Join us now as we explore the story behind pictorial rugs, which reproduce amazing portraits and scenes of life on the Orient.
Pictorial rugs were produced in Iran in limited numbers because of the extensive amount of work needed. They are particularly interesting items because they often emulated European paintings.
How pictorial rugs developed:
The idea of pictorial rugs is long and progressive. Originally they were decorative items, only later to become akin to photographs. Let’s analyse the historical facts behind them…
The reason pictorial rugs didn’t develop earlier than in the Sixteenth Century is because of the Arab domination of Iran, which put stop to all artistic expression related to images. That was because the art movement was bound by Koranic law.
Painting divine figures, as well as human ones, was considered idolatry.
Later, during the Safavid era, a new idea of art intervened. Illustrations for books became popular, together with portraits.
The rebirth of art signalled a new period where illustrations spread everywhere: from walls, to baths, to fabric, to shrines…
This was particularly true when the capital of Iran was Shiraz. Shiraz was considered the main destination for artists, who were well respected and found fulfilment portraying aristocrats, dancers and scenes of everyday life.
The paintings could be seen on tiles and walls almost anywhere. Consequently, these works of art formed the inspiration for designs on pictorial rugs.
This trend affected the weaving industry because carpets were part of Persians’ everyday life, both at the mosque and at home. The very first exemplar of pictures on rugs was seen in the Sixteenth Century with the introduction of weaved flowers, birds, royal parties and hunting scenes.
In the subsequent decades the availability of paintings increased notably, thanks largely to closer relations between Iran and Europe. As a result, pictorial rugs became increasingly sought after.
Pictorial rugs at their peak: the Twentieth Century
In terms of excellence, the most important century for the portrait making industry was the Twentieth Century. That is because portraits became must-have items for noblemen and chief tribesmen.
So who were the main people responsible for the popularity of portraits? As unusual as it sounds, print curtain makers were seen as among the major artists of the period. Their curtains were truly works of art, depicting scenes from legendary tales, Iranian myths and so on… From there it took very little imagination to transfer the designs onto rugs.
At first pictorial rugs were simply copies of the curtain makers’ drawings. If fact, they were often called ‘curtain rugs’.
Despite the presence of photography in the Twentieth Century, Persians were still very interested in painted or woven portraits. The latter were reserved for the upper classes only.Pictures and printed portrait were for the less wealthy.
The boom in pictorial rugs also influenced interior design accessories of the time. Hanging rugs became all the rage. Wall rugs were used for special occasions including weddings, parties and religious festivals.
Pictorial rugs involve a considerable amount of skill in order to be woven. Not all weavers are able to perform such work.
Here are some more interesting facts about portrait rugs:
• They spread from the wall to the floor: Pictorial rugs assumed a different function compared to normal rugs. This usage was limited for a short period.
• The size depends on the region of provenance: Every region has different architectural characteristics, and for this reason carpet sizes varied. Buildings with higher ceilings commissioned bigger carpets.
• Limited production: Production was limited for various reasons. Firstly due to the difficulty of sourcing skilful manpower, and secondly because the carpets were never intended to be exported.