luxury, of beauty, of originality which is hard to describe. Which is only one of its advantages, the others being fact that the better examples can improve with use like fine antiques; and have been stores of potentially growing wealth; are precious heir looms.

When you think of or see examples of such carpets all over in the world’s finest settings - Buckingham Palace, the White House, the Kremlin; in a mansion in London or New York, a penthouse in Hong Kong, in some of the world’s leading hotels. The point: they are universally acknowledged as the ultimate in decorative floor coverings, in the same way that fine paintings are the ultimate in wall coverings.

Basic Technique

The same basic methods & techniques (knotting or weaving on looms by hand), the same basic materials (chiefly wool, cotton and silk), even the same basic design themes and colours tend to be used, not only in Persia but in the other mentioned countries of the East - which is why we call them Orientals.

Styles and Taste in Carpets

The best way to think of these carpets, as a good analogy, are paintings. There isn’t any one style of painting; there have been, are, and will be different styles of paintings. For example, those great Renaissance paintings that are very elaborate, intricate, or grandiose; then those of the Impressionist era; the abstract schools; the “Moderns” & on and on. The same thing applies to music: jazz, pop, classical, whatever. The point: beautiful music, beautiful paintings, regardless of style are considered beautiful to the people who love them because they are touched by them emotionally. The same applies to the art & craft of hand-made Persians & Orientals.

This also means that there are different tastes for different periods. But that there is no one “right” or “wrong” taste. Beauty is beauty. Like music, something that really touches and appeals to you is going to be right for you. So that is important to remember in choosing your carpet or rug.

What types of Persian carpets are there?

Broadly speaking, there are four main categories of Persian and Oriental carpets, best explained by the environments where they are crafted.

  • Those that are made by tribal people, often nomads, that wander with their sheep & goats searching for pasture. These tend to be simpler & often rather naive in appearance; their designs tend to be geometric, the colours tend to be quite vibrant and strong. And that is one taste and one environment, so to speak, of this art form: the nomadic life-style & environment. Their weavers are the women of the tribe.

    They, and the next category tend to be the most affordable. However, they can be amongst the most beautiful and prized by rug lovers! And the best examples can be very valuable collector’s items!

  • Another environment is the cottage industry. The rugs that are made in the villages are generally somewhat more sophisticated than the tribal/nomadic rugs. They are almost invariably made by womenfolk, who often with their daughters will be sitting at the loom in their spare time knotting a rug or a carpet to supplement their family income. And that is a second “environment”, called either Cottage industry or Village rugs. As with the tribal/nomadic examples above, they will vary from average to exceptional.
  • The third are those made in the cities usually called Urban carpets and made under organized conditions. The urban or city rugs tend to be more elaborate, more intricate, using more colours. It is just a more sophisticated form of workmanship. But again, these will vary in quality and value from medium to good to exceptional — and priced accordingly. They are usually the most costly to produce.
  • Finally, those that are crafted in “Master workshops” and “Court workshops”. These Court examples include the superb priceless examples of past centuries crafted for the royal courts or as gifts to foreign dignitaries — some of which today can be seen in the world’s great art museums or important private collections. Likewise the Master workshop examples of the past and present. By definition, they are the best of the best produced under the supervision of renowned masters & families of Persia such as Rachtizadeh, Seirafian, Amogli & others of the 20th Century.

Hand woven or knotted carpets have been adorning tents and homes of one kind or another for over 2500 years in the East, and giving countless generation of Man protection from harsh floors, beauty and joy in lifestyles and the pride of possession. And, again, they are of the oldest craft & art forms on Earth. They can justly be considered the ultimate in floor coverings.

Top Reasons to Buy Persian Carpets

  1. Beautiful and decorative, regardless of decor. Warmth, colourful designs, luxurious textures. Loved and prized for centuries till the present day
  2. Being Hand-crafted, each therefore by definition unique, no two ever identical! (In the same way any original painting is unique. And each will have its own personality)
  3. Completely natural fibres, hence environmentally friendly!
  4. Potentially long-lasting and durable. If correctly cared for, could last generations or centuries! Heirlooms. (Most in art museums go back two to four centuries!)
  5. Enormous variety of colours and designs from dozens of regions of the Orient. Something for every taste, budget and décor
  6. Sizes and shapes (even round) to suit all needs
  7. Different textures – flat-weaves (Kilims or tapestry-type) and plush knotted-piled surface
  8. Store of value or growth in value potential, especially with the better and best examples. Why? Because it is a steadily dying art& craft. This has been proven over many generations - though as with all assets, it applies to only some, and there is no guarantee
  9. An original work of art