Oriental Rugs: Armenian Carpets

Antique Armenian Rug

Antique Armenian Rug

The former Soviet republic of Armenia, covering an area of over 11,000 square miles, is a mountainous country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia.  Since ancient times, the handwork of Armenian craftsmen had been exported to different parts of the world. These works of Armenian art (textiles, stone, wooden articles, pottery) were considered prime trade items in European markets and occupied an important place in the daily life of various cultures. As the most important form of weaving, production of rugs was one of the oldest and foremost crafts exercised in the region. Records of travelers and historiographers give evidence of the widespread fame of Armenian rugs in the Middle Ages. A soft fabric with beautiful designs, carpets were convenient to lay on the floor, cover walls, hang in doorways, and throw on tables and beds. The role of carpets in everyday life determined their size, choice of thread, color range, and artistic structure.

All year round, hand-knotted wool carpets, a Caucasus specialty, are offered at local “arts and crafts” markets throughout Armenia, among which some valuable and antique pieces can occasionally be found. In the capital city of “Yerevan”, the National Art Gallery has over 16,000 works that date back to the Middle Ages, which indicate Armenia’s rich tales and stories of the past. Arab, Mongolian, Tartar invasions and wars, incessant migrations, and great fires destroyed numerous valuable artifacts of the material culture of the Armenian people, including the early rugs. Nevertheless, historical, linguistic, literary sources, traditional forms as well as the origin of artistic decorations of carpets that have been preserved, complete the history of Armenian carpets, confirm their high quality, and determine their place and role within the art of Oriental rugs.

Armenian rugs are held in high esteem for the use of local material. Wool, silk, cotton, sometimes gold and silver threads as well as soft goat hair were used in Armenian rug weaving. Such rugs woven entirely of wool (warp, weft, and pile) are relatively expensive and highly appreciated among collectors. Armenian wool is ranked next to the Egyptian wool. In Armenia, wool is dyed by means of animal, vegetable, and mineral dyes. Dyeing the wool is an important step in rug weaving, since this is where the artistic expressiveness of the rug begins. For Armenian rugs, a common system of dyeing the wool exists, though each master works according to his own inspiration. The process is performed in clay or copper pots, and contents mixed with wooden spoon. In order to dry it off, the dyed thread is thrown onto stones in the sun. Faded threads are dyed again and dried, sometimes several times until the desired colors are obtained. Threads are also dried in warm cattle sheds, though the final result might be somewhat different in this method.

Armenian looms are either vertical (Western Armenia) or horizontal (some provinces in Eastern Armenia). Often more than one rug is simultaneously woven by Armenian women at the same loom. Most Armenian weavers use the Turkish (Symmetric) knots, except for Eastern Armenian rug weavers which use Persian (Asymmetric) knots. Rather than creating a design on a piece of paper (called a cartoon), the rug to be copied is usually placed  next to the loom, or is woven from memory. As values of applied arts constantly continue to receive special attention, interest in Oriental rugs also continues to rise. With innovations within the rug industry taking place so rapidly, the future of Persian carpets and Oriental area rugs will be very interesting to watch.

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