Carpet weaving is one of mankind’s most ancient and finest crafts. It is unknown where the art originated - whether it was the Chinese, Mongolians, Siberians, Central Asians, Persians or Egyptians (or perhaps even across the ocean by the Mayans!) - is something that is still undetermined today. Earliest historic evidence (found till date) points towards the Siberian and Mongolian tribes engaging in widespread rug-making as an art (but this is simply because of the presence of evidence; it is widely believed that carpet making started earlier).
Historically, carpets were created through many different methods - woven, knotted, flat-weave or hooked (all on a loom, generally speaking). Carpets were used for generally two reasons - with no sophisticated methods for heating, rugs were used to warm the cold earth or stone floors as well as hung on walls (as tapestries) for insulation. The second reason for hanging carpets was purely for ornamental purposes. The wealthier you were, the finer the weave, material and designs on your carpet. It was an art to the highest degree, with the wealthy competing over leading rugmaker’s carpets, since they were all one of a kind. Carpets did not just provide heat, they reflected the personality and tastes of the residents of the household and gave distinction to their social status.
The oldest surviving carpet, (since most carpets were made of perishable materials) pictured above, was found encased in ice in ancient Scythian (or perhaps Achaemenidian) tombs. The tomb is located under a Pazyryk burial mound, in the Pazyryk Valley of the high Altai Mountains in Siberia (a cross roads of Chinese, Russian and Kazakh people). It is approximately 6’6” x 6’0” and framed by a border of mighty griffins. It dates back to approximately 2500-2000 BCE.
While there are very few finds of such historical carpets, we nonetheless know they existed through the works of historians, scribes, artists and poets -for example, Homer spoke about carpets in 9th century, and many ancient Persian and Chinese artists have left us records of what once must have been amazing feats of art. The 14th and 15th centuries saw carpets move west, to Europe - in paintings, at least, so we know that “oriental” rugs must have been quite the commodity. But it had caught on as a trade in Europe before that - in the 1200’s in Spain, then, four hundred years later, embellished to the finest levels in the Louvre workshops in France.
Carpets are an amazing map of the intricate threads of history - a tapestry that, as it moved across the globe, gradually changed into different styles, designs, and materials as it adapted to the greatly varying and unique cultures it came into contact with. Some used silk, some used wool and yet others woven strands of gold for ornamentation! Different types of looms - both vertical and horizontal - were created in an effort to make increasingly diverse weaving or knotting styles. Fringes were added, so were beads. Edges were rounded.
Artists throughout the joint continents have since used their rugs as canvases for the stories they wished to tell - be it the sweeping landscape of the Altai Mountains, an epic battle in Central Asia, or pleasing patterns to the eye in the Middle East. At the end of the day, carpet weaving was a way for artists, representatives, of a sort, of their historic people to those of us who gaze back in wonder, as an expression of religious and cultural values.
In the next few parts of this series, we will explore the most prominent carpet makers: the Chinese, Turkmen, Pakistani, Persian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Spanish and finally French carpets. As lush to our feet as they are on our eyes, no doubt it will be an enlightening (and thoroughly comfortable) journey!@2 years ago with 5 notes
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