Antique Central Asian Carpets Overview

The Mamluk Dynasty, originally “slave-soldiers” of Turkic descent, came to power in Egypt in the mid thirteenth century. By the fifteenth century they had established a thriving carpet industry in their capital, Cairo. Many examples of these Malmuk carpets have been preserved. Their designs are quite complex, consisting of large medallions made up of intersecting compartments of various forms adapted from the great tradition of Islamic geometric ornament. The borders consisted of oblong medallions or cartouches. The smaller details of Mamluk carpets, however, relate closely to contemporary Ottoman Turkish carpets, no doubt reflecting the close commercial and cultural ties that existed between both realms.

Mamluk carpets are distinguished not only by their distinctive designs, but also by their lustrous wool, fine weave and soft, closely valued coloration dominated by pale greens, yellows and reds. A variant of the Mamluk production, sometimes termed “Paramamluk,” utilized allover patterns of smaller concentric hexagons, octagons, and squares – the so-called “Chessboard” carpets. These have been attributed to Damascus,  a major center in the Syrian portion of the Mamluk realm. The Ottomans conquered and annexed the Mamluk territories in 1517.  Mamluk carpet production seems to have continued after the Ottoman takeover. In addition, the Ottoman court began to commission the production of carpets from the workshops of Cairo in a florid arabesque style. Known as “Cairene” carpets, they competed with the suave designs of contemporary Safavid Persia.

Tibetan carpets from the 19th century (perhaps earlier, though mostly carpets from the 19th century survive) are relatively restrained in terms of design and coloring, carpet makers at that time being restricted to a narrow range of natural dyes including madder (red), indigo (blue), Tibetan rhubarb (yellow) and Tibetan walnut (browns and greys), with a few other local plants producing yellow and greenish colors. Motifs consisted of two classes: the first type being simple geometric motifs such as the checkerboard and gau (amulet) design that probably formed part of an ancient Tibetan design repertoire, mingled with medallion designs and other motifs derived from Chinese decorative traditions.

The history of Tibetan rug making dates back to some fifteen hundred years but a standard piece from that date is virtually non existent these days. Rugs in Tibet are practical, everyday objects, woven locally for use in homes and monasteries where they would over time wear out and discarded. There were also no such royal collections or elaborate burial customs by which the rugs would have been preserved over a long period. Furthermore, there was no tradition for exporting the rugs to the outside world. The antique Tibetan rugs that we see in the market these days usually date from the late 1700’s to the mid 1900’s.

Tibetan rugs are of exceptional value considering all the works that take place to create the masterpiece. They are highly durable and radiate tremendous warmth during the cold winter months.