History's Most Significant Carpets– Bradford's Rug Gallery

History's Most Significant Carpets

History is a huge part or what feeds our passion for antique carpets. Not only do you have the interest of the individual carpet's history but also the fascinating history of the cultures and the people who create them.

While all antique carpets have intrinsic historical value, there are only a few that really stand out as being some of the most important rugs in recorded history. Those include the Pazyryk Carpet owned by the St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, The Ardabil Carpet owned by the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Clark Sickle-Leaf carpet sold at a Sotheby's auction in 2013 to an anonymous buyer.

This is what makes each of these three rugs so historically significant:

The Pazyryk Carpet:

Photo courtesy www.nazmiyalantiquerugs.com 

The Pazyryk Carpet is the oldest known piled carpet in existence, it is reliably known to be from the 5th Century BCE. A Nazmiyal Collection blog post states the following:

"The land surrounding Siberia’s Ukok Plateau is vast.  Harsh in the winter, the region of Altai Krai is home to the Altai Mountains and the Ob River and her estuaries.  The plateau descends into the Pazyryk Valley, which contains ancient kurgans (burial mounds) in the style of the Scythian peoples who inhabited the area over two thousand years ago.

Archaeological digs in the area began in the 1920’s and unearthed a wealth of historically important items that offered intriguing insight into the little known ancient nomadic tribes of the Pazyryk.

Among the findings were mummies, cloth saddles, a full-sized burial chariot, decorative or devotional figurines, and cannabis seed with an inhalation tent.  When the tombs were unearthed, it was found that they had been remarkably preserved in ice since the 5th century BCE. The mummies that were found were so complete that they still had their tattooed flesh and hair. One of the most remarkable finds was the Pazyryk Carpet.

The Pazyryk Carpet most likely came from Central Asia, though it is really a tossup between Persia or Armenia.  Both nations have traditions of carpet weaving spanning thousands of years, and the horses represented on the rug are nearly identical to horsemen on a frieze in the ancient Persian city of Persepolis.  The possibility that the rug was produced by the Pazyryks is extremely slim, because the sophistication and elegance of the design is indicative of a settled and cosmopolitan civilization unlike the nomadic Pazyryks."

The Ardabil Carpet:

Photo courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum - www.vam.ac.uk  

The Ardabil Carpet is the oldest existing dated carpet, meaning the date is literally woven into the design of the carpet. The Victoria and Albert Museum (owner of the carpet) writes the following:

"[The Ardabil Carpet] was made in the town of Ardabil in north-west Iran, the burial place of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili, who died in 1334. The Shaykh was a Sufi leader, ancestor of Shah Ismail, founder of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722). While the exact origins of the carpet are unclear, it's believed to have been commissioned by the court for the shrine of the Shaykh, which, by the 16th century, had became a place of pilgrimage.

We can date the carpet exactly thanks to an inscription on one edge, which contains a poetic inscription, a signature - 'The work of the slave of the portal, Maqsud Kashani’, and the date, 946 in the Muslim calendar, equivalent to AD 1539 - 1540. Maqsud was probably the court official charged with producing the carpet and not a slave in the literal sense.

The wool pile, which holds dye much better than silk, is very dense - there are about 5,300 knots per ten centimetres square. This density allowed the designer to incorporate a great deal of detail. Making such a large carpet with so many knots would have taken a team of skilled weavers several years - up to 10 weavers may have worked on the carpet at any one time. Carpet weaving was usually performed by women at home, but a court commission like this one may have been woven by men."

The Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet:

Photo courtesy www.sothebys.com  

The Clark Sickle-Leaf carpet is unlike the Pazyryk and the Ardabil in that is is not famous solely for it's age and condition but also for the astonishing price it sold for in a 2013 Sotheby's auction. A June 5, 2013 Washington Post article reads:

"A Persian carpet decorated with swirling vines and vibrant flowers that was stored for decades by the Corcoran Gallery of Art sold Wednesday for more than $30 million. That sum, fetched at a Sotheby's sale, shattered the previous record for rugs sold at auction...

The winning bid for the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet stunned viewers and participants at the sale, in which 25 rugs and carpets were auctioned off to raise money for new acquisitions of American and contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery. The anonymous bidder, who participated by phone, paid $33,765,000 for the 17th-century Persian piece, which came from the bequest of William Clark, the industrialist and U.S. senator who donated more than 200 works of fine art and rugs to the Corcoran upon his death in 1925. Before Wednesday’s sale, a blue leaf-patterned 17th-century rug from southeast Iran held the global record, selling for $9.6 million at Christie’s in London in 2010."

For a description of the Clark Sickle-Leaf visit the Sotheby's catalogue description here.