Fine Rugs From Northwest Persia

On October 3, 2009, Harold Keshishian

052 Harold and map

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on “Fine Rugs from Northwest Persia,” here in The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

He was assisted by his wife, Melissa (seated, left foreground) and his older son, Kirk (standing at right).

034 Melissa, Kirk, Harold, audience

As an attribution, “northwest Persia, is frequently said, jokingly, to be to admit that we really don’t know very specifically where a given rug was woven.

But the term has more legitimacy, if we are pointing more generally to a geographic area in Iran where a great many types of rugs were woven.  This latter was Harold’s intent.

Harold’s topic had a geographic dimension, but also signaled that he intended to focus on rugs from this area that he felt were of better quality.

He said that, despite the geographic reference in his topic, he had found, as he was preparing, that he had some Kermans of the order of quality he wanted to illustrate, and so he wanted to begin with a short detour to central Persia, so as to include them as well.

He had five of the six Kermans he had brought arrayed on the board at the front.

027 Kermans on panel

We’ll go through these pieces, and the one other, one at a time.

(Note: Some of the pieces shown in this session have been seen as recently as Harold’s “small bags” program, and I have sometimes supplemented the photos taken during this current program with images taken during that prior session.)

The first was the piece below.

002 fine Kerman assembled fragments

Harold described this piece as a “fine Kerman, composed of assembled fragments.  It projects the complexity of design that so enthralled Cecil Edwards.

Harold’s next Kerman was the piece below.

004 Qajar Kerman small figural rug

He described this as a “small, Qajar, Kerman, figural rug.”

The “Qajar” reference, many will know, is to a Persian dynasty of three monarchs that began in 1796 and ended in 1925.  A “Qajar” rug could have been woven at any time during this period, but Edwards says the “revival” of serious rug production in Kerman began about 1875.

The third of Harold’s Kermans was the one below.

006 small true Kerman

He described this piece as a “small ‘true’ Kerman.”

The “true” designation indicates that he sees this piece as woven more strictly in the tradition of Kerman city rugs rather than those of the region’s more general environs [e.g., many “Kerman-looking” rugs are Afshars, and even Ravar Kermans (although Edwards says the latter are indistinguishable from those woven in Kerman proper) were woven at a distance from the city].

Harold’s next Kerman was the one below.

007 figural Kerman

This piece is another figural rug with the sort of elaborate drawing and effective use of a wider color palette for which Kermans are noted.  Many will know that most Kerman reds are from cochineal rather than from madder.

We saw the next piece in a fairly recent “rug morning,” but it is one of Harold’s special favorites.

008 Kerman with rabbits

Three realistically drawn rabbits cavort among leafy foliage



surrounded by a wide main border, richly embellished with colorful curvilinear designs.


Harold’s fifth and last Kerman was the piece below.


Although full of rich, dense, colorful design this piece seems something of a departure from the “city” and “figural” pieces above.  Most will know that we can be confident that such a piece was woven in the Kerman region because of the distinctive three-weft structure used by Kerman weavers.

With this bow to the “fine” part of his topic in Kerman, Harold moved to the pieces he had brought from northwest Persia.

Harold moved around among the various northwest Persian types, eclectically, not treating those with a given attribution together.  We are following his presentation sequence here.

The first NW Persian weaving he showed was the one below.

010 Senneh mafrash side panel in pile

Harold said this is a side panel from a “mafrash-type” cargo bag from Senneh.  Three plain, diamond-shaped, medallions float on a rich herati field.

Some closer looks.  First, at one of the diamonds and surrounding field,


and, then, of a lower corner.


Here is his second NW Persian piece, a pile  khorjin face.

011 Hamadan khorjin half

This piece was attributed to Hamadan.  A great many rugs were woven in Hamadan, but khorjin faces are not encountered frequently.  The light blue border frames effectively.

The next piece was the square one below, attributed to Heriz.

012 Small square Heriz

This attractive rug has a large central medallion with a bright-ish, blue edge that nearly fills its entire field.  Nevertheless, there are graphically, strong corner brackets, that use white effectively, and “hold their own.”  A border of a much smaller scale and color frames the piece nicely without competing at all with its other elements.

I have heard Harold say that he is attracted to square rugs.  They can usually be displayed readily and with great flexibility.

The next piece took us back, again, to Senneh.

013 Senneh saddle rug

This is a saddle rug of the sort that was placed over the saddle.  The large dark area of the field contrasts dramatically with the balance of the piece that is ornamented with typical Senneh devices all approximately of similar sizes.

Here are some closer looks at this piece.


Notice the deliberate vertical red line coming down from the edge of the opening where the back of the saddle would come through.

