2015年1月7日 星期三

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 3 Carpet Museum (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之三: 地毯博物館)

If anyone in Hong Kong has ever heard anything about Persia at all, I'm quite sure that it'll most likely have something to do with the famous "Persian carpets". We got a chance to look at some of the most finely crafted Persian carpets in the Carpet Museum the second morning after we arrived in Tehran. The museum in the nearby Laleh Park, is just 10 minutes away on foot from our hotel .

Before getting to the museum, we first got to pass through the Laleh Park


A clump of rushes at Laleh Park

The exterior of the Carpet Museum, completed in 1976 is deliberately built as if it formed part of a carpet loom. It's the idea of the last queen of Iran, Queen Farah Daba Pahlavi who simply loved Persian carpets. 

  A carpet closest to the entrance to the museum

  The next one

  a carpet with some most elaborate design

The first documented evidence on the existence of carpets came from Chinese texts dating back to the Sassanid Dynasty (224 - 641 CE). According to historians and archaeologists, the Persians have been weaving carpets seriously for some 2,500 years ever since Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and was surprised at its beauty. But in fact, people have woven carpets since the Bronze Age. However, there is not much record of such an art because carpets were woven from wool or cotton, material which could hardly endure weathering for prolonged periods. Therefore what  evidence of carpet weaving we got from the earliest ages are just fragments from worn-out rugs, quite insufficient for us to draw any firm conclusions of the relevant Persian carpet-weaving characteristics of pre-Seljuk (13th & 14th centuries CE) carpets. Until 1949, the oldest pieces discovered so far are those in Eastern Turkestan, dating back to the 3rd to 5th century CE and some  hand-weavings of the Seljuks of Asia Minor on exhibit in Ala’edin Mosque in Konya and Ashrafoghlu Mosque in Beyshehir, Turkey and now kept respectively in the Mowlana Museum in Konya and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul. But in 1949, a carpet 1,83 x2 m with 36 symmetrical knots per cm2  was discovered in the grave of a Scythian prince by a group of Russian archaeologists among the ices of Pazyryk Valley, in the Altai Mountains in Siberia radio carbon dating shows to have been woven in the 5th century BCE.  If it takes a thousand year to develop such skills, then the art of carpet-weaving in Iran is at least 3500 years old. The carpet is now housed in the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg.

Historians also tell us that in 628 CE, the Emperor Heraclius brought back a variety of carpets from the conquest of Ctesiphon, the Sassanian capital. The Arabs also conquered Ctesiphon in 637 CE, and among the spoils brought back were said to be many carpets, one of which was the famous garden carpet, the "Spring time of Khosro". This carpet has passed into history as the most precious carpet of all time. Made during the reign of Khosro I (531 - 579 CE) the carpet was 90 Feet square. The Arab historians' description is as follows: "The border was a magnificent flower bed of blue, red, white, yellow and green stones; in the background the colour of the earth was imitated with gold; clear stones like crystals gave the illusion of water; the plants were in silk and the fruits were formed by colour stones" However, the Arabs cut this magnificent carpet into many pieces, which were then sold separately.

 A carpet with human figures and animal motifs

  Another 7th century Esfahan carpet depicting nobles and their retinue

 An 18th century Kashan cotton and wool carpet of 45 asymmetrical knots

Another 18th century Kashan silk and cotton carpet of 70 knots

a 19th century Kashan silk and cotton carpet with 60 asymmetrical knots

Another early 20th century Kashan  cotton and silk carpet of 65 asymmetical knots

A carpet with a much simpler design

An Esfahan carpet with cotton warp and wool pile of 100 knots made in about 1910 but the designer's name is not woven there.

                     A photograph showing three people working on one carpet. 
To begin making a rug, one needs a foundation consisting of warps: strong, thick threads of cotton, wool or silk which run the length of the rug and wefts similar threads which pass under and over the warps from one side to the other. The warps on either side of the rug are normally combined into one or more cables of varying thickness that are overcast to form the selvedge. Weaving normally begins by passing a number of wefts through the bottom warp to form a base to start from. Loosely piled knots of dyed wool or silk are then tied around consecutive sets of adjacent warps to create the intricate patterns in the rug. As more rows are tied to the foundation, these knots become the pile of the rug. Between each row of knots, one or more shots of weft are passed to tightly pack down and secure the rows.

