Color in Oriental Rugs and Textiles, Part 2

This is Part 2, of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning that Wendel Swan


gave on September 12, 2009 on the subject of “Color in Oriental Rugs and Textiles.”

Wendel began this program with a lecture augmented with projected images.  If you have not gone though that lecture, you can reach it with this link:

In this second part of his program, Wendel illustrated selected aspects of his lecture with pieces he had brought in.  Members of the audience had also brought pieces.

Wendel began this second part of his program with the “cover piece” from his lecture.



This simple piece projects great color.  Several aspects of Itten’s varieties of contrast are visible.   It also features the use of both lighter and darker colored outlining.

Here is a closer look at its field.


Wendels’ second “in-the-room” piece was also treated in his lecture.  It was the Anatolian yastik below.


This piece was treated in Wendel’s lecture as an example of superior “warm-cool contrast.”

Here are some closer details of it.   First, a lower corner,


and then an upper one.

(Notice that the coloring of a top strip is different.  It is an old repair with synthetics that Wendel has decided not to tamper with.)


Although, the piece above does not need this advantage, Wendel showed it side-by-side with the faded yastik below.


It is evident  that the piece above lacks most kinds of contrast that would enhance our evaluation of its aesthetic qualities.

And a closer look at it does not improve things noticeably.


Wendel had two molas to illustrate “simultaneous contrast” and the effect of outlining to eliminate its adverse visual effects.

The first was the red-blue example without outlining that he used in his lecture.


His second in-the-room example had outlining,


and illustrated again both the source and reason for that frequent tradition.

Here are these two pieces side-by-side.



The next piece was one brought in by a member of the audience.  It was a fine, old Belouch group bag face with wool of spectacular quality.


This is a piece with very little color contrast, because its colors are, except for the blue and a sparing use of white, mostly close to one another on the color wheel.  And since both the reds and blues in this piece are dark, there is little “light and dark” contrast between them.  The design of this bag face also has less contrast of scale, since its design elements seem to be mostly of the similar sizes.  This piece has more color than this photo shows, but it requires bright natural light to see it.

There were some other Belouch pieces in the room.  The first one was the one below, which belongs to Wendel.


It shows what a more liberal use of white and colors with greater complementary qualities can enliven our experience with them.  Beautiful blues and an aubergine ground.  A bright orange-red jumps out from mostly darker background colors with an electric effect.

The next piece was another Belouch Wendel had borrowed as a less desirable example.

There are some reasonably attractive colors and varieties of contrast in this piece.  The contrast of proportion in it is pretty good.  But the overall effect is that the colors have been bleached out.  They lack contrast of “saturation.”

The next piece was a complete khorjin set of the darker Belouch sort.


This is a variety of the so-called “Mushwani” design.  As with the first Belouch bag face above, there is little contrast of “dark and light.”  The design devices used are of different scales and so project more contrast of “composition,” although the dark colors make it difficult to see.  There are glimpses of brighter orange, of a green, and  a brighter blue, but in general, the piece is very subdued.

Here are some closer details.



Here is a look at its back.  It has more visible contrasts.


The next piece was one of Wendel’s.


It is a panel from a Zoroastrian woman’s baggy trousers.  This panel wrapped the calf area of one leg of such a pair of trousers.


The ground stripes are silk as is the embroidery on them.

The complementary contrast between the stripes is very good, as are the contrast of “saturation” and the contrast of “light and dark.”


The contrast of “proportion” is great, given the difference of scale of the wide stripes and the tiny elements of embroidery


Dotted outlining is used between stripes to preserve clean visual edges of adjoining colors and outlining is used within and sometimes at the edges of the embroidered devices to prevent “simultaneous” contrast from “smearing” their sharpness.  Contrast of “light and dark” is also used effectively to highlight the effect of these tiny embroideries.

The next piece was the khorjin half below.


This piece is very well drawn in a tough reverse sumak fabric, but the dyes are likely synthetics.  While there is good contrast of proportion and reasonable contrast of light and dark, the faded colors lack contrast of hue and saturation.

The following piece was the complete khorjin below, again, one of Wendel’s.


The ‘mullioned” design in the field of this piece is the same as that in the previous one and a white ground border is used in both of them.   But this piece has a great deal more of the various contrasts we have listed. The back of this piece (that we can only glimpse in the bridge area) is also very nice, featuring stripes and zigzags, the latter with a much larger scale.


Notice that outlining is used extensively at the edges of it design elements.

The next piece was the end panel from a large Shirvan cargo bag type “mafrash.”

This slit weave tapestry panel has a relatively narrow color palette, but projects (as designs with few colors often do) considerable graphic punch.

Examining it a bit one can see that its graphic impact is the result of good light and dark contrast, especially a skillful use of white.  The internal instrumentation of the stepped devices in its field ed the use of good complementary contrast.

