Carpet (Rug) Designs and Motifs
Design can be a useful pointer to the origins of a carpet, but centres of trade, migration and intermarriage have spread the range of motifs and designs over a wide area. Motifs are drawn from a number of sources, including religious, cultural and environmental. Many of their meanings are lost in the mists of time, while others have been introduced more recently. Several common themes and motifs appear in rugs that are being produced in places as far apart as the Balkans and Iran to Afghanistan, China and North Africa.
Carpets are woven in two distinct main styles: geometric and floral. Geometric designs use straight lines to form the various elements whereas floral rugs use curvilinear motifs. The geometric style is primarily the style of tribal and village weaving. Designs are handed down from generation to generation by example and word of mouth.
Curvilinear designs were probably introduced towards the end of the 15th century and were then developed in Persia during the 16th century. They originate from the Persian view of the garden of paradise, which is one of the most deeply rooted images in the culture of their hot and arid land. Persian garden style has influenced gardens throughout the centuries and their carpets often mirror this. Curvilinear designed carpets are created by a master designer and the weavers follow a pattern or cartoon.
The prayer rug has been used in Muslim countries for centuries and it provides a clean spot for worship. Each rug has an arch-shaped niche, known as a mirhab. Many of the rugs that are woven in Anatolia (Turkey) are still based on this form, which is also the basis for most Belouch and some other tribal rugs. The saph is a multiple prayer rug with several mihrabs placed sisde by side.
Pictorial (people and animal motif) rugs are less common in the East than in the West. They are based on everyday life, history or mythology. Persian Shahs, like royalty the world over, enjoyed seeing themselves depicted as brave and noble hunters on horseback. These rugs are still being produced in Iranian workshops, but most of them know come from India and Pakistan.