Tabriz Carpets & Rugs

Tabriz, a city in Persian Azerbhaijan has a long history associated with the weaving of carpets and rugs. It has been conjectured that the great ‘Ardebil’ Carpet, housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum is possibly the work of royal artisans from the workshops of Tabriz, even though the inscription alludes to the contrary.[1]

The more recent history of carpet weaving in Iran, over the last 150 years owes much to the merchants of Tabriz, for it was they who were instrumental in reviving an industry which had gone in to decline after the Safavid period 1501-1736.[2]

The use of a classic, earlier examples from the Safavid period became the mainstay of Tabriz weavers, using cotton warps and wefts and a fine, but harsher quality wool. It was the use of these materials which allowed for Tabriz carpets to be specially commissioned for the booming export market prior and after the Second World War.[3] The designs, as in this example from the middle decades of the 20th century used mostly striking medallions, often set upon sparsely decorated fields. These carpets are often known generically as 'Hadji Jalili' Tabriz pieces, named after one of the most well known master weavers from latter period of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  However, this carpet has an interesting smaller medallion, with radiating animals and human figures within the field and  design, framed by a classic ‘rosette and samovar’ border, evident also in earlier ‘classical carpets’ woven in the Safavid period. The use of the warm red background colour and striking light blue serve to highlight the highly detailed motifs in the field and border. The smaller format (2.70m x 1.85m) is suggestive of the carpet being woven for the Western market, which often required such sizes to fit smaller spaces. The quality of wool should also be noted for its fine, harsh texture, which still exudes a subtle sheen or patina. This is characteristic of the very finest khurk wool having been used, obtained from the thick coat and under belly of sheep from the Azeri plains on the hinterland of Tabriz.

This fine example demonstrates the development of carpet weaving in Iran, which was increasingly reliant upon the export market, where carpets were seen as a key aspect of decorating and furnishing a home among the affluent classes in both the lucrative Middle East, Arab countries and Western/American market.

[1] I.Bennett, Edited by, Rugs & Carpets of the World, London, New Burlington Books, 1977, pp.45-47.

Three leading authorities on antiquated carpets Professor Kurt Erdmann, Cecil A Edwards and Maurice Dimand have suggested alternative views to the probable origin of this carpet; Gazvin, Kashan and Tabriz respectively. The carpet famously has an inscription ‘Maqsud of Kashani’ and date 1539/40 AD. This corelates to the reign of the Emperor Shah Thamasp, when the capital of the empire was centred around Tabriz, hence the inference to the carpet’s possible origin.

 [2] M.L. Eiland, Starting to Collect Series; Antique Oriental Rugs, Suffolk, Antique Collector’s Club, , 2003, p.35

[3] Ibid. p.35