Archive for February, 2013

Colin England on the Designs of Ishfahan Rugs

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2013 by rjohn

On   September 15, 2012,  Colin England

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., on the designs of Ishfahan rugs.

Colin is a long-time member of the Washington, D.C. rug community.  He is an actuary by trade and so has good math skills.  He often says that one thing that attracted him to the sorts of rugs he collects is the small, seeming miracle of being able to create curvilinear designs on the rectilinear grid of warps and wefts that are the basic foundation of weaving.  Colin collects mostly silk rugs and so gets to admire this phenomenon quite a bit.

He began by characterizing “city rugs,” the category within which Ishfahan rugs fall, and then sketched some of the history of  weaving in Ishfahan.

He said that “city rugs” are one category in a typology popularized most recently by Jon Thompson, in his basic book on oriental rugs.

The typology is:

Tribal weaving

Products of cottage industries

Carpets manufactured in town or city workshops

Court carpets

Tribal rugs, are woven from memory, usually without reference to any model, excepting, perhaps, other similar completed examples in the tent or home.  Nomads might buy some dyed wool, but often grew, spun and dyed their own.

Cottage industry rugs may also be woven without reference to design cartoons and villagers sometimes did their own spinning and dyeing, but most cottage industry rugs are/were woven on contract with designs and colors specified by a visiting agent.  Sometimes even the dyed wool was provided.

 City workshop rug weaving (our category of interest here) was and is much more tightly organized and marked by considerable “division of labor.”  Preparatory steps like spinning and dyeing were all centrally controlled and performed by people who were not the weavers.  Designers were also separate and seem to be the important folks in city rug production. And while there is still, in the “city” setting, such a thing as a good weaver, most weaving of city rugs was done by young boys working in “factories,” under clear direction.  Sometimes detailed cartoons were provided to the weavers, but in other instances a caller called out the colors to be woven.  Most weavers of most city rugs were closer to an inter-changeable unit of labor.

“Court” carpets are self-explanatory.

The particular set of city rugs that Colin treated were those woven in Ishfahan in NW Iran.

Antique Rug Attributed to Ishfahan

Colin provided some history of Ishfahan and characterized the rugs woven there.  What follows is a close paraphrase based on his lecture notes.

First with the history.

Ishfahan was a significant city by 9th or 10th century.

It was seized and ultimately sacked by Timor in the 14th century.

It became the capital of the Safavid empire under Shah Abbas, in the late 1500s, and rugs attributed to the Safavid period are also frequently attributed to Ishfahan.  Their quality and the sophistication of their designs resonate with the architecture, arts and general culture of Safavid era.  Sometimes this relationship is direct.  Some designs that occur on Ishfahan rugs also occur on Ishfahan buildings.

Ishfahan was the source of some of the famous court carpets of 16th and 17th Century, for example the “Chelsea Carpet,” from the 16th century,

Here are three more Safavid examples attributed to Ishfahan.

The piece above is a Safavid fragment attributed to Ishfahan in 1600. It is 9’x9′.  Its original size would have been about three times as long.

Two more Safavid examples below.

(Remember the field design on the rug above.  We are going to see something very like it in a much younger Ishfahan rug.)

The “Polonaise” rugs of the 17th are nowadays also attributed to Ishafahan.

The “Polonaise” rugs, as most readers here will know, were very fine, woven of silk wrapped (in some areas) in silver and gold.  They are notoriously difficult to photograph well because they are pale, the colors hav e often faded, and (nowadays) the metal in them has often corroded.

Here are a couple more.

You can still occasionally encounter a rug with a 17th century, “Polonaise” attribution on the open market.

Ishfahan was significantly degraded with Afgan invasion in 1722, and was, ultimately,  sacked in 1723.

Nadir Shah moved the capital to Mashad after driving off Afgans in 1736

In 1925 Reza Shah started rebuilding the decrepit city.

Next, Colin characterized rug weaving in Ishfahan.  He drew the following from Eiland’s Oriental Carpets A Complete Guide.

Little is known rug making in Ishfahan from Afgan invasion to prior to early part of 20thCentury. (ed. Like Kashan, Kirman and Nain fine textiles were woven in Ishafahan for hundreds of years.  Shawls seem to have been frequent.)

