Deciphering the Patterns of Oriental Rugsdominic delos santos
Design is a key element in Oriental rugs appreciation and collection. It is an essential factor in recognizing the origin, meaning and historical sequence of a woven piece. For rug collectors, the ability to critically appraise a rug’s design is a vital skill to develop. When one has a keen understanding of rug patterns, it becomes much easier to read a rug and to determine its value.
As a rug collector, you should know that Oriental rugs are widely different. Some rugs are culturally important, authentic and rare, while others are simply reproductions – these rugs you certainly want to avoid. By knowing how to decipher rug patterns, you can get the best rug for the best value.
Ever wondered how veteran rug collectors read rug designs and patterns? Here’s a quick tutorial.
Oriental rug design elements
The design elements of an Oriental rug are what make it distinctive. They also make the rugs artistic pieces. As mentioned above, the variety and intricacy of the design elements help determine its appeal and value.
But on a deeper level, the design elements can provide you a clue as to where, when and why a particular Oriental rug was created. Some of the best rug curators can give an accurate history of a piece just by looking at its patterns.
Classifying Oriental rug designs
Oriental rugs can be classified into two major types based on design elements: rectilinear designs are mostly angular patterns and geometric motifs; curvilinear designs usually have more intricate patterns and floral motifs.
However, there are also rugs that contain both rectilinear and curvilinear patterns.
When appraising the aesthetic value of an Oriental rug, one needs to look into its two major parts: the field and border. Rugs can be classified into several types by merely looking at the patterns and repetitions on the face of the rug.
First, you take a look at the center or the field of the rug. This refers to the large area of the rug and contains the main designs and patterns. It usually consists of several design elements or a large solid color. The rug can be categorized depending on the content of a field:
- Allover Pattern
This pattern has a field with several motifs that are not in a regimented or repeated form. Common design elements include flowers and palmettes and an aesthetic arrangement of tendrils and vines. In some designs, a garden, tree, vase and other patterns can be incorporated.
These rugs usually have a central medallion that can appear in different sizes, styles and number. The central design element can be superimposed on an overall pattern or an empty field.
- Open Field
These Oriental rugs have a large area of solid color and are surrounded with intricate design elements around the borders. This type of design pattern is characteristic in Tibetan, Kazak, and Nepalese rugs.
In this classification, the patterns are compartmentalized into different panels of varying shapes, such as lattice, squares, domes, lattice, trellis, and rectangle. Within these panels are distinctive design elements such as stars, flowers, botehs, trees, etc.
- Pictorial or portrait
Usually, this type portrays historic monuments, landscapes, sceneries, events, or scenes depicting religion, oral traditions, and daily life. There are some intricate rugs that show famous European paintings. Portrait Oriental rugs became popular around the 18th century.
In this classification, the design elements can be curvilinear or rectilinear depending on the origin of the rug. One distinct characteristic of prayer rugs is that it has a Mehrab or an arch at the top of the field, which serves as a prayer niche.Some of the most common symbolisms include urns, stars, and iris.
- Repeated Motif
Often combined with the medallion design, a repeated motif will have a field that is filled with repetitive rows of the same design. Some well-known motifs include the hereti, boteh, Gul, and Mina Knahni.
After classifying the rug based on the field,you then go to the borders. This refers to the series of bands that runs around the perimeter of the rug. It usually numbers up to ten (or maybe more), and contains repeated design elements such as stars, geometric motifs, flowers, vines, etc. Some distinctive Oriental rugs contain inscriptions in various languages depicting prayers, dedications, poems, or even the name of the weaver.
Miscellaneous design elements
Aside from these two major parts, you can also get a clue about the rug design by looking at miscellaneous design elements: guard borders, pendants and spandrels. The Guard Borders are usually narrow borders that seems to ‘protect’ or ‘guard’ the main borders or border. Pendants are minor design elements that are often woven at the top or the bottom of a medallion or both. Spandrels can sometimes be found in the four corners of a field – it may contain motifs or a solid color.
Meaning of rug symbols
Design elements found in Oriental rugs have specific symbolisms depending on where they were woven. For instance, in Persian Oriental rugs, a camel symbolizes prosperity or wealth, snake speaks of wisdom and guardian, bird is for faith and fertility, and eagle is for power. Meanwhile design elements for Kilim motifs stand for, star (Yildiz) means happiness, snake is for happiness and fertility, grain is for abundance, and the eye for warding off evil.
There is a wide array of symbols used in Oriental rugs, so it would require an entirely separate post to discuss the different meanings behind each design element. But understanding these symbolisms is crucial if you want to be in the world of Oriental rug collecting.
Some final words
All said, studying the different motifs and patterns of oriental rugs is definitely captivating. Sure, it can be intimidating at first, but as you begin to put it into your heart, reading Oriental rugs becomes a breeze.
Here’s one tip: for one to truly absorb the entire learning process, the key is to enjoy appreciating Oriental rugs.
Explore as many rug designs as you can. There’s a wide variety out there! Check online archives. Visit museums and galleries. Read books. As you begin immersing into these designs, you also immerse yourself into the uniqueness of the weavers and their culture. And this should surely make deciphering Oriental rugs a lot easier.