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Antique Silks Overview

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Silk is an animal fiber made from the cocoons of silkworms, is an extremely costly and luxurious material for textile and rug production. Silk cultivation began in ancient China where it was a jealously guarded secret. Eventually its use spread to Persia and then to Byzantium and Europe. The expense notwithstanding, silk pile rugs, even those with silk foundations as well, are not uncommon, although they tend to be high quality pieces in the tradition of court art.

Extremely luxurious nomadic weavings will also have some of the pile made in silk. The attraction of silk resides in the fineness of its fibers which are remarkably soft, as well as in it’s luminous, reflective quality. Because of this the effect of color on silk is far more intense and brilliant than the effect of the same dye on even the finest wool. Silk, however, is much more delicate and less durable than wool. Consequently, many less silk rugs are well preserved. This rarity, as well as the basic cost, places antique silk pieces among the most expensive rugs.

Traditional antique Persian carpets have remained essentially unchanged for centuries with the earliest classical oriental carpets created for the 16th century Safavid Court. Appropriating design principles from Persian book bindings and miniatures, the existing decorative repertoire consists of central field patterns with endless or centralized repeats using cartouches or floral ornamentation. The designs of these antique Persian rugs and carpets successfully combine the ubiquitous central medallion with pendant systems, enhanced by corner spandrels and repeating floral compositions. Based upon an underlying grid system, antique Persian carpets are composed of spiral arabesques ornamented with floral and foliate motifs. Western Persian centers such as Malayer and Senneh developed a reputation for complicated repeats of floral boteh; while the finest traditional antique rugs of the nineteenth century were woven in the sophisticated city workshops of Kashan, Malayer and Senneh. Kashan became the center of the Persian silk industry; its artisans renowned for the silky quality of the wool rugs produced by them. The finest of antique Kashan rugs and carpets are known as ‘Mohtashem,’ named for the most famous weaver from that city. The marvelous symmetry of such intricate rugs can only be fashioned by experienced artisans carefully following sophisticated cartoons. The classic antique Persian rug bestows unparalleled warmth and elegance to any interior.

The carpets of the towns of Bijar and Senneh in Persian Kurdistan show perhaps most clearly the resourcefulness of the Kurdish weaver. When Senneh became a provincial capital in 1880, its weavers were challenged to create carpets of the much tighter weave, closely cut pile and clearly detailed design preferred by the newly arrived Persian gentry. They responded to this challenge magnificently, producing textiles, often of silk foundation, with a knot density rivaling that of the workshop products of the major cities. Nearby Bijar and the 40-odd villages which surround it were quick to follow. Geometric tribal designs were virtually abandoned in favor of the intricate Persian floral motifs such as the herati, mina khani, medallion-and-pendant and harshang patterns.