The Meanings of the Rug Symbolism of Oriental Rugs

There are ten distinctive designs of Oriental rugs. Once you understand the origin of the design and the meaning of the rug symbols, you will be able to read the design a lot easier. In the past, every Oriental rug told a story through the design. This included a fairly accurate representation of the village, district, city or county where the rug was woven. As time passed, the commercial expansion during the start of the Twentieth Century led to changes in the designs. The area the rug was woven was not always discernible. Reading the older rugs offers you a fascinating look at the history of the rug. 

The Patterns of Oriental Rugs

There are three basic elements to every pattern. These are the repetition, unit and system of organization. You can interpret this in a rectilinear or curvilinear manner. When the design of the rug uses a repeating motif to fill the entire field, this is referred to as an all-over design. Some rugs center a dominant medallion. The rest of the rug is designed around this medallion. One of the oldest and most frequently used designs in Oriental rugs is the herati pattern. You may hear this referred to as fish or mahi. There is a gorgeous Kirman Vase rug woven late in the Seventeenth Century in Southeast Persia. Baroness Alice de Rothschild once owned this carpet. 

Mahi Pattern Rug by Nazmiyal

As time passed, the rugs woven in Persia continued to use the herati design. This design was also popular with the nomadic tribes in South East Persia including the Qashqai. You will hear this referred to as the all-over design due to the much tighter and smaller scale. The design is woven in the ivory field. This continues into the corner spandrels. Another repetitive, all-over pattern is called the crab or harshang design. This design was originally used in Persia, in the Khorasan district. The origin was originally derived from the in and out Isfahan palmette design. There is a Persian kelleh that has the palmettes with open claws. These look much like crabs. 

The boteh motif is ancient and used all over India and Persia. You will hear this design called the pear or paisley motif. The meaning of boteh in Persia is a cluster of leaves coming from either the pine or the palm. Nomadic tribes and village weavers frequently used this design for their trappings. You will see this pattern displayed in different arrangements and directions. This may be a rectilinear or a curvilinear style. A good example is the Central Asian tribe using the interlocking and elaborate band on a trapping from the Nineteenth Century. This design can also be seen in an Akstafa runner with multi-colored, staggered rows. 

Boteh Motif Rug by Nazmiyal

Rug Symbolism of Medallions

Medallions were first used during the Fifteenth Century in Persia for the creation of a symmetrical design for manuscript covers. During the Sixteenth Century, this design started being used for carpets. The earlier Tabriz medallion became classic during this period. This style was associated with large and beautiful medallions enclosed or overlaid with intricate, spiraling floral vines. The tradition of the medallion continued as the centuries passed. You can interpret this as either a rectilinear style common for the rugs of Heriz or as a curvilinear style frequently used for rugs by the Tabriz. 

The medallion design was not only popular in Persia, you will see this design used in carpets all over the Caucasus and Anatolia. In these areas, the rugs usually contained a strong, geometric style. The medallion was centered in a double-niche, Seventeenth Century Anatolian rug. A long Kuba rug incorporated a multiple arrangement using a white-ground during the Eighteenth Century. Three medallions were woven one on top of the other. 

Medallion Pattern Rug by Nazmiyal

Rug Symbolism of Pictorial designs

During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, certain workshops chose to depict subjects from classic poetry and pose as opposed to the more abstract patterns. The scenes of mythical subjects, courtly life and hunting were woven using silk and wool. Since these carpets were more finely woven, the images were more accurate and intricate. Some of the master weavers were in Kirman. They were extremely adept at depicting scenes both naturalistic and intricate. They often found their inspiration from the designs used in the Western works. One of the pictorial carpets of this time was drawn using a Gobelin tapestry of Louis XIX. This was from the Les Sujets De La Fable series based on Raphael’s drawings. 

Pictorial Rug Design by Nazmiyal

There is a Northwest Persia Heriz rug woven from silk featuring grotesque birds and animals writhing together. This is a variation of what you will hear called the waq-waq tree. This tree came from India and is classified as a Persian oracular tree. The branches of the waq-waq tree bear fruit depicting the heads of mythical animals, women or men. The Tree of Life rug symbolism can be seen in Kirman pictorial rugs. This image is a representation of eternal life. This theme has become essential for both religion and mythology. 

The tree is placed at the base of the field and uses leafy branches full of birds or flowers to fill the remainder of the rug. In many cases, you will see a pool or a stream with wandering animals at the base of the tree. The tree is a symbol of the underworld, earth and heaven. 

This auction blog was published by Nazmiyal Auctions in New York City.

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