Knowledge and education are of paramount importance for clients as they contemplate the acquisition of an antique Oriental rug. As a result, many years ago, I created two tools that have provided invaluable information essential in any purchase decision and which have stood the test of time.
At my Gallery, my staff and I spend considerable time reviewing our inventory and applying what we have learned in our 41-year history to our trove of 2500 rugs woven during the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving (ca. 1800 to ca. 1910). We get tremendous satisfaction from the notes and comments that our clients send and make to us as they employ the Oriental Rug Pyramid and the Nine-Point Methodology for Evaluating Antique Oriental rugs while evaluating carpets that may wish to acquire.
Briefly, the Pyramid separates carpets into six distinct tiers based on their innate qualities and value as collectible art. Information about the Pyramid is available at www.claremontrug.com/pyramid
. In this article, I will be discussing our Nine-Point Methodology. Along with the Pyramid, it is key to assessing a piece created during the Second Golden Age, the period that connoisseurs and collectors celebrate for the genuinely remarkable rugs that were woven.
In addition to this written outline of the Methodology, I have created a video version that you can view at (www.claremontrug.com/video/#fAUmt0LKr7I
) and see how the nine points appear visually in a rug.
It is important to note that the elements are not presented in order of importance because it is the combination of the factors that determine the rugs value and level of collectability.
1. Level of Artistry
Generally, in scholarly discussions of antique Oriental rugs, the visual and technical differences among the myriad styles have received a tremendous amount of study. However, since founding Claremont Rug Company in 1980, I have been sensitive to what I believe is the seminal topic: artistry. The vast variation in artistic dexterity and sensibility of various antique carpets help us distinguish highly accomplished from mediocre works.
This most challenging criterion to grasp, a rugs artistry, stems from its overall unity among the elements of composition and the visual impact on the viewer. In weaving, as in all art forms, the best pieces have what is sometimes referred to as a universal impact. Does it have staying power, i.e., the more one looks at it, the more one sees and is intrigued by it? Does the composition slow you down to encompass you, giving you the sense that you could be in its aura forever?
2. Level of Beauty
Does a rug possess overall balance and harmony among various motifs and a symbiotic relationship between color and design? The weaver's choice of a rugs palette, the ability to balance up to dozens of tonalities within a rug, and knowledgeable command of color-combining are significant determinants of aesthetic appeal. Are the individual colors used intriguing and harmonious? Also affecting the level of beauty in Oriental carpets is the sense of visual depth (or lack thereof), principally accomplished through the art of abrash, striations within one hue intentionally wrought during the dyeing process. Are these color shifts as if naturally occurring, or do they seem abrupt and out of place?
Equally impactful is an effective use of proportion among design elements. If the scales of the largest and the most diminutive motifs are too similar, they will not be sufficiently visible and, therefore, not compelling enough in the relationship to the entire spectrum of designs. An alluring sense of fluidity or movement adds interest and impact to a carpet, achieved by the spaciousness in the field designs, the syncopation of the rugs colors, the intentional abrash technique, and the pattern choice in the main border.
3. The Carpets Age
Rugs woven before the Commercial Period (beginning around 1920) are the most desirable because of their more extraordinary originality, universal use of natural dyes, including exotic hues not found in later rugs, and expressive designs. The Commercial Period transformed the Oriental Rug market from one where each rug was one-of-a-kind.
4. The Carpets Condition Relative to Age
The earlier the rug was woven, the more wear and restoration is expected and acceptable. The impact on value is determined by how much and how well restoration is executed. Chemical washing, extreme sun-fading, staining, and reduction in the size of a rug have a profoundly negative impact on its value.
For rug aficionados, the earlier the piece, the greater the value, if its artistry and craftsmanship are elevated, and its condition is commensurate with age.
5. Quality of Color
All Oriental rug colors were made from natural dyestuffs before the introduction of chemical dyes, in some cases as early as the mid-1860s. An all-naturally dyed palette of color is paramount for a carpet to have more than just decorative value, as vegetable dyes develop a prized patina over time, while chemical dyes often fade with the passage of the decades. The quality of colorits radiance and level of nuance within each hueis centrally important. Specific rare colors such as Tyrian purple, saffron yellow, cochineal rose, and greens add to the carpets value.
The amount of originality in a rugs colors and design significantly impacts its desirability to connoisseurs, as long as the elements of beauty are present. Carpets that are entirely singular works of art, which may even step outside the regional designs to present never-before-seen motifs and colorways in an aesthetically successful manner, are supremely prized. Rugs that are exemplary, nuanced representatives of a traditional style are also widely sought after.
With some exceptions, the rugs produced circa 1875 and earlier demonstrated the most remarkable creativity, especially pieces woven in the first half of the 19th century that most often reveal a particularly refreshing free-form aesthetic. Along with the use of rare dyestuffs such as Tyrian purple, saffron, cochineal, and pistachio, some master weavers on the tribal and village level and designers for the larger town and city rugs also created singular, exotic tonalities that are exciting to see and greatly enhance their weavings value.
Certain 19th-century substyles are especially sought after, with their best examples renowned for their unequaled artistry. Among Persian city carpets, these include superb-quality, consummately crafted Mohtasham Kashans, Hadji Jallili Tabrizs, Tehrans, and from town weaving centers the finest Ferahans, Ferahan Sarouks, Bijars, and Ziegler Sultanabads. From the village tradition many Bakshaishs, the best Serapis and Camelhair rugs, and the tribal styles, the finest Caucasian, Afshar, Qashqai, and Persian Northwest rugs are rarely found. It is important to emphasize that all of these rug types contain much more plentiful 20th-century Commercial Era examples that, while often offering excellent wool and artistry, lack their predecessors aesthetic brilliance.
8. Fineness of Weave
The rugs from each region offer a distinct construction that includes a knot density particular to that tradition. The most exquisite 19th-century Persian city rugs usually demonstrate a premier level of craftsmanship that manifests in a tremendous sharpness of their motifs and a level of detail work akin to a line drawing. This precision is enhanced by a very even, low-cut pile that gives the rugs surface a glass-like quality. In contrast, many top-quality Caucasian and Kurdish tribal rugs use much looser knotting and a plush surface, which centrally contributes to their prized rugged aesthetic.
During the 20th century, some city rugs were woven with knot counts exceeding 500 knots per square inch, but typically their level of artistry and originality suffered greatly. Their designs became repetitive rather than nuanced, and their color palettes were limited to a few hues. The fineness of weave helps to discern which pieces from one weaving tradition are superior but should not be used to determine quality among different traditions.
9. Quality of Wool
Rug wool has many different grades. The best contains a high-fat content in its fiber, making it highly lustrous and giving radiance to the colors in a rug that ages over time. It is elastic and lanolin-rich to the touch. For these reasons, top grades of wool increase a carpets value. At Claremont, for instance, when we do restoration work, it is only undertaken using wool from a sheepherder in the Eastern United States that exclusively provides us and only raises the sheep strain that was originally bred in Persia.
By employing the Nine-Point Methodology and understanding the nuances of the six tiers in the Rug Pyramid, our clients have a solid foundation for making wise choices and obtaining truly elite-level Second Golden Age carpets.