 Shawl attributed to Ishfahan in the 19th century

 Rugs woven in Ishfahan and Nain have similar designs and craftsmanship and are difficult to tell apart.

Colin tabulated Eiland’s other indications regarding rugs woven in Ishfahan:

  • Usually woven in pairs

  • Exceedingly elaborate and complex floral designs
  • Ivory fields and light blues are common, often with a heavy use of bright red
  • Not unusual for them to be lightly chemically treated
  • Since 1970s typically the finer rugs use silk warps, and some use silk pile
  • Broad range of colors, with as many as 20 distinct shades
  • Medallion designs favored, but with all over patterns and hunting scenes
  • May be as high as 800 kpsi
  • Very similar structurally to Kashan and other finely woven Persian rugs

He also summarized what Eiland says about rugs woven in Nain, which are similar to Ishfahans and hard to distinguish from them:

  • Nain was a textile weaving center for centuries.
  • Changes in fashion brought about decline in demand for the fine woolen textiles made there during earlier eras.
  • Carpet industry began in the late 1930s, as very fine rugs

  • Foundations typically cotton, but also frequently uses silk warp
  • Knot Counts 320 to 800 kpsi
  • Wool often softer than most other Persian rugs
  • Outlining of designs in ivory silk may be used to identify them, as it is much more common for Nain rugs than Iafahan rugs
  • Design most closely resemble Ishfahan, often with a ivory field
  • Predominately red fields are not typically Nain
  • Typically woven in blue and ivory with moderate use of tan

Colin also outlined the indications about rugs woven in Ishfahan by some of the others in the literature.

Caroline Bosley in Rugs to Riches: An Insider’s Guide to Buying Oriental Rugs says:

  • Nain produces incredibly fine rugs, with an average of 450 kpsi
  • Fine wool pile often outlined in silk
  • Major difference between Ishfahan and Nain is that Nain’s use fine cotton and Ishfahan’s use silk for the warp and weft (alleges that 99/100 times Nains have cotton warp and wefts and Ishfahan have silk)
  • Nain’s are more likely to be representational designs of flowers, butterflies or small birds
  • Typical colors are cool deep sapphire blues blended with ivory, beige and pale primrose yellow

In his Oriental Carpets, Michele Campana says

  • “The output of genuine Ispahan carpets may be said to have ended in the early 18th century, when the Afghan hordes reduced this fine city, known as ‘the pearl of Persia’, to a heap of ruins.”
  • Later carpet production resumed, but not comparable to earlier rugs
  • However, Compana shows a 19th century example, saying: “Among the best Persian carpets and of very fine workmanship, Ispahan specimens feature close knotting and exactness of design.”  Example shows scrolling vines and flowers, with occasional birds sticking out of the flowers and a hand at the end of a vine grappling a phoenix.
  • Of Nain, “these are very recent types, and represent the best modern Persian work.  Closely knotted, they reproduce the best-known patters of the old Persian carpets, usually against a light background”

In The Persian Carpet, Cecil Edwards (1953, reprinted 1960 and 1967):

  • Calls Ishfahan the least significant of the nine urban weaving centers he discusses.
  • “The city, indeed, emerged as a weaving centre only about twenty-five years ago.”
  • Cites no 18th or 19th century examples of carpets that can be ascribed to Ishfahan, nor are there 20th  Ishfahans before the 1920s
  • Attractive designs, but poor dyes and low pile, prior to WWII, when European market dried up; significant drop off in production   
  • By end of war, Persians were the primary market, and quality substantially increased (1949 visit)
  • He also cites lower knot counts for Nains than Ishfahans; “finer in fiber and softer than the average wool of the Persian plateau”.
  • Also mentions that “the Nain rugs – like those of Ishfahan, which they closely resemble – lack variety in design and colour.”  But are a “comparatively rare and excellent product.”

Colin said that an experienced local dealer, Jamshid Aghamolla, who knows his Persian rugs, indicated that:

  • Nains have a lower knot count; 4, 6 or 9 strands in cotton warp; cotton weft and silk highlights;
  • Ishfahans are finer; more red and dark blue; cotton foundation; don’t have silk highlights;

 Colin also summarized the indications about Ishafan rugs by some “others” in the literature, but without specific attribution:

Largely 20th century production.

