The production of vintage and antique Indian rugs and carpets in any quantity dates from the Mughal period of the late 1520s. Beginning with the conquest of Northern India by Babur, weaving workshops developed around the imperial cities of Agra, Fathpur and Lahore. Akbar the Great (1556-1605) and his successors sponsored and encouraged the weaving of splendid Indian versions of classic Persian floral, garden and hunting rugs and carpets. As an eminent patron of the arts, Jahangir (reigning from 1605-1628), possessed a deep love for the beauty of nature, influencing the artists of his court. Unlike antique Agra carpets manufactured in the prisons of India, antique North Indian rugs were products of a cottage industry controlled by families of carpet weavers. With a knotted pile of the softest pashmina wool, the antique North Indian carpets originated and perfected by these weaving families, have to this day, rarely been equaled.
Indian carpet weaving was at its height during Mughal dynasty. The earliest Mughal carpets from the 16th century reveal the heavy influence of Persian carpet weaving traditions, which were brought to India by Persian rug weavers. However, by seventeenth century, Mughal rug designs had begun to reflect more Indian motifs and had also become more naturalistic due to the affect that European trade had on the arts of India. Despite the array of influences, the rugs of Agra, Lahore, and Fatehpur Sikri as a whole reflect the Mughals’ great respect for and appreciation of nature, along with their high standards of craftsmanship. The steady demise of the Mughal Empire was accompanied by a decline in the production of fine oriental rugs that was only revitalized by the British in the nineteenth century.
While the vintage Indian rugs that were made during the late 19th century in India recall Mughal designs, for the most part, they were finely-knotted interpretations of both classical Indian and Persian designs, often in subtle color palettes to cater to European decorative preferences. The two main cities of late 19th century antique Indian carpet weaving are Agra and Amritsar. While Amritsar rugs are often whimsical, informal and in soft earthy tones, Agra rugs are frequently characterized by their deeper colors and fine weaves.