Fine Rugs From Northwest Persia
On October 3, 2009, Harold Keshishian
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
was from a Malayer rug. It has good color usages.
A third 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.
Harold pointed to the good colors.
A second Bijar piece exhibits roses on a field with striking “zig-zag” devices.
A smaller scale border frames nicely.
The third Bijar piece in this sequence was the mat below.
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,
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.
Neither of these images quite does justice to its colors.
Harold moved to the rug below.
Notice the inscription at the top.
Harold’s next piece was a Manchester Kashan.
He also had another Kashan, small, antique and with an unusual design and a pinkish red.
Next was the antique Saruk rug with the white field below.
Next, Harold showed a Malayer.
Pretty good width of palette.
Next, was another small Senneh.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.”
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,
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