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Reproductive and Sexual Themes on Warp-Faced Iranian Bands (Part 2)

by Fred Mushkat

Figure 9. Qashqa'i, 19th C.; Figure 10. Qashqa'i, 19th C.

Iconography of women with exposed breasts appears on a number of bands. Figure 9 is an image from a Qashqa’i band with a human figure with squares representing breasts. This may not be immediately apparent until this figure is compared with the three other figures adjacent to her, one of which is shown in figure 10. The three other figures are similar, in that they have no breasts, and have an exposed phallus, as in figure 10. This approach to defining the sexes, although unsophisticated, is nevertheless successful.

Figure 11. Qashqa’i, 19th C.; Figure 12. Qashqa’i, 19th C.

There are a number of examples of rugs with mother and child, or other family members together. Figure 11 shows a Qashqa’i band with a mother and her two daughters, while figure 12, from the same band, is a father with his two sons. This ‘family portrait’ exemplifies the importance of the family unit within the tribe.

Animal Forms

Figure 13. Kerman, 19th C., possibly Afshar

Figure 14. Varamin 19th C. or earlier

The major source of nutrition among the nomads of Iran was their livestock. Along with other important parts of the encampment, animals frequently appear on warp faced bands. Figures 13 and 14 show a common icon on pack animal bands, a quadruped with small x’s within the body of the animal. Although it is pure speculation, the x’s may represent unborn calves. Since the wealth of a nomad was judged by the size of his livestock, such a symbol on a pack animal band might represent the hope that his herd will grow. On a number of published trappings, in particular Shahsevan, Transcaucasian, and Turkmen, there are camels in procession, often with calves in tow. Perhaps the intention of these weavers was the same as the weaver of the Kerman band.

A caveat to this concept of the x’s within the quadrupeds is the consideration that the nature of the structure of the band is such that long vertical runs of one color jeopardize the strength of the band. Making an ‘x’ design within the span of the body of the animal prevents such weak areas. In warp-faced bands, the structure may dictate many design elements.

Figure 15. Qashqa'i 19th C.

‘Mother-daughter’ images also occur on warp-faced bands, such as the example in figure 15, from a Fars area band, in which a calf is suckling from its mother. In my opinion, this represents a continuation of the theme of successful animal breeding, and is an important part of everyday life for the nomads who made the band.

Figure 16. Fars, 19th C.


Although it is intellectually stimulating to look at our rugs and trappings and muse over the possible meaning of the symbols, I caution the reader to not go to far afield. For example, it is possible to see an image with a linear design penetrating another image, and imagine an abstract representation of sexual intercourse, but I believe this is stretching the argument a bit, and takes on the quality of seeing sexual imagery on Rorschach tests. Figure 17 is a detail of an Afshar khorjin with paired boteh. In my opinion, although possible, it is not reasonable to assume that this represents a sexual theme. I leave the readers to draw their own conclusions. As this is a subject rarely touched upon in the study of Near Eastern textiles, I eagerly await your opinions.

Figure 17. Afshar khorjin detail, 19th C.

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