Depending on the fineness of the weave, the quality of the materials and the expertise of the weavers, the knot count of a handmade rug can vary anywhere from 16 to 800 knots per square inch.When the rug is completed, the warp ends form the fringes that may be weft-faced, braided, tasseled, or secured in some other manner.

The simplest form of loom is a horizontal; one that can be staked to the ground or supported by sidepieces on the ground. The necessary tension can be obtained through the use of wedges. This style of loom is ideal for nomadic people as it can be assembled or dismantled and transported very easily. Horizontal loom-produced rugs are generally fairly small and their weave quality inferior to those made on a professional standing loom.

There are basically two kinds of looms for weaving carpets:the vertical loom and the and the horizontal loom. Vertical looms are  more comfortable to operate and are found more amongst city weavers and sedentary peoples because they are hard to dismantle and transport but there is no limit to the length and width of the carpet that can be woven.

There are three broad groups of vertical looms, all of which can be modified in a number of ways: the fixed village loom, the Tabriz or Bunyan loom, and the roller beam loom:

(1) The fixed village loom used mainly in Iran consists of a fixed upper beam and a moveable lower or cloth beam which slots into two sidepieces. The correct tension is created by driving wedges into the slots. The weavers work on an adjustable plank which is raised as the work progresses.

(2) The Tabriz loom, named after the city of Tabriz, is used in North Western Iran. The warps are continuous and pass around behind the loom. Tension is obtained with wedges. The weavers sit on a fixed seat and when a portion of the carpet has been completed, the tension is released and the carpet is pulled down and rolled around the back of the loom. This process continues until the rug is completed, when the warps are severed and the carpet is taken off the loom.

(3) The roller beam loom is a traditional Turkish village loom, but is also found in Persia and India. It consists of two movable beams to which the warps are attached. Both beams are fitted with ratchets or similar locking devices and completed work is rolled on to the lower beam. It is possible to weave very long rugs by these means, and in some areas of Turkey rugs are woven in series.

 a photograph of a worker coloring a carpet.

In connection with making better carpets, the court began to set up special dyeing centers close to the carpet weaving centres in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The various kinds of wool e.g. Kork wool, Manchester wool,and other materials used for weaving eg.silk and even camel hair. Silk carpets date back to at least the 16th century in Sabzevar and the 17th century in Kashan and Yazd. Silk carpets are less common than wool carpets since silk is more expensive and less durable but they tend to increase in value with age. Due to their rarity, value and lack of durability, silk carpets are often displayed on the wall like tapestries rather than being used as floor coverings.

These are some of the traditional tools needed to produce a Persian carpet and to operate the relevant looms:  various kinds of knives for cutting the yarn as the knots are tied; a comb-like instrument for packing down the wefts (top left of the photo); and a pair of shears for trimming the pile. In Tabriz the knife is combined with a hook to tie the knots which lets the weavers produce very fine rugs, as  fingers are too thick to do the job (bottom left of photo); a small steel comb is often used to comb out the yarn after each row of knots is completed to tighten the weave and clarifies the design (mid left of the photo). The bent spade is used for packing the weft (bottom right of the photo) and in for very fine carpet, e.g. in Kerman, a saber like instrument is used horizontally inside the shed, and in Bijar a heavy nail-like tool is used (top right of the photo). In Bijar, they use a "wet loom technique",  wetting the warp, weft, and yarn with water throughout the weaving process to make the elements thinner and finer and make weaving much tighter so that when the rug is complete and dried, the wool and cotton expand to make the rug incredibly dense and strong. To shear the wool,different sizes of scissors or shears are required for different kinds of carpets (mid bottom of the photo) during the weaving or after the completion of the weaving.  

 another beautifully colored and designed silk carpet

A simpler tribal carpet of cotton and silk with chandelier design with 65 knots per square centimeter, made in late 19th century

  A pure silk carpet of 65 knots late 19th century made in Hereke

 A 19th century silk and cotton carpet from Tabriz with 60 symmetrical knots

another 19th century Tabriz silk and cotton carpet with 60 symmetrical knots.