Notice that, as is the case with many slit weave tapestries, there is no outlining in most of the piece.  Outlining is reserved for the edges.

The next piece was a “Kordi” pushti (little rug) from NE Iran.


This piece exhibits good complementary contrast, and contrast of light and dark, the latter, again depending noticeably on an effective use of white.

There is positive contrast of composition in the use of striped “outing.”  Notice that the outlining is wider than is often the case but still retains a non-competitive scale with the field devices it separates and the borders it edges.

The next piece was a kilim fragment with “old” colors.


This piece is one of two end panels that, together with a brocaded center panel with more complex designs, made up a Central Anatolian “cuval.”


There is strong use of complementary colors and “outlining” effects are achieved by separating the broader stripes with much narrower ones, not of a single darker or lighter color but using the hues of other wide stripes.  So essentially contrast of composition is used to prevent the adverse visual effects of simultaneous contrast.


Wendel called attention to the “old” brown and aubergine.

The next piece was Wendel’s yellow ground Konya pile fragment below.


It is three guls wide rather than the more usual two.

Here is a closer detail of it.


Wendel sees its minor elements as more integrated into the overall field design than is the case with most of the rugs in this group.


He also showed this piece side-by-side with the previous flatwoven cuval fragment to show the similarity of palette.



The next piece was the part of a large kilim shown below.


This piece has great contrasts of “hue,” “light and dark,” and “complementary” colors.  White is often used, seemingly, to prevent too much “simultaneous” contrast, although many colors are adjacent without outlining.

Here are some closer details of this piece.


Notice the particularly effective use of purple with gold.




Truly glorious colors.

The next piece was a silk jajim, made in five strips sewn together.  This warp-faced piece was attributed to the Shahsavan, or possibly, to NW Persia.


It projects an effective use of complementary contrast.


Narrow stripes alternate wider ones and operate (as “outlining”) to prevent adverse “simultaneous” contrast effects.


The next piece was Wendel’s rather well-known “tessellation” pile rug, attributed to the Shahsavan.


It also displays a variety of effect color contrast and a tessellated field design.

Here is a closer corner.


Wendel pointed to the fact that the tessellated device


is composed of a triangle, rotated and reflected and


also internally instrumented.

The following piece was probably Kurdish, possibly NE Persian.  This time a pile long rug with a lot “going on” in it design-wise.


There are medallions, a dramatic striped main border, camels and other critters, “tree-of-life” motifs, etc.


But, as Wendel noted, it is also very colorful and it displays a variety of contrasts very effectively.


Here are a couple more close looks at it.



The next piece was another silk jajim.


Again the striped, instrumented design exhibits good “light and dark” and complementary contrasts.


There are narrower stripes between wider ones, but devices decorating the stripes themselves are not outlined and so some “simultaneous” contrast is possible, especially in stripes with high complementary contrast like the red stripe instrumented in green.

Here is one more closer look at a detail of this piece.


The next item was this small piece attributed to NW Persia, possibly Kurdish.


The excellent colors of this piece are so, mostly, because they  exhibit effective use of the various contrasts treated in this session.

The dark field and the yellow ground framing borders contribute strongly to the aesthetics of this weaving.


The checkerboard area may echo Kurdish “shrub” carpet usages.

The next piece had some similar features, but was attributed to the Khamseh Federation.


Its white ground border does not have as much white and the main borders of the immediately preceding piece had of yellow.

The result is that this piece seems somewhat darker.  The color palettes and design usages are very similar.  The effective alteration of color in its abstracted “boteh” devices drew favorable comment.

Here are some closer looks at this piece.

First, a corner,


And then a vertical slice of the field that includes part of the bottom border.


The next item shown was the one below.


This is a SW Persian rug of the so-called “mother and daughter boteh” design.  It exhibits many of the color contrasts Wendel has attracted attention to.

Here are some closer details of this piece.  First, a top corner,


then the field,


The next piece brought in was the one below.


This was attributed to the west Caucasus and exhibits typical primary colors, excepting that, perhaps of the “Lesghi star” in the center medallion.

Here are some closer details of this piece.




Red, white and blue predominate but there are visible uses of a softer yellow and a purple and, perhaps, a blue-green.  The marked abrash is an instance of contrast of “hue.”

Another Caucasian rug followed, this time with three “Lesghi stars” in its field.


Design-wise there is a great deal going on in this rug and while its colors are striking the large scale of the “bracketed” areas of the main border are nearly as tall on the sides and as wide on the top and bottom as the medallions in the field, and may for some begin to “compete” with the latter.

Nevertheless, the colors in this rug exhibit a goodly number of the contrasts that contribute to aesthetic attractiveness.  Several shades of blue are, for example, instances of good uses of contrast of “hue.”

