Published: July 17, 2001
By Carol Sims
Anyone about to invest in an antique Oriental rug would do well to invest in this expertly written and beautifully designed tome. Parviz Nemati gives an overview of rug making with an expansive global context. It is the first reference book to give an overview of the rugs of both the Orient and Europe, in addition to European tapestries from the Fifteenth to Nineteenth Centuries.
With its richly vibrant cover, the book will sit well on any textile lover’s coffee table. Flipping through the pages won’t disappoint the most casual of browsers. The photography is excellent, and reproduction of the images is impeccable.
It helps that the featured carpets and tapestries and other weavings are of exquisite quality, many, as pointed out by the author, rivaling similar pieces now in museum collections. All of the textiles pictured are from the personal and professional collection of the author. It is a remarkable collection.
The book is a showcase for the collection as well as a general text about antique carpets and tapestries. Therein lies the book’s strength and weakness. That no museum carpets were illustrated in such a comprehensive text is a bit strange, since various museum pieces are mentioned throughout.
It is also a credit to Nemati’s profound collection. He has been a collector and dealer of Oriental rugs for 40 years. (It would be comparable to a painting gallery publishing an overview of painting using only examples from their own inventory.)
The author describes the tradition of weaving and the carpet trade. He covers Persian, Turkish, Caucasian (Caucasus is the source of the Seventeenth Century surviving pile woven carpets known as Dragon Carpets), Turkmen (from “Turkestan” or modern day Turkmenistan), Indian, and Chinese carpets, as well as European rugs and tapestries. He illustrates the asymmetrical Persian knot and the symmetrical Turkish knot. Sources of dyes, types of weaving materials, and basic techniques used in rug making are explained.
One of the text’s strongest features is its description of regional design attributes, not only between major historic rug-making countries, but also between different areas within those countries, even particular towns and tribes. Nemati explains cultural influences and historic events to put rug production into context.
Think “Oriental rug” and most people think Persian. Indeed, the largest portion of the book is devoted to Persia, modern day Iran. Parviz Nemati grew up among the weavers of Kerman, one of the most ancient and famous rug centers of Iran. There are about 124 illustrations that feature Persian weaving from various regions and dates, and in different forms.
He discusses and illustrates prayer rugs, carpets, runners, the audience carpet (a potentate would sit at one end, and prospective visitors would approach from the other end), the Sofreh, or flatwoven bread wrap, ceremonial saddle covers, gabbeh (flat-woven tribal rugs), and pattern samplers. Nemati noted a curious resemblance of some Kurdish weaving to colors and designs of Navaho Indian weaving, something that he is researching.
Next, Nemati takes us to Turkey. His collection of fine Ushak carpets is one of the highlights of the section. In the following chapter he shows many prime examples of weaving from Caucasus, a mountainous region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea including Georgia, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic Daghestan (which no longer exists as its own country on the map), and part of Russia.
Turkmen rugs are a marvelously distinct group. Nemati illustrates seven examples from his collection. The reader is then plunged into the Mughal carpet trade of India. Twenty-one carpets, mostly dated to the Nineteenth Century, show the influences of Persia within a distinctly Indian aesthetic.
There are 14 Chinese and Mongolian carpets illustrated. Most date from the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. He pictures an unusual Chinese chair or throne-back cover, a Chinese Art Deco carpet, as well a blue-field Peking rug of the Nineteenth Century.
It is an eye-opener to see how European carpet and tapestry tradition grew out of trade with Persia, Turkey, and other oriental countries. Spain had a fine Islamic carpet tradition of great renown. France, England, and Belgium all started their own weaving centers. Nemati lays out the transfer of ideas and carpet trade within Europe very clearly, with beautiful examples to go along. He even touches on the spread of the weaving trade to America.
Although the layman will be able to get into this book with relative ease, Nemati would have done well to include an illustrated glossary. Since some of the terms originate from a myriad of foreign tongues, many of them can’t be found in an English-language dictionary. Jargon that is obvious to carpet connoisseurs and dealers will leave others puzzled. Forget a term, and you’ll be flipping through the pages to find it again. (The author’s occasional explanations of these terms are woven throughout the book.)
Here is a sampling of words from the book that will make carpet connoisseurs feel good about their knowledge, and others go hunting for the firm ground of comprehension: abrash, arabesque, boteh, bilateral symmetry, cartoon, cartouche, cloudband, cicim, cochineal, cockscomb, crennellations, diaper, engsi, field, flatweave, fret, gabbeh, guard border, ground, gul, hatchli, Herati, ili-sultan, juval, kilim, KIZ, lac, lappets, lozenge, medallion, mercerized, mezarlik, mihrab, millefleur, ogival, palas, palmettes, primary border, selvedge, sileh, single-wafted, sofreh, souf, spandrel, sumakh, trefoil, verneh, warp, weft, woof, wurma, yatak, zoomorphic. If you got them all, you’re probably a dealer.
The Splendor of Antique Rugs and Tapestries will give prospective owners excellent provenance should they acquire any of the featured textiles. Nemati describes them accurately and enthusiastically. This is a great book for decorators, collectors, or those on the prowl for more knowledge.
The Splendor Of Antique Rugs And Tapestries by Parviz Nemati, Rizzoli, New York City, 2001, ISBN 0-8478-5794-8, 408 pages, hardcover, illustrated, 300 color illustrations. $95.
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