– Most mentions of Ishfahan rugs 1960s and later (earlier references, e.g. 1906, refer to 16th, 17th and early 18th century rugs, often with disputed or uncertain lineage, ending with sacking of Ishfahan in 1722/1723)

     –  Rugs woven in Ishafahan are fine, city carpets.  The designs of rugs called “Ishfahan” may have been executed there, but sometimes may have been woven in other locations.

Next, Colin treated design and technical characteristics of  rugs woven in Ishfahan, in general.  

He emphasized, again, that they were “city” rugs, clearly intended as luxury goods.  Not made for home consumption.   The “art” of Ishfahans is, as it is with all city rugs, largely in their designs, and the designers are the central figures in the city rug weaving community.

He talked about their technical characteristics.

Ishfahans have fully depressed alternative warps and asymmetric knots.

Indicating that design is not everything, he said that extraordinary craftsmanship is required to execute the designs in Ishfahan rugs.  Corners are invariably resolved.  Designs are curvilinear (mostly floral) not geometric, but may contain small geometric  sub-designs.

Ishfahans rugs typically exhibit 500 to 650 kpsi, but some are as high as 800 to 1,000 kpsi (extraordinarily fine for “wool” as distinguished from “pashmina,” which is finer).

Ishfahan rugs have white wefts and cotton or silk foundations.  Silk foundations are most common amongst newer rugs (i.e. 1960s and later).  The wefts may be blue.  May include colored wefts (blue)

Most Ishfahans have wool pile, often with silk highlights.  Occasionally there is more extensive use of silk.

Colin said that, while he has done no close analysis of the wools used in  Ishfahans, often very fine wools were used, including  Merino and kurk or lamb’s wool.

Ishfahans often exhibit silk highlights surrounding flowers, outlining leaves, sometimes flowers within a central medallion.

Colin indicated that the wool and silk used in Ishfahans he has examined are not hand-spun, but the range of colors used is very wide. There are nearly always a least 10, and frequently more than 15 separate colors.  In one example there were 57.  Colin said that in one nude design he counted 32 shades of peach (used for shading, to create different effects of light).  Dyes are not likely all natural (although some may be).

Designs in Ishfahan rugs are mostly three dimensional.  Levels can be determined by examining how some design elements cross above and below others.  

Let’s examine and try to count levels in the small field detail of an Ishfahan rug below.

Now, count levels with me.  Let’s start with the light blue centers of the six darker blue petals at the bottom the central white device in this detail.

Level 1: light tan-blue surrounding line

Level 2: bright blue blade forms.

Level 3: white central flower form

Level 4: white vines at top emerging from under Level 3 flower

Level 5: dark blue ground

Now it would be possible to argue that there are additional levels.  Look again at the six bright blue petals.  

Notice that there are dark edges around them and pinkish-red edges around the dark edges.  

What if these edges are not just outlining but the outer edges of layers that entirely underlie the bright blue petals?  If this latter is the case, then we can count potentially four levels to the outside pinkish-red edges and the dark ground is at least one more level or maybe more beneath it.

So you can see that a claim of frequent three-dimensionality in Ishfahan rug designs is modest and often a real understatement of the levels that exist.

In addition to multiple layers of design there is also occasional use of shading (i.e. close or contrasting colors used without outlining) to give a “rounded” appearance to particular design devices.

Ishfahan rugs usually feature a central medallion that is symmetric on either a horizontal or vertical axis.

There are also frequently bracket designs in the corners of the field.

In many varieties of rug, such corner brackets could be combined to form a complete medallion, resembling the central one.  

But for most Ishfahans, with central medallions and corner brackets, combining the corner brackets does not produce a result replicating the central medallion

 Medallions have “anchor” devices top and bottom.  

Medallions occur that are asymmetical on a horizontal axis.  

Some field treatments are overall designs (without medallion) and others are pictorial. (The example “pair” above had no medallion and we will see pictorial examples below.)

Field designs feature flowers and vines.  

The wide color palette is visible in the field, with prominent use of red, blue, tan, white, ivory and green.

Designs often include “creatures” that are placed in ways that are either laterally or vertically symmetric.  Birds are most frequent, but a variety of animals also occur.  

There are bird images at the top and bird and animal images at the bottom of the image below.  Both are arranged in “reflection,” that is along a line of vertical symmetry.