Again, here are some closer details of this piece.


Notice that most motifs are outlined either with lighter or darker colors.


The “Lesghi star” device is another held to have been generated entirely by reflection and rotation of the triangular devices at the edges of the perpendicular and horizontal white areas of the medallion.


The next piece was the silk Hereke rug below.


This is a piece, like the great Mughal Wendel showed in his lecture, that demonstrates that “more” can be more.

The skillful color contrast usages in this piece speak for themselves in the details of it below.  Perhaps its most unusual feature is its own brown field.


The range of color in it is only becomes really visible in close-up.



A piece that truly exhibits wonderful uses of color contrasts.

There were some other “city” rugs in the room.  The next one, an Ishfahan with an ivory field, was one of these.


Although unavoidably something of a come down from the previous Hereke, this piece displays excellent “light and dark” contrasts.

Here is a corner closer.


And a closer detail of its field.


Notice that outlining is used extensively but not everywhere.

The red tendrils were seen to be an effective usage.

The next piece was an Ottoman yastik in silk.


This piece also has good “light and dark” contrasts.


Its owner said that he was attracted by its purple.

Again, outlining is used to separate some adjacent colors, but not others.


The next piece was Anatolian with a niche design field.


It has two cross panels as part of its field.  Cross panels occur in some Turkish rugs, and in Turkmen engsis, but they are relatively rare in rugs from other areas.

Good color contrasts are present in this piece, but the hues used are more subdued.  Here are some closer looks at details.



The “columns” at the edge of the field are featured in a group of Anatolian rugs beginning in the 15th century that may have their source in “Torah” rug designs used by Spanish Jews driven out by the Inquisition and welcomed by the Ottomans.

The turquoise blue hue in the field works in effective contrast with the nearby soft red.

The next rug was also an Anatolian niche design attributed to Kayseri.


It was suggested that this piece is a “funeral” rug.


This time a likely cochineal bluish-red contrasts with a pale green.  An inner of two main borders is a surprising yellow.  Here, below, is a detail of a closer corner.


There is limited contrast in this rug because the general palette is composed of milder hues.  The use of a brightish orange-red close to the bluish-red hue is arresting.

The next piece was the western Anatolian rug below, attributed to the Bergama area.


It design is “architectural.”  It exhibits several varieties of strong contrast, especially that having to do with contract of scale.

Here are some closer details.


The next rug was also Anatolian.


There is contrast in scale between the large open red field, but little contrast of any sort in the rest of the rug.

Here are some closer details.



The next piece was a Caucasian with three field cross panels, something, as we’ve said above, very unusual in Caucasian rugs.


This rug has good contrast of light and dark, and between its mostly primary colors.  It also has effective contrast of scale between design elements.

Here is a detail.


This rug may be dated


but the first two date “numbers” seem to be “1” and “2” and that would suggest an Islamic calendar date that seems optimistic for this piece.  An alternative explanation might be that this is something copied imperfectly by an illiterate weaver.

The next piece was the Balouch below.


Belouch rugs, as we saw with earlier examples, tend to have colors that are closer to one another on the color wheel.  The limits the degree of contrast this piece can project.

Here are some closer details.


Most of the contrast in this piece comes from the electric orange in it.


The next piece was attributed to Khamseh.


Although an attractive piece, the varieties of contrast are limited, especially a good contrast of proportion (scale).

Here are some closer looks at details of it.




The next piece of the morning was the one below.  It was estimated to be a relatively young Afghan rug, but the saturated hue of its red was given high marks even should it be the result of a synthetic.


This is not the best-planned rendition of this well-known Caucasian field design and it doesn’t have a lot of “light and dark” contrasts, but it has some others.

And just because it might be quite young doesn’t mean that we won’t give it a fair shot of display.  Here are some closer details of it.

First, an upper corner,


then part of the center of the upper field.


The last piece of the morning was a little Uzbek band.


This piece has been called a belt by folks experienced with non-Turkmen Central Asian textiles, but Bob Emery pointed out that


the bottom selvedge in the image above is hard and finished, while the top edge (with the trefoil forms pointing up) is folded over but loose, and appears perhaps to have been attached to something else.  Bob suggested that this is a lapel decoration for a longish Uzbek garment and that seems convincing.

On the color side, this piece demonstrates that the palette of natural dye colors on silk is distinctive from that on wool.

So the color contrasts visible in this piece (and there are some despite the fact that little white is used) require a little looking because of the distinctive hues of its  colors.


The session came to an end.

Wendel answered questions.


And adjourned the program.

Movement to the front and after session conversations started up.







I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of Wendel’s interesting program.

I thank Wendel for both permitting this virtual version of something he had carefully prepared and delivered.  His editorial assistance was also critical.

Thanks also to Colin England who took an excellent set of notes.


R. John Howe

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