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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.

Red in Rugs and Other Textiles

by R. John Howe

- Part 2 -

Next let’s talk about the historical use of red in rugs and other textiles.

Here is a summary of other Barber indications about places where color was found in ancient textiles:

In most of these early textile finds there is specific mention of red.

Barber has also published on some mummies found in far northwest China estimated to be from about 1,000 BC.

This mummy is over six feet tall, has brown hair, looks Caucasian and was labeled by the press, “Cherchen Man,” a reference to the name of a town near where the mummies were found. 

Here is one observer’s description:

…It was the outstretched body of a man well over six feet tall, dressed in an elegantly tailored wool tunic and matching pants, the color of red wine.

Covering the man's legs were striped felt leggings in riotous shades of yellow, red, and blue…

Barber was unable to get a sample to test to see if the red in this mummy’s garments are from madder.

The Pazaryk rug, carbon dated to 500 BC has a complex, sophisticated design and a fairly wide array of colors, suggesting the product of a long tradition.  The predominant one is its red ground. 

About the time the Pazyryk carpet was woven, the ancient Greeks were also weaving.

Few, if any textiles survive from the Greek classical period.  Literary accounts, as well as scenes from painted vases, make it clear that the ancient Greeks both wove textiles and made clothing. The principal material they worked with was wool, but linen from flax was also common.

Greek textiles were often dyed, the most desirable dye being a reddish purple color derived from aquatic murex snails.

In this same era we also have an example from South America.

This is described as an “Early Horizon” mantle estimated to have been woven 700-500 BC.  The “Early Horizon” reference is to an early period of Andean cultural development.

A little closer look at a detail of it.

And about 500 years later, weavers in northwest China produced this skirt that is in a collection in Switzerland.

This fragment has been C-14 dated 123BC - 124AD and analyses of the dyes reveal that all of the red tones come from Indian madder, including the pink and the patch.

Some Roman textiles have survived, but, at least, until recently, most of the known Roman examples were from Egypt.  Here is one small grouping.

“Roman” Egypt was followed in about 4 AD by “Coptic” Egypt for which we have quite a few surviving textiles.

And although there were rugs and textiles made all over the world during the next 900 or so years, until the 13th century, most of the currently known surviving examples (this may be changing) are from the Mediterranean area.  Here are a few examples quickly just to let you see that red was not neglected during this relative hiatus in the historical textile record.

-    An Egyptian piece from the 6th century

Here is another piece from pre-Columbian America.  It is a Huari headband, about 600-800 AD.

-     A Syrian piece from the 8th century 

-    A Persian piece, estimated 10th century

-    A 10th or 11th century clerical vestment, possibly from Italy

-    An 11th century textile from Spain

-    A world-famous textile.  A kermes-dyed mantle made in Palermo for the Norman King Roger II of Sicily in the 12th century.

Now we begin to see things that are more familiar in the rug world.

  -    This is an Anatolian rug estimated to have been woven in the 13th century.

-    This is a 13th-15th century Indian textile of “silk samit.”  Samit is an ancient structure: a weft-faced compound     twill. 

-      A 15th century garment of a known Ottoman sultan with a delicate use of red.

-     15th century rugs, usually Anatolian, are quite frequent in European paintings.  15th century Persian rugs seem quite rare.  Here is a 15th century “para-Mamluk” rug that Walter Denny has argued is best seen as Persian and perhaps woven in Tabriz.

From the 15th century forward there are a lot more existing examples of rugs and textiles.  The “Reds” exhibition includes items from various eras, so we, too, will skip through the remaining centuries with selected examples.

-    16th century.   An Anatolian fragment

-    A detail of a 17th or 18th century Kerman carpet

-    an 18th century Ladik, with a niche field design

-    A 19th century Tibetan door rug

-    A 19th century 3rd Phase Navajo Chief’s blanket,

-    and a 19th century woven carpet with Odd Fellows designs too strange not to include (The “Odd Fellows are a U.S. men’s social lodge)  http://www.ioof.org/

-    20th century:  a Persian Zoroastrian woman’s costume

So that’s a very selective look at how red has been used in rugs and textiles over the centuries.

Discussion Back to Part 1 Proceed to Part 3 Proceed to Part 4