Tribal Rugs Design

In antique tribal carpets of the 18th and 19th centuries, the traditional design motifs would most likely identify the geographical area and tribal origins of the carpet. Today, however, many factors have muddied the clear classification of a tribal carpet by design alone. Recent wars and natural disasters have created great movement of refugees in the Caucasus areas and throughout Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia. In Azerbaijan, for example, a combination of earthquakes and war have virtually wiped out carpet production, making caucasian carpets from this area rather rare- and therefore more costly. Reproductions made in Meshad, Iran are cashing in on this factor. Traditional Afghan designs are also now being made in refugee camps on the Pakistan borders. While the carpets woven by these refugees may be of their original tribal design, the materials used (i.e..: wool, dyes) may not be traditional. There is also a mingling of design factors as these refugees mingle with refugees from other areas, and with the local people where the refugee has take up temporary residence. There are, however, certain characteristics of design which can be grouped as follows:
a) Herati Patterns: In tribal carpets, versions of the Herati design can be found in the carpets of the present day Khorassan tribes (i.e. Turkomans, Beluchis and Kurds). The Herati patterns vary from all-over flowing floral patterns to stiffer floral patters known as “Vase carpets”. Herat, one a major carpet centre, today is in Western Afghanistan, but once was part of the Persian Empire and influenced design throughout the region. The Turkoman Gul and geometric motifs are often said to be derivatives of the original floral patterns of Persia.
b) Tree Designs: Carpets with a trees are tree-like plants are often used as a main motif around which one can often find flowers, animals and birds. These designs are often found in prayer carpets.
c) Vase Designs: These carpets usually have an all-over vine/floral design originating from a vase like figure at one or both ends of the carpet. Afshari Sirjand, Kurdish and Qashqai tribals often have a vase design. In city carpets, the Tabriz and Kashan carpets often use a vase design.
d) Prayer-rug Designs: The prayer carpet is usually small- about 3ft. by 4ft., which is easy to fold up a carry and is used 5 times a day by devout Moslems at prayer time. They have a definite design which represents the “mihrab” or niche found in the wall of a mosque which defines the direction of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Pile or Kelim prayer carpets are woven in almost all Islamic countries. and these take on the characteristics of the particular tribe or geographic styles. The finest of all of these is the Hereke woven in Turkey – all in silk. The purely tribal pieces are usually wool, and sometimes have two to three mihrab-like features at one end. One unique form of prayer carpet is the Turkoman “ensi” (Hatchli or Katchli in Iran and Turkey, Purduh in Afghanistan / Pakistan). The ensi has a centre field divided into four panels filled with a repeating pattern of sort of “candelabra” design. On top, the ensi has a mihrab design- sometimes a horn shaped motif. Larger (7ft. x 5ft.) ensis are of similar design, but are used as a door closure for tents or yurts.
e) Garden and Panel Designs: Many of the finest Persian silk city carpets such as Isfahan, Qum and Tabriz use a garden panel design of repeated small panels with differing floral motifs in each. Trees and stylized flowers are common. A tribal equivalent are often made by the Bakhtiari tribes of Iran- making a form of panel or compartment “kishti” design. Panel carpets with geometric designs in each panel are made by nomadic tribes like the Beluch and Quchan in eastern Iran and western Afghanistan. Again, the Ensi (or Engsi) falls into this classification in its larger sizes (7ft.x 5ft.). While these are traditionally made by nomads in the Turkoman areas – fine examples are also made in Kabul in Afghanistan and in Ashkabad – the capital of the Turkoman SSR. Almost all ensis are wool and have a red ground color, but some fine examples in silk have been produced.