Human figures are rare in Ishfahan rug designs.

Ishfahan border treatments feature a large main border, typically with vines and flowers.  Sometimes birds may replace leaves and rarely animals do so.

Both main and guard borders are “resolved,” that is border devices are turned at a 45 degree angle to make the turn of the border around the 90 degree turn of the border system aesthetically “smooth.”

Two matching minor borders are usual, with a single color outside border, although multiple colors in the outside borders occur.  Occasionally, there are two sets of minor borders, or none at all.

End finishes on Ishfahan rugs include an area of plain weave with knotted ends.  

End finishes sometimes include a signature, or colored inter-weaving or other fancy endings.

To conclude this initial characterization of rugs from Ishfahan, here are two nice examples that Jon Thompson provides in his introductory book on oriental carpets.

Thompson says that the rug above was woven in the 1970s in a workshop he identifies.

A second example, Thompson said in 1983, was woven “recently.”

Colin now turned to the pieces he had brought.  

He started with four smaller rugs, woven since 1960.  He said two are of silk and wool.  Two have no silk highlights.  The three pieces woven primarily with wool have very soft wool.  There are some unusual medallions and “leaves” that are birds and “flowers” that are butterflies.


Comment on I1:

This rug is from the Spiro Manolas collecton 

  • Red field
  • Pile Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  • Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Colors – 3 blues, brown/tan, red,  greens, white and white silk
  • Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers
  • Border design – flowers and vines
  • Other – blue/red stripe in end finish, both 1 and 2 color guard stripes
  • Size – 26” x 38”

Here are some detail images of I1.




(Note that what appears to be discoloration of the silk, is actually separate silken material that appears to have been black when created.)


Comments on I2:

         No silk highlights, blue field

  • Pile, Foundation – Wool on silk
  • Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Colors – blues, tans, red, white, greens, and orange
  • Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers
  • Border design – flowers and vines
  • Other – soft wool
  • Size – 28” x 40”

Here are some detail images of I2.





Comments on I3.

This rug is another from the Spiro Manolas collection.

Single border

  • Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  • Knot count and type – 22 x 22 per square inch, asymmetric, open
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Colors – blues, brown/tan, red,  yellow/mustard, two purples and  white
  • Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers; four plants/vases in corners from which all vines and flowers come from; purple birds top and bottom, four additional birds
  • Border design – main border with flowers, vines and birds, with two guard stripes and an outer plain mustard border.
  • Other – Single border, with birds, soft wool, non-matching two color guard stripes, flat weave end finish
  • Size – 26 1/2” x 38 1/2”

Some detail images of I3.


Note in the image above that not only are the main borders “resolved” by placing a border device at a 45 degree angle, but that this is true for the corners of the field as well.



Border designs include well-articulated, white birds, where leaves would ususally be, surrounding the flowers.



Colin described the next pieces as  large-lobed medallion rugs.  The designs are symmetric on both horizontal and vertical axes.  

They are classic Ishfahan designs.


Comments on I4:

White Silk Field

  • Pile, Foundation – Wool with white silk field and highlights on silk
  • Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Colors – blues, orange, red, white (and white silk), mauve, brown/tan, and olive green
  • Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers and birds
  • Border design – flowers, vines and birds
  • Other – border birds, field birds, one color (light blue) guard stripes two knots wide.  Furthest outside guard stripe is a different color (brown). 

Here are some detail images of I4.




The “lush” texture of the silk field is visible in the detail above.


Colin stopped here, momentarily, to note that there are Ishfahans the designs of which are not symmetric on either a horiztontal or a vertical axis.  The rug below, which we will see again, shortly, is not symmetric on its horzontal axis.


Colin took us next to rug I6, a larger, beautiful Ishfahan with 57 different colors.


Comments on I6, which has a white field with a yellow & light blue medallion, and is from the Manolas collection.

  • Pile, Foundation – Wool with limited silk highlights on silk
  • Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Colors – 57, including blues, brown/khaki/tan, reds,  greens, yellows , white and white silk
  • Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers
  • Border design – flowers and vines
  • Other – four lobe structures in main border at the corners; two minor borders; one three color guard stripe (three knots wide) between outer minor borders;
  • Size – 59” x 92”

Here are some closer details of I6.