And a lower corner.


The next piece was the one below.

015 cat rug

This is another of Harold’s favorite pieces.  He draws attention, when he shows it, to the “henna-dipped” paws (indicating, he believes, that this was a much-loved cat), and to the “Kaiser Wilhelm” mousthache, a style that was very much in vogue in Iran for a time.

The next piece is one in which Harold indicates an “NW Persian” is particularly appropriate.

016 Bastard NWP saddle rug

It has some Kurdish, some Malayer, some Senneh characteristics, and these are further muddied by some repairs.  So it is a piece of uncertain parentage, despite its nice looks.

Some people look down on fragments, and they do have their disadvantages, but Harold is among those who treats some fragments seriously.  The next piece he had brought was one of these.

018 Ferahan fragment

This Ferahan fragment features an light green ground (some see green usages as a “Ferahan” indicator) and a large-scale design device.

A second fragment

018 Malayer fragment

was from a Malayer rug.  It has good color usages.

A third fragment

018 Zili Sultan fragment

was from a rug with a “Zill-i Sultan” design.

“Zill-i Sultan” designs are composed of repeats of vases and floral sprays.”  The reference is to a Qajar prince who governed Iran’s southern provinces at the turn of the 20th century.

Harold now moved to three Bijar pieces, two of which appeared in his recent “small bag” program.

The first of these was this “gul Farange” example.

023 goli franc Bijar

Harold pointed to the good colors.

A second Bijar piece exhibits roses on a field with  striking “zig-zag” devices.

024 Bijar roses zig zag

A smaller scale border frames nicely.

The third Bijar piece in this sequence was the mat below.

025 Bijar mat

The color palette is close to that on the “gul Farange” piece above, but the addition of a gold hue enriches it further.

Harold’s next piece was the one below,

026 Veramin mafrash side panel pile

A well-composed, Veramin “mafrash” side-panel with clear Turkmen motifs.

When you walk into Harold’s shop, the fragment strip, below, taken from a Bakhtiari “garden” carpet, hangs near the counter.

074 Harold pointing to Bakhtiyari fragment

065 Bakhtiyari garden carpet fragment

Neither of these images quite does justice to its colors.

Harold moved to the rug below.

068 Inscribed rug

Notice the inscription at the top.

Harold’s next piece was a Manchester Kashan.

070 Manchester Kashan

He also had another Kashan, small, antique and with an unusual design and a pinkish red.

075 Small antique KashanNext was the antique Saruk rug with the white field below.

090 Antique Saruk

Next, Harold showed a Malayer.

091 Malayer rug

Pretty good width of palette.

Next, was another small Senneh.

110 Small Senneh bad

This piece does not come up to the aesthetic level of some of the other material Harold presented in this session, but he admires its fine weave.

The next piece was a Senneh kilim with botehs.

116 Senneh kilim with botehsThe drawing and instrumentation of the botehs in this piece resemble that in the great Garrus bag face that Harold also owns and that we will see at the end of this session.

Harold’s next rug was an Ingelas.

120 Ingelas

Many are seen to be among the higher quality Hamadan varieties.  This one has a darker palette than many Injelas rugs project.

The next to the last rug that Harold presented in this “rug morning” program was the Senneh below.

122 Senneh Herati rug

It features a typical Senneh palette and a herati design.

Harold ended his “NW Persian ‘fine rugs'” program with his great Garrus bag face.  It is a side panel from a cargo-type “mafrash.”

126 Fine Garus sumak mafrash side panel

Published in the “ground-breaking” From Bosporus to Samarkand flatweave catalog in the 1960’s, it still merited a place of honor in John Wertime’s quite recent Sumak Bags.


One of the finest and oldest superior quality sumak textiles known.

It is a source of continuing wonder to those of us you have had this piece in hand, to see (look at the right side of the image above) that, at one point, someone cut the right border of this wonderful bag face (why?), but that, almost miraculously, (mafrashes with borders all round on a  side panel do not, usually, have the opposite side panel similarly decorated) someone else found another piece of the same border and attached it!


It is a piece that many collectors envy ownership of.

Harold took questions,

094 Harold with Saruk and 2 Bijars

and the program came to an end.

Harold talks, sometimes, about a given Rug and Textile Morning he has given being his last.  We keep documenting them because it is important to capture, not just the enjoyments they afford, but also the rug knowledge and wisdom that reside in his long experience.

My thanks to Harold, Melissa and Kirk for permitting this virtual version of this program and for some editorial assistance after.  Thanks also to Wendel Swan, who did the final editing and took almost all of the photos used above.

I hope you have enjoyed, yet another, virtual Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program.


R. John Howe

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