Posted by R. John Howe on 09-21-2007 05:37 AM:

"Chinese" Rug

Dear folks -

I have not been quite inclusive in my reporting of what Jerry Thompson said when he put up the rug below.

The image above is of its front. The one below is of its back.

What Jerry actually said was that this piece was either Chinese or Tibetan.

Now if we had had the presence of mind to look at its structure that morning we could have determined that since Chinese rugs tend to be tied with assymetric knots open to the left and have warps so deeply depressed that the backs of the rugs are described as "closed" (i.e. one warp in each pair is entirely buried and the knot nodes on adjoining pairs of warp show no space at all between themselves). Tibetan rugs have distinctive knots which are tied over a rod and then cut at the end of a row. Examined Tibetan knots often look like mixtures of asymmetric and symmetric knots with the symmetric ones predominant (this is a generalization because there are, in fact, different Tibetan knotting structures, all of them different from the usual asymmetric, symmetric types). But in any event we could have determined pretty easily whether the structure of this rug is Chinese or Tibetan.

Having failed to do that, I have looked now to see if we have any other available indicators that would let us make this distinction in more probablistic terms.

Size might be a possibility, since Chinese pieces can be quite long and Tibetan rugs seem more restricted in size. Well, here is Jerry standing next to his rug.

Jerry is standing a bit in front of his piece which is pinned to the board. He is about 6'3"- 6'5" tall. So this piece is shorter than he is, likely less than 6 ft. long.

I checked and there are lots of Tibetan rugs over 6 feet long, so size is not going to help make this distinction.

Well, we often look at design for attribution. One set of design descriptions I found says this:

"...Tientsin workshop rugs generally featured asymmetrical compositions involving naturalistic floral, bird, tree, vase, boat and pagoda motifs, usually set diagonally in opposing corners against an open or sparsely decorated field."

That sounds pretty close, not that Tibetan pieces don't show dragons and the like a lot. The pillar rugs in particular often have dragons (although this piece is not a pillar rug). Besides, the Chinese made pillar rugs with dragons too, as this B & W image shows.

The next indicator I thought of was color. Many Chinese rugs are rather sedate in color pallette, while the Tibetans are known for their attraction to garish colors. This does not mean that there are not more colorful Chinese rugs, there are. The description of Tientsin rugs I quoted above goes on about color like this:

"...The colour schemes were often decided by the client and many featured such un-Chinese hues as burgundy, burnt orange, green, purple, mauve and turqoise..."

Again, that seems to suggest that this bright color palette could occur in a Chinese rug.

So I'm thinking that this is, in fact, a Chinese rug rather than a Tibetan one, although I'm regretting not taking a moment to look at the character of its knots.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marty Grove on 09-21-2007 08:34 AM:

Personally John, might I suggest it was perhaps wise not getting too close to that particular rug - from something read the phoenix or even the lowly peacock can be a harbinger of ill or doom...

Some of those colours on the face of the rug seem not too strident, but that pink! Ouch - Im afraid my sensibilities are usually affected quite strongly by that shade of colour.

Whether or not it is Chinese is, as you show, fairly difficult to determine, but you may be right as I cannot remember seeing the phoenix/pheasant/peacock so often in Tibetan iconography.