f) Picture Designs- Animals and Birds: There are many variations of pictorial carpets which are produced in the finest silk city carpets to the roughest tribal pieces. Pictures of hunting scenes and various animals are a common form of this category of carpet. Occasionally, depictions of famous persons can be found, but these are made mostly for the tourist trade. Carpets made in Pakistan and Kashmir are often pictorial. Afghan Balouch carpets regularly depict family scenes or scenes of their village seen from the door of their huts. More recently Afghan “war” carpets depict tanks, helicopters, guns, etc., as these were part of the scene just outside the door. Modern “Neubaft” carpets made in Meshad are often covered in small animals and birds. One example in my collection has 400 animals and 200 birds (I counted them!).
g) Geometric All-over Designs: this form of carpet design is most commonly found in tribal pieces. It consists of the simple repetition or alteration of one or more geometric motifs. One of the most common designs is the Tekke Turkoman improperly called the “Bukara” design (Bukhara was traditionally a carpet trading town and not noted for carpet manufacture). The Tekke Turkoman design has a Tekke “Gul” repeated – and with a small gul in the spaces in between – and almost always on a red ground. As with most Turkoman carpets, there are usually many borders of differing designs (sometimes up to 18 or more) separated by thin eguardi borders. There are more than 40 distinctive Turkoman gul designs, and these are reproduced in nearly every country in the carpet making regions. The finest Turkomans come from the Yomuts and Tekke in North east Persia, from Salor and Saryk along the Uzbekistan/Afghan borders, and the Mauri in the Herati area of Afghanistan. One Afghan all-over geometric designs is the “filpa” or elephant foot design which involves several very large ” Ersari” guls. All-over geometrics are also commonly found in carpets from the Caucasian and Kurdish carpet weaving areas.
h) Geometric Repeating Medallion Designs: These carpets which have a repeating or alternating patterns are typical of many carpets from the Kurdish and Caucasian areas around the Caspian Sea. This form of carpet design is also produced by tribal peoples of the Baluchis, Yalameh, Qashqai, Shiraz, Sennah, Ardebil and Shirvan regions. Reproductions of the older tribal designs are now produced in factories in Armenia, Georgia and Pakistan. Silk versions are made in Qum.
i) Geometric Medallion-Plain Designs: This category is described as a carpet with a clearly defined principal motif surrounded by a greater or lesser area of plain ground, and framed by a border. The corners of the plain ground is often filled in with triangular design elements. Some chinese carpets are often of this form of design. Typical tribal examples are the Sirjand Afshari designs. Turkish carpets are most often associated with this type of design. Examples are found from Anatolia as well as from Azerbaijan and Northern Shirvan regions.
j) Geometric Medallion / All-Over Designs: These carpets include most of the village production of Iran- having one pronounced geometric medallion, but with the ground covered with a regular or irregular pattern of small motifs. The fine details of the central motif and the surrounding designs make the carpet visually busy, but interesting. Typical carpets in this grouping are made by the Kazak (Russia); Hamadan (Northern Iran); Zenjan (Central Iran); Sennah; Shiraz and Qashqai.
k) Floral Medallion/ Allover Designs: This category would describe most of the finest Iranian city carpets from Isfahan, Nain, Kerman; Saruq; Meshad; Moud; Kashan; Tabriz; and Qum. The ability to achieve high density knotting in finer carpets (especially with silk) allows for smoother curvilinear designs typical of the floral patterns. These carpets are not usually considered to be tribal, but are “city” carpets. Examples of this form of carpet design from India, Pakistan and China are common.
l) Floral Medallion- Plain Designs: This category is essentially the same as the above, but changed by leaving out the design in the ground area. It is especially typical of the Chinese Aubusson and/or Peking style carpets. Carpets made for the European trade often used a motif of a spray of flowers (roses) called a “gul farang” (foreign Gul) or “gul Franki” (French Gul). Again, tribal pieces using this design concept are uncommon.
m) Floral- All Over Designs: This category is typified by an all over curvilinear floral motif with stylized flowers. is said to have originated in Herat in the eastern part of the Persian Empire in the 16th and 17 centuries. While the original carpets may no longer exist, European paintings of these periods often faithfully depict a carpet of this category draped over a table or under the ‘ of some important personage. Carpets of this category are usually city carpets and not considered as tribal.

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