Vintage Persian rugs have a long history of intrigue and fascination for the discerning collector. These cultural treasures with their primal colors and at times seeming “modern” graphic designs have a strong international following. While the finest examples of antique Persian rugs are extremely rare, they can still be found at many fine rug dealers, the most exclusive auction houses and online resources.
The earliest Persian rugs are not just floor coverings; they are works of art that have been carefully crafted to transcend trends and stand the test of time. As such, they are often considered the most valuable pieces in any carpet collection.
Unlike the majority of modern rugs, which are woven on power-looms using pre-made commercial dyes, antique Persian rugs are made by hand using traditional techniques that are passed down from generation to generation. Each rug is woven on a warp of thread that is then spun and hand tied to create a canvas that is then embroidered with silk or wool. Traditionally, the weaving was done by women and the process is very labor intensive, taking a minimum of three to four years for each rug.
Because of the artisanal craftsmanship involved in Persian rugs, each one has an incredibly unique composition. The colors of the rugs are derived from natural plant and animal dyes and are then hand-knotted to create a textile work of art. The design of the rug is also a significant part of its beauty. Most vintage Persian rugs have a large central medallion flanked by scrolling vine ornaments and motifs of animals or birds. Some rugs may have a field with quartered corner medallions or borders that are embellished with horse heads, animal combat scenes or mounted hunters.
As Western influence and demand exploded throughout the mid to late 19th century, a number of factors resulted in the decline of the quality and craftsmanship of Persian rugs. The level of artistry and innovation was reduced and harsh chemical dyes were introduced to replace more natural plant-based dyes. The rugs produced in the large city weaving centers of Tabriz, Kerman, Hamadan and Heriz were particularly affected by this change.
The designs of these carpets were standardized and the weavers had little input into the final design. However, this change was not the case in small villages where the weavers remained the actual designers.
During the latter portion of the 1800’s, there was a revival of interest in Persian rugs and one of the most renowned weavers at this time was Ustad Zufilkhar Ed Din Mohtashem. His rugs have become associated with the revival of interest in vintage Persian rugs and are often referred to as “Ustad” rugs. The rugs produced by this master weaver are characterized by their complex floral patterns and geometric forms. He was a master at incorporating geometric designs into traditional Persian motifs and the resulting carpets were extremely sophisticated and beautiful. A number of these rugs can be seen in museums around the world today.