The following rug is the first Ishfahan Colin purchased, in the early 1980s.  As is often the case with Ishfahan rugs, the fringe is  of medium length and looped on one side and quitr long and not looped on the other.  Both end finishes include flat weave with one double  shoot of blue and white tread, apparently for embellishment (visible at the bottom of the picture below.


Comments on I7:

  • Blue Field / Light Brown & Green medallion
  • Pile, Foundation – Wool with extensive silk highlights on silk foundation with blue wefts
  • Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Colors – 4 blues, three brown/tan, red, 3 greens, white and white silk
  • Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers
  • Border design – flowers and vines
  • Other – two color guard stripes; four bottle/vase structure at each end of field;
  • Size – 41” x 61”

Here are some details of I7.


Notice the delicate resolution of the main border using several smll design devices in combination.





There is no rug numbered I8. 


Beige Field / Blue & red Medallion

  •          Pile, Foundation – Wool, silk warps with white and blue wefts; no silk highlights
  •          Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •          Colors – blues, beige, tan, teal, red, burgundy, white, and olive green (light and dark)
  •          Design – Center medallion with anchors, thick, curving vines flow from the anchors, with flowers on these vines, and on  thinner vines on a level below.  Designs in the corners appear to frame the oval field design.
  •          Border design – flowers and vines; light blue guard stripes wider at top and bottom of rug than along the sides.
  •          Size – 43” x 65”

Here are some detail images of I9.






Green Field / white & Khaki medallion

  •          Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk; silk highlights around and through flowers, as  well as outlining vines in border
  •          End finish – flat weave with one red and blue stripe before knotted end wefts
  •          Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •          Colors – greens, red, magenta, white, blues, orange, tans
  •         Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flower; thickest vines bordered in light blue;
  •          Border design – flowers and vines; two guard stripes between each border, of varying colors;  white guard stripe next to field wider along side (two knots) than at top or bottom
  •          Other – no end or corner designs in field; more complex than usual vineing in field; multiple color guard stripes;
  •          Size – 43” x 62”

Here are some details of I10.




The following rug was brought by one of the program participants.  It is approximately 2 x 3, with a dark blue center and three light colored boarders, with a dark blue border at its outside edge.  A line of light blue wool, one knot wide, separates each border from the other.  The center medallion is surrounded with leaves and flowers, and appears to be framed by the light blue corners, giving it the look of a picture in a frame, like many Isfahans.

Here are some details of I11.





We’ve already seen the next rug as an example of a design that is not horizontally symmetric in I5 above.

Here is a more full-faced look at it.


         Parachute medallion

  •          Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  •         Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •          Colors – blues, red, white, dark green, olive green, tans, and dark orange
  •          Design – Center “medallion” filled with birds; surrounded by with anchors and birds, curving vines with flowers; large purple flowers below bottom anchor; corner designs only at bottom of rug 
  •          Border design – flowers and vines; three color guard stripes (white, light blue, light brown)
  •          Other – 3 color guard stripes;
  •          Size – 43” x 68”

Here are some detail images of I12.








       Blue field, red medallion

  • ·         Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk; very limited use of silk highlights, only in field and corner design
  • ·         Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  • ·         Selvedge – wrapped
  • ·         Colors – blues, brown/tan, reds,  greens, white and white silk
  • ·         Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers; two levels of vines, bright red and white on top level and dark red on lower level, with flowers above and at ends of vines
  • ·         Border design – flowers and vines; flowers in outer guard border larger than in inner guard border; two guard stripes (red and white)
  • ·         Other – very soft wool
  • ·         Size – 36” x 60”

Some detail images of I13.







The following rug is laterally symmetric, but not asymmetric from top to bottom.  The large vase-like structure at the bottom sprouts vines both from the top and bottom.  These vines loop all over the rug.  the vines from the bottom of the vase are generally the top level of design (that is, other designs appear underneath these vines, including those deriving from the vines exiting the top of the vase), except at the top corners, where some of these vines go over and others under the grey top corners of the field.  Twelve birds are either flying through the design or resting on vines, while a pair of butterflies approach flowers.  The birds are generally between the top level design of the vines from the bottom of the vase and the lower level design of the vines from the top of the vase.  Note that the corner design is only at the top of the rug (and is outlined with thick, brown vines), the opposite of the “parachute medallion” rug at I5 and I12.


