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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

A Yellow Ground Rug

by Wendel Swan

I am presenting an image of a rug currently in my possession that I believe is reasonably attractive as well as unusual. I invite whatever discussion the piece may raise on its aesthetics, attribution, structure and design.

The technical details are:

Size: approximately 7.5 x 3.5

Warps: mixed light and dark brown wool

Wefts: cotton, 2 shoot

Knots: symmetrical, 9 H x 7.5 V (68 ksi)

Pile: wool with some camel hair
The warps are sinuous, i. e., they were not taut on the loom and go around the wefts sinuously. If one were to disregard the pile entirely, the warps and wefts would have an appearance similar to balanced plain weave (but perhaps Marla Mallett could comment on this structural aspect).

It does not have the weave or feel of what is classically called a Shirvan by the trade, despite the barberpole warps and cotton wefts. The knots are elongated, the weave is too coarse (roughly half the knots per square inch of the typical Shirvan), the handle is loose and the wefts are not extremely wavy as they are in Shirvans.

The ground is yellow, tending toward gold. I don't know if you'll be able to see the people, but there are a man and a woman on each side in the center of the rug. On the right side, the male seems to have his arm extended to or around the female. There are also different human images at the bottom of the piece. There are some animals, combs, a “checkerboard,” and amulets as well, just in case any space was left unadorned.

There's a bit of bumping and shoving going on in the field. The primary design elements are extracted from more complex forms seen on Shahsavan sumak mafrash panels and khordjin.

The following is a so-called cruciform medallion sumak khordjin, which is an even more elaborate and complex version of the design element under discussion. Note the shape of the white area serving as ground for the design within.

The following sumak mafrash side panel from the Hashtrud area (plate 72 of Parviz Tanavoli’s Shahsavan book) has, as its central stripe, that same white area but, because of the reduction in size and scale, the design itself has been simplified.

Going now to plate 74 in Tanavoli’s Shahsavan, we see these elements fully extracted and set on a dark blue ground in a sumak mafrash side panel.

If we rotate the image of the pile rug under consideration, we see the primary design elements in their most common orientation and the similarity to the foregoing side panel is remarkable. One might argue that this rug “reads” better horizontally.

The motif under consideration undoubtedly could be traced back to the Seljuk period or maybe earlier. All four of the examples shown here are probably from some time in the 19th Century, but they are close enough in time that these variations of the motif must have occurred much, much earlier.

The rug is very low in some areas, particularly the center, but it has not been painted. It is possible that another small border, perhaps a reciprocal trefoil, is missing. Neither the ends nor the selvedges are original.

All the colors seem to be good. Some small areas have a grayish brown that one finds when fuchsine fades out, but I have carefully inspected the base of the knots and can find no trace of purple or red in those areas. There is a very nice and stable purple that is found in various areas.

A Northwest Persian or Transcaucasian attribution is certain. While the field is Shahsavan-like, the borders are not typically found in Shahsavan flat weaves. Beyond that, attribution is probably problematic, unless someone out there either has a better idea or knows the weaver.

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