Persian and Oriental Rugs: Classification of Designs

Old Persian Yalameh Rug

Old Persian Yalameh Rug

The intricate designs of Persian rugs, displaying a beautiful and symbolic arrangement, have fascinated art lovers throughout the world for centuries. As far as design is concerned, Persian rugs can basically be divided into two main groups; those with a geometric design, and rugs with a curvilinear (also known as floral) design. Rugs of the first group are decorated with linear elements composed of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines or formed by a repetition of the same motifs. These rugs are woven by nomadic tribes and their particular motifs help identify their origin. In this group, designs are strongly influenced by the weaver’s immediate surrounding, nature and all individual objects found in it. The more formal design of floral rugs consists of flowers, trees and their branches and a variety of leaves, often connected so artistically to form a wonderful harmony. In majority of these rugs, the most common motif is a large center medallion surrounded by a variety of flowers both throughout the field and the border of the rug. It is interesting to note that no two medallions are ever exactly the same. Some of the so called experts believe that the medallion is to represent the sun, a center of gravity, or perhaps the earth in the heart of the universe. Others believe that it merely comes from the religious nature of the weavers and that their inspiration probably came from the domes of the mosques.

Attempts at classifying designs of Persian rugs have not been very successful due to the fact that the origin of many patterns is unknown. In all probability, designs began hundreds of years ago with faithful representations of trees, flowers, birds, and clouds which became more and more stylized through the creative and innovative genius of Persian artists. A general categorization of Persian rug designs should include the following:

Patterns of historic monuments and buildings: In creating these patterns, the designers have been inspired by the tile work, structure, and geometric shapes of ancient buildings.

Shah Abbasi patterns: In this group, the principal motif is a special flower known as Shah Abbasi and is often set off by other flowers and leaves in the background and border.

Spiral patterns: The original of this group is composed of spiraling branches surrounded by leaves. The end of each branch splits to resemble the jaws of a dragon.

Allover patterns: All parts of the design are usually related and connected and there is no medallion, or it is not clearly visible as it becomes part of the design.

Derivative patterns: such as Afghani, Caucasian, and Gobelin which are believed to be originally Persian and at some point borrowed by neighboring countries.

Bandi patterns: In this group, a small piece of the design is repeated and connected throughout the length and the width of the rug.

Paisley patterns: The basis of these designs is the head-bent paisley motif in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Tree patterns: Although stylized branches are a common motif in Persian rug designs, tree patterns are distinctive for their close resemblance to natural forms.

Turkaman (Bokhara) patterns: Incorporating geometrical shapes and broken lines, these patterns are of the nomadic type; products of the weaver’s imagination rather than reproduction of drawn designs.

Hunting Ground patterns: As with the tree patterns, the animals depicted in these rugs are lifelike.

Panel patterns: The basis of this design is a multi-sided panel motif found in rugs of Quom, Bakhtiari, Kerman, and Tabriz.

European Flower patterns: These patterns are compositions of original Persian designs with roses in light and dark colors.

Vase patterns: In these patterns, vases are used in different sizes: a large vase may cover the whole field of the rug or a small vase may be repeated throughout the ground.

Fish patterns: Although varied and enriched by modern designs, this pattern, originally a product of the nomadic imagination, retains its tribal character. First woven in Birjand in the province of Khorassan, the design spread to become common as far away as Hamadan and Azerbaijan, where each area made its own distinctive alterations.

Mehrab patterns: The original pattern represents the place in a mosque where the prayer leader stands and is ornamented with pillars, chandeliers, and flowers.

Striped (Moharramat) patterns: This name is applied to designs which are repeated in stripes running the length of a rug, each stripe having its own special motifs and colors.

Geometrical patterns: These patterns have lines and geometrical shapes such as polygons, in contrast to the majority of Persian designs which have lines moving in curves and circles.

Tribal patterns: The oldest and most original of Persian rug patterns, these elegantly simple creations of the tribal imagination were inspired by their natural surroundings. Transferred by designers from one region to another all over the Persian kingdom, most of the patterns are named after the places they were first woven or after the influential individuals who ordered the weaving done.

Composites: In addition to all original patterns, each of which has a special name and history, with the passage of time, new patterns have been created by combining two or more of the original patterns.

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