       Red Medallion, white field

  •          Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  •          Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •         Colors – red, white, pink, purples, orange, blues, greens, brown, and tan
  •          Design – Niche at top, vase at bottom, center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers and birds
  •          Border design – flowers and  vines; large red main border, surrounded by dark blue minor borders, and an outside red border. A double row of light blue knots separates each border.
  •          Other – asymmetric (top to bottom), 12 birds and two butterflies in field
  •          Size – 43” x 65”

Some detail images of I14.







The next rug has a design with deep historical roots.  We’ve already seen one similar example in our brief look at Safavid carpets.  This rug has a strong visual impact due to the wide, white vines or leaves, swirling throughout the design.  These generally constitute the top level of the design, although some of the birds are flying above the vines, and the leaf endings are often above the vines.  Note that unlike most of the Ishfahans, the field in this rug does not have corner designs which frame the medallion and center field of the rug.  Matching bird pairs have supplanted some of the leaves in the main border.


        Blue field, red border

  •          Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  •          Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •          Colors – blues, teal, greens, purple, peach, gold, red, white, brown, and tan
  •          Design – Center medallion, curving vines with flowers and birds, large swirling white vines
  •         Border design – flowers, vines and birds.  Main red border, with surrounding white borders and an outside red border.  Borders separated by a line of white knots and a line of red knots, with the red knots closest to the white borders and the white knots closest to the red borders. Note that bird pairs in main border are being attacked by odd “grotesque” fox headed vine (like gargoyles, but with red mouths), which are actually grasping the birds in their mouths.  Creatures at the end of a vine are present in many old Kerman rugs.
  •          Other – bottle with stopper, asymmetric top to bottom, symmetric laterally,
  •          Size – 43” x 68”

Here is another 17th century, Safavid rug with a similar design.  This sort of rug seems clearly an antecedent of the large swirling usages in I15’s more recent arabesque design.

Back to some detail images of I15.







The next rug is from the collection of Jamshid Aghamolla.

White field

  •          Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  •          Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •          Colors – blues, brown/tan/peach, red/rose,  greens, orange, white and white silk
  •         Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers
  •         Border design – flowers and vines
  •         Other – two color guard stripes; signature
  •          Size – 41 1/2” x 60”

Here are some detail images of I16.






The following rug is also signed.  While signatures are no guaranty of a rug’s quality, weavers tend to only sign their better work. The field design is laterally symmetric, but not top to bottom symetric.  The clumps of white flower attract the viewers attention, while several levels of vines (in different colors, as shown below) support the large number of leaves and flowers.  A pair of deer like creatures (mother and fawn) on small grassy areas at the bottom are mirrored by pairs of flying birds at the top of the field.


         Blue Field, brown border, signed

  • ·         Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  • ·         Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  • ·         Selvedge – wrapped
  • ·         Colors – blues, teal, pink, white, red, yellow, browns, and greens
  • ·         Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers, birds, and deer-like creatures including fawns
  • ·         Border design – flowers and vines, main border light brown, with minor borders light blue, and the outer border dark blue.  Three lines of knots separate each border (brown, white, brown) 
  • ·         Other – 2/3 stripes in guard border, vase at bottom, asymmetric,
  • ·         Size – 40” x 64”

Some detail images of I17.



The image below shows clearly the devices in the top two corners, which are part of the floweral border to the main field, which is visible along both sides and across the top, further framing the center drawing.  Note that the two field corner devices are above the vines, at or above the level of the birds.


Notice in the image below, that there is a vase and the drawing of the three roses and some other flowers that move out from its top.



Next, Colin took us to a pictorial Ishfahan.  While pictoral Ishfahans exist, they are relatively rare.  However, many of the pictoral rugs are extraordinarily fine.


Here is an unobstructed, straight-on view.




