The evolution of carpet weaving has followed an immutable pattern in every country where a long established weaving tradition has ever existed. The knotted carpet for instance was at first a functional artifact of nomadic origin that became the product of a flourishing cottage industry when nomadic weavers settled down to a sedentary and agricultural lifestyle. As cities got tired of these settlements, workshops were established and immediately began producing carpets in a grander manner.
Once dynasties had established their rule, ateliers connected with the court began producing larger carpets with exceptional quality. When historical upheavals caused the dissolution of ruling dynasties, these workshops were closed down. The rural and nomadic weavers remained the sole upholders of the traditional craft until it could blossom again in new circumstances.
- In regions such as Turkestan, weavers never reached the workshop stage so their weavings remained confined to traditional nomadic and rural carpets. This was due to a lack of centralized government.
- In regions such as Asia Minor, carpet weaving reached new heights though the carpets did not replace traditional weavings of those still made in rural areas.
- In other lands, powerful rulers such as Moguls in India, Mamluks in Egypt and the Moors in their Spanish provinces established their own workshops and provided them with carpets that matched the brilliance of their courts.
In the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, scholars devised various methods of studying carpets which still remain valid today. Significant results were obtained by comparing surviving examples of antique carpets with representations which appeared in paintings and by studying historical documents and inventories. Some of the other methods proved to be less satisfactory. Unfortunately when these studies were carried out, the traditional social structure had completely broken down.
Districts that once produced great classical carpets started producing carpets of a completely different origin which bore little to no relation to traditional designs. Confused weavers were expected to produce carpets featuring floral designs such as ‘Savonnerie’ at a fraction of the cost which allowed little for pride or self respect.
Traditional nomadic and rural carpets display the carefully chosen materials, the intimate knowledge and understanding of ancestral designs, and the high level of competence of people proud of their heritage. These standards became even more exalted when they were applied to period masterpieces. It’s inconceivable that a master weaver, whose career had finally been crowned with a great workshop, would have accepted anything but the highest standard. When studying and attempting to identify carpets, it is necessary to fully be aware of the standards that were acceptable to their weavers and the standards of excellence they considered to be essential to the overall design. The carpets that impressed and moved the great painters of the Renaissance must have been magnificent achievements.