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Claremont Rug Company's Jan David Winitz Continues His Examination of Great Antique Caucasian Rugs
Karachov Kazak, Southern Central Caucasian, 5' 8" x 7' 2" — 3rd Quarter, 19th Century.

By Jan David Winitz



OAKLAND, CA.- Last month, Art Daily and Jan David Winitz, founder/president of Claremont Rug Company, began a series of first person narratives and interviews that will discuss a wide range of topics related to the selecting, evaluating and collecting antique Oriental rugs from the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving, ca. 1800 to ca. 1910. This is the second of a two-part series about the magnificent rugs produced in the Caucasus Mountain region where intricacies and harshness of tribal life were significant factors in the design and meaning of the rugs.

In the first installment, I remembered reminiscences and insights into the culturally rich world of Caucasian rugs that were produced by 85 distinct weaving groups in an area that is characterized by tribespeople who spoke over 100 languages. Here, I look more closely at how the reality of day-to-day life impacted the rugs and how they reflected the lives of the weavers.

Out of necessity, nomadic and tribal lifestyles produced an infinitely more intimate relationship with the natural environment than we can even imagine. Working on small, portable looms under the endless skies of the rugged Caucasus, weavers directly experienced the impact of epic cycles of nature and sought to make sense of immutable cosmic forces.

The most sensitive artists strove to capture these natural principles in their rugs, viewed through the dualistic lens of their cultural experience and physical geography. For millennia, the Caucasus was host to a succession of cultures— Zoroastrian, Greek, Confucian, Islamic and Sufic— each of which placed ontological dualism as the core of its worldview. Through immersion in the rhythms of the natural world, the weavers depended on balanced, harmonic relationships for their survival and embraced the concept of “Unity in Multiplicity” inherent in the philosophies of the Eastern World.

In the finest rugs, staggering amounts of “information” are presented without the sense of being busy. Each motif and color shift have their integral place in the composition. Just as in the ecosystems in nature, the smallest element has an integral part to play in the unified whole. This adherence to an overall balance and harmony is the symbolic trademark of a great Caucasian rug.

The finest carpets show a breathtaking wealth of "information" without appearing overloaded in any form. Every motif and every color change are an integral part of the overall composition. Just as in nature's ecosystems, even the smallest design element plays a major role in the big picture. And that is exactly the hallmark of a great Caucasian carpet: the way all of its components contribute to a harmonious balance.

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The Color Palette of Antique Caucasian Rugs

The expression “vegetable dyes" is a misnomer. The term “natural dyes” is more appropriate, as not only plants, herbs, and roots are used, but minerals, insects and mollusks, as well! The colors most often seen in naturally dyed antique Caucasian rugs are:

White: Either bleached or natural.

Madder Red: From the root of the madder plant, can vary in shade of selected roots from light-orange-red to deep, rich reds or even to purple reds.

Black: Brown wool dyed with indigo blue produces a lustrous black. A brittle and somewhat corrosive result is produced by the concentration of tannic acid in the bark of the mountain ash, which oxidizes the wool over time.

Brown: Walnut husks and volcanic soil are used to produce brown, which is enhanced by overdyeing in indigo. These dyes also contain tannic acid and will oxidize the wool, creating the common “sculpted” effect of many antique Caucasian rugs. Undyed brown sheep’s wool is also sometimes used.

Indigo: By fermenting the blossoms of the indigo plant, liquor is produced that can be varied to give literally every shade of blue, from powder to midnight indigo. The length of immersion is the key.

Cochineal: The female of the cochineal beetle produces a red dye that is processed by roasting and grinding, an expensive and prized dyestuff.

Yellow: Pear leaves, chamomile, onion skins, turmeric, buckhorn berries, or almonds, often with pomegranate, are used to produce shades of yellow. Precious saffron is added in the best pieces to enhance the yellow tones.

Green: Deep, clear greens were very difficult and time-consuming to procure, and when they are seen, are usually considered to be the sign of an especially masterfully dyed antique tribal rug. Most greens are obtained from first dyeing the wool with indigo blue, and then overdyeing it with a yellow dyestuff.

Afshan Kuba Northeast Caucasian, 4' 2" x 9' 5" — Circa 1850 —


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May 12, 2020

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