An Accent on the Antique

The increasing demand for the higher quality products has caused the interest in antique Oriental carpets to surge. Designers and their clients who want something very special–a work of art for the floor–are finding these indigenous expressions of distant and colorful cultures highly suitable. With the settling of most nomadic weaving tribes, it is doubtful that very much domestic production will continue in the next generation. Increased industrialization and specialized economics do not bode well for the hand crafted carpets formerly found on looms in Kurdistan, southern Iran, central Asia and Afghanistan.

The revival of the Arts and Crafts Movement during the last generation has heightened the awareness and value of hand made carpets. Collectors of these vanishing vestiges of tribal cultures have rushed to fill their floors and walls with exotic and beautiful one-of-a-kind weaving–carpets, flatwoven textiles like kilims, animal trappings and even tribal clothing and jewelry.

A carpet is antique, according to the U.S. Customs, if it is over 100 years old. Names of these carpets proliferate and, while there is consensus on many types of antique rugs as to where they were made and by whom, much disagreement still exists. A significant amount of research and field work has been done during the last two decades and some of the questions have been clarified in an impressive production of articles and books on specialized subjects in the field.

Buying an antique carpet can be expensive if the highest quality and condition is demanded. A fine Heriz, Tabriz, European needlepoint or Bessarabian can cost up to $50,000, or more for a particularly large or outstanding piece in unworn condition. However, for every one of these rare examples, there are hundreds of beautiful antique Oriental and European carpets available that can be purchased for a third of this higher price.

While condition is important, some naturally occurring wear is acceptable, and the price should vary accordingly. One should look for large areas of poor repairs, the painting over the foundation in badly worn areas, rugs that have been reduced in size by cutting and areas of extreme brittleness in the foundation.

It is particularly imperative to buy any hand made Oriental carpet from a reputable retail dealer or trade showroom. Many grades of modern carpets have designs which look similar, but whose quality of construction and materials vary greatly. Antique carpets that have been created at least 100 years ago may have conditions that would go unnoticed by the uninitiated buyer.

Architecture of the Prayer Rug

Architecture has long played a direct role in the art of the carpet. The prayer rug, particularly if woven in Anatolia, contains a design identified by an arched panel that dominates the field. Its form is derived from the entry portals of mosques. This architectural form in its usual configuration consists of a scalloped, corbelled arch supported by flanking columns all placed within a framing surface on which stucco or carved stone ornament is richly displayed. In many examples of Islamic architecture this theme is carried to the inside of the mosque where it is seen in the design of the mihrab, the niche in the wall facing Mecca.

While it is true that many of these carpets were actually used in the namaz (prayer) ritual, the act of prayer as prescribed by the Koran requires only a clean place–a carpet of any design would do, as would a sheepskin, a plain cloth or even a newspaper. So this distinctive design is more iconographic than functional, more symbolic than literal. Whether viewed as an exterior entry portal or as the mihrab inside, the form represents a “passage through” to Paradise by meditation and prayer.

In contemporary Western homes, the prayer rug has become an object for hanging on the wall as a painting to cover empty space. Its asymmetry and striking design is well suited for viewing on a vertical surface, with the arch form providing a striking visual focus just like large canvas art. The following rugs, both pile and flat woven, show varying degrees of realism for the arch form. Generally speaking, the more refined examples were woven in larger organized towns, while the abstract and geometric pieces were products of small villages and semi-nomadic weavers.