History of Persian Rugs

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever enjoyed walking through a very thick plush rug? How long would take to make such a rug by hand? In this lesson, explore the history behind Persian rugs.

Beginnings of an Art Form

Running your hand through a thick rug is luxurious. But how is something this plush created? It's woven. Some world regions are famous for woven textiles, and people in an area once called Persia (today, Iran) make special rugs. To learn more, let's explore the history of Persian rugs.

Weaving, or interlacing threads to create a textile, was probably introduced into Persia around 529 B.C.E. during the reign of Cyrus the Great. The skill was necessary for migrating peoples who wove coverings for tent floors. When people settled in villages, each place became known for specific rug patterns and designs. Today, many Persian rug styles reflect this history. Diverse patterns developed among tribes and villages and many remain in use today.

Before we discuss history, let's reviewing basic weaving terms. A loom is a piece of equipment on which a rug is woven, a wooden frame that holds a series of threads known as warp threads tight in a vertical position. The weaver interlaces the warp threads horizontally with weft threads. This process creates a basic woven fabric. For Persian rugs, the added element is knots, tied by hand to the warp threads in between rows of weft threads. It's a time-consuming process and some rugs take up to two years to complete.

Woman weaving a Persian rug in Esfahan, Iran. She
woman weaving rug

Persian Rugs in the Safavid Dynasty

Scholars have found mentions of woven rugs dating to the Persian Sassanid Dynasty (224 - 641 C.E.). But the tradition became a major art form during the Safavid Dynasty (1499 - 1722 C.E.), when the Persian Empire was at its height. Some of the finest carpets were woven in royal workshops that employed talented designers, craftspeople and weavers. Artists created designs and gave them to weavers to transform into rugs. The finest rugs were often silk or wool, sometimes with gold and silver threads. Making rugs also continued to be important throughout the empire, which at its height covered most of the Middle East and Anatolia (present-day Turkey).

Example of an Ardabil rug from the Safavid Dynasty, ca. 1539 - 1540
Ardibil Persian rug

Different Kinds of Knots

Rug makers in the Persian Empire used two kinds of knots that reflected the areas from which they came. The Turkish or Symmetrical knot, also known as the Ghiordes knot, is made by taking yarn twice around two warp threads and then leaving the outer ends loose in a symmetrical pattern. Then, one or more weft threads are woven between the row of knots. The Turkish knot creates a strong, thick carpet.

An example of a Turkish knot.
An example of a Turkish knot

The Persian, or Asymmetrical knot, known as Senneh knot, uses a wool thread and loops it once around a warp thread. The other end remains loose, creating an asymmetrical pattern. Then one or more weft threads are woven between the knot rows. More Persian knots fit in an area of carpet and this knot is used for more elaborate designs. Both types of knots are still in use today.

Countless Rug Designs

Persian rugs have an endless variety of designs. Many have patterned borders around their edges. The fields, or the body of the rug inside the borders, may have one large medallion, an interconnected geometric pattern or many repeated smaller designs.

Persian rug

This Bakshaish carpet has bold colors with a large central geometric figure. In it are smaller figures in a pattern known as Dragon and Phoenix. Notice how there's more geometric emphasis to the images on this carpet than on the Ardabil rug.

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