  • ·         Pile, Foundation – Wool with silk highlights on silk
  • ·         Knot count and type – 25 x 25 per square inch, asymmetric, open
  • ·         Selvedge – wrapped
  • ·         Colors – blues, gray, orange, white, greens, yellow, pink, red, and mauve
  • ·         Design – Man and women sitting in a tree, with a very small pond at their feet, and surrounded by flowers, vines and corner objects.  A second tree to the man’s right provides, in combination with the tree they are sitting on, a flowered paradise. 
  • ·         Border design – flowers, vines and birds, non-traditional design.  Outer dark blue border, with thin white border with cross like devices. Note that while central field is neither laterally or horizontally symetric, the oval border of flowers, corner medallion quarters and birds is completely symetric.
  • ·         Size – 41” x 61”

Here are some detail images of I18.







The next three rugs were older (before 1950)

       Common characteristics:

  •          Slightly less fine (around 500 kpsi)
  •          Wool pile, cotton foundations
  •          No silk highlights
  •          Fewer colors
  •          More complex borders in these examples


Red border, ivory field, red border

  •          Pile, Foundation – Wool on cotton, blue silk wefts
  •          Knot count and type – 22 x 22 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •          Colors – reds, ivory field,
  •          Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers; large floweral structures in four corners of field 
  •         Border design – flowers and vines
  •          Other – two sets of minor borders; relatively spacious (for an Ishfahan) field; geometric leaf structure in corner; all over vine and flower pattern in field around and under medallion;
  •         Size – 58” x 83”

Here some images of details of I19.








This rug is another from the collection of Jamshid Aghamolla.

  •         Pile, Foundation – Wool on cotton
  •          Knot count and type – 23 x 23 per square inch, asymmetric, open left
  •          Selvedge – wrapped
  •          Colors – reds, white field,
  •          Design – Center medallion with anchors, curving vines with flowers
  •          Border design – flowers and vines
  •          Other – added fringe; multiple borders;  two sets of reciprocating borders, two color guard stripes; vases in corner
  •          Size – 57 1/2” x 89”

Some details of I20.







This rug is owned by a local collector.

Center medallion, surrounded by vines (which go under the medallion, as well as under the corner structures).  The vines start at the end of the anchors and wind themselves across the field.  Another, lower level of vines and flowers, fills in the field.  The corner structures serve as a frame over the field, providing the highest level of the design.  The main border is flanked by matching guard borders.  The large palmettes in the border are flanked by sprays of small, white flowers, visible in 21b and 21e.

Here are some detail images of aspects of I21.






The following rugs mimic Ishfahan rugs in design, or in fineness and use of silk highlights.  The first is a Qum, with a white field, yellow and blue medallion with corner designs like many of the Ishfahans.  The rug is silk pile on a silk foundation.  However, the knot count is lower, at least in part becaue the warp is not fully depressed, making this rug easy to tell from an Ishfahan, by feeling the back.


A second full short of I22 below.  Different lighting affect color.

This is a Qum with a Ishfahan design.

One indicator that this is not an Ishfahan is that the alternate warps are only partly depressed (“cordoroy” look and feel to its back).  Ishfahan’s have fully depressed alternate warps.  Their backs are smooth. 

Some details of I22.



The close-up detail below is close to the actual color of this piece.



The rug above is a Tabriz with an Ishafahan pictorial design. 

Tabriz rugs are readily identified because they feature symmetric knots woven using a hook and their knots have a very uniform, almost machine-made look on the back.

Some details of I23.







This rug has an Ishfahan design, but was woven in Pakistan.

Here is a little closer overall view of it.


Colin said that these Pakistan rugs are very finely woven (around 800 knots per square inch).  The wool is good and the Ishfahan designs are accurately rendered.  They are, though, frequently subject to a problem that finely woven rugs are generally exposed to, namely that they do not always lay flat.  They have a tendency to curl on their sides.

Here are some detail images of  I24.



 The last rug Colin showed was the small Tabriz mat below with an Ishfahan design.


Here it is, full-faced.


Comments on I25:

Here are some detail images of this last small rug, which Isfahans, has extensive silk highlights in the field and is woven on a cotton foundation.  For a rug of its size, the number of colors used is unusally high, requiring a skilled weaver to complete this rug.



Colin took questions,

and brought his session to a close.

The audience moved toward the material.

My thanks to Colin for permitting this virtual version of his program to be fashioned, for providing me with an electronic copy of his presentation notes, and for his extensive on-line editing of my draft.

I hope you have enjoyed this examination of a very specific sector of Persian pile rugs: the designs of “city” rugs from Ishfahan.


R. John Howe