Tabriz Omar Khayyam Pictorial, circa 1965
3' x 2'
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Sizes are approximate. Photographs are not necessarily exact for color.
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Carpets with pictorial designs have been made for centuries with the oldest known one dating back to the 6th century BC. Pictorial rugs are sometimes referred to as 'Tableau Rugs', 'Carpet Tableaus' or 'Rug Tableaus.' 'Tableau' is a French term used to describe a view or sight that looks like a picture or a graphic representation. Pictorial carpets today are rare and are among the most valuable types of Persian and Oriental carpets in the world. They are generally very detailed and are made of silk or a blend of silk and wool although woolen ones have been weaved for centuries. Those containing silk, silk highlights or very fine wool are mostly hung on the interior walls of opulent homes, government buildings, castles and palaces for decorative purposes. Unlike traditional carpets that are walked on, these carpets tend to preserve their original condition and thus have a high resale value. In fact, they can be seen for sale at prestigious auction houses around the globe such as that of Christie's and Sotheby's in New York and London. Pictorial carpets can also be seen at fine exhibitions throughout North America and Eurasia. They are often part of important museum collections.
The designs and samples of pictorial carpets are completely different from traditional Oriental or Persian floor rugs which usually showcase all over patterns filled with lush vine scrolls, medallions at their center or adorn geometric motifs. One can find a wide variety of scenes on pictorial carpets such as hunting scenes, the four seasons, people, faces, animals, statues, figurines, French gardens, Persian miniatures, poems, folk stories and religious themes from the Torah, Bible and the Koran Sometimes these pieces are made to pay homage to various statesman, ministers, kings and national heroes. At times, some are commissioned to commemorate special battles, wars and other important events in world history. The first evidence of a pictorial rug design dates back to the 9th century BCE and their production mostly blossomed at the end of the 19th century in Iran particularly in the cities of Isfahan, Kirman, Qum and Tabriz. Some pictorial carpets are more tribal in nature and are made of a much coarser wool and seldom contain any silk. Their pile is thicker and their knots per square inch are lower.
They usually are made in other regions of Persia contrary to their finer silk counterparts which are made in big Persian cities. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, it became fashionable in Iran to have Kirman carpets whose designs were taken from European models. Versions of Western prints of pre-Islamic Iranian sites and other European depictions became the rage. Prominent citizens commonly commissioned carpets either as gifts or for personal use. In one particularly unusual example, now in the Carpet Museum in Tehran, a French print of an ancient Gallic warrior, complete with its title "Guerrier francais" in copperplate script, was woven into a Kirman rug made for the Prime Minister Prince Abdul Hussain Farmanfarmaian. As one can see, pictorial carpets are as diverse as the subjects and history they carry. They all have a story to tell and are quite pleasing to the eye.
Sources and inspiration: Bérinstain, Valérie, et al. L'art du tapis dans le monde (The art of carpets in the world). Paris: Mengès, 1996. Print.; Jerrehian Jr., Aram K.A. Oriental Rug Primer. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1980. Print.; Herbert, Janice Summers. Oriental Rugs, New York: Macmillan, 1982. Print.; Hackmack, Adolf. Chinese Carpets and Rugs, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1980. Print. ; De Moubray, Amicia, and David Black. Carpets for the home, London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999. Print.; Jacobsen, Charles. Oriental Rugs A Complete Guide, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1962. Print.; Bashir, S. (n.d.). Personal interview.; Web site sources and dates of consultation vary (to be confirmed). Without prejudice to official usage.
Older carpets (antique or vintage) are rugs that date back to the last 100 years. Rugs that are 50 to 99 years of age are referred to as semi-antiques. They are typically crafted with hand-spun wool and eco-friendly organic dyes, which have a luminous surface, providing an illusion of depth. They have a wonderful patina and character which cannot be usually captured in a newer piece. Each antique carpet is different, as they are found in every type of home and add warmth to pristine and minimalist spaces.
Oriental & Persian carpet designs began to change at the turn of the 20th century, as Western influence expanded across the Middle East. At the time, the native cultural designs began to lose their authenticity because their ability to maintain traditional designs diminished. As the Industrial Revolution came about, preserving traditional master craft techniques became more of a challenge.
- Antique rugs are made of natural fibers such as, wool, cotton and silk. New rugs are made from a variety of fibers including synthetic and natural fibers such as, mercerized cotton, faux silk often called "Art Silk", silk blends and artificial fibers such as, olefin.
- If the rug has signs of wear but still appears to be vibrant, this is an indication of a genuine antique carpet.
- For insurance purposes, you should always obtain a Certificate of Authenticity from the dealer, which should include the size, origin, age, style, materials, knot density, condition and estimated retail value.
- An authentic Oriental rug will not have a brand name associated with it and it will not be hand-tufted.