An early 20th Century Tabriz cotton and wool carpet depicting 4 seasons with 70 knots

a huge early 19th century Tabriz wool and cotton carpet with multiple panels with 60 knots

A 19th century Esfahan wool and cotton carpet with 60 asymmetrical knots

A 20th century silk and silver carpet from Qom with asymmetrical knots

A mid-20th century Kashan pure silk carpet with 50 knots

Another 19th century Kashan pure silk carpet with 65 knots

An early 20th century Kashan cotton and wool carpet with 70 asymmetrical knots 

 A really huge Kashan cotton and wool carpet with 45 asymmetrical knots

Another 18th century Kashan silk and wool carpet with asymmetrical knots

Another 19th century Kashan silk and cotton carpet with 60 knots

Another early 20th century Kashan cotton and silk carpet with 65 asymmetrical knots

 A late 19th century cotton and wool  Qom carpet with 55 knots

A mid 19th century Khorasan cotton and wool  carpet with 55 knots

An 18th century Herat carpet with 38 knots

 An early 20th century Dorokhsh cotton and wool carpet with 60 knots

Another late 18th century carpet

A 19th century Senneh cotton and wool  carpet

A late 19th century Senneh cotton and wool carpet with 70 knots 

a late 19th century Senneh carpet with 80 knots

Another early 20th century Senneh wool and silk carpet with 55 symmetrical knots

A mid-19th century Senneh cotton and wool carpet of 60 knots 

During the visit we learned that
(1) carpets can be made of wool, cotton, silk and even silver threads or some combination of the two kinds of materials;
(2) knots can be symmetrical ( called "the Turkish knot"  or "Ghiordes knot" first started in Anatolia in Turkey where the yarn is taken twice around two adjacent warp threads and the ends are drawn out between these two threads) or asymmetrical (called the "Persian knot" or "Senneh knot"  in which the wool thread forms a single turn about the warp thread so that one end comes out over this thread and the other over the next warp thread).  The process of 'double knotting' in traditional Anatolian carpets results in a slightly more block like image compared to the traditional 'single knotted' Persian carpet. The traditional Anatolian style also reduces the number of knots per square centimeter.
(3) such knots can vary in number: the more knots, the finer the carpet and hence more expensive.
(4) there can be carpets with piles or carpets without piles like the flat kilims which are woven by tightly interweaving the warp and weft strands of the weave to produce the flat surface by pulling the horizontal weft strands tightly downward so that they hide the vertical warp strands
(5) Persian carpets are usually grouped by size and/or quality: Farsh / Qāli (bigger than 6×4 feet), Qālicheh ("small rug", 6×4 feet or smaller), and nomadic carpets known as Gelim including Zilu, meaning "rough carpet") including both pile rugs and flat weaves (such as kilim and soumak). In their traditional setting the tribal Kilims are used as floor and wall coverings, horse-saddles, storage bags, bedding and cushion covers.The technique of making a soumak involves wrapping wefts over four warps before drawing them back under the last two warps. The process is repeated from selvedge to selvedge. Soumaks tend to be finely woven, and although not as durable as piled carpets, they are stronger than kilims. They are made in the southern Persia and Anatolia and the Caucasus by the Shahsavan tribe in north-western Persia, and very rarely, by the Baloch on the Persia/Afghanistan border. Sizes vary, from carpet format to tiny tribal domestic bags. Unlike the kilim, which is usually reversible, weft strands on the underside of a soumak may be left uncut several inches long, possibly in order to provide extra warmth.
(6) the designs can be pure patterns or with flower, animal or human figures or a combination of some of all of them and Persian rugs are typically designed using one of four patterns: all-over, central medallion, compartment and one-sided. Some abstract asymmetrical design can be found but most of these can be described as one-sided or unidirectional
(7) in Persia, the main carpet weaving centers are in alphabetical order: Arak, Ardebil, Bijar, Hamadan, Isfahan, Kashan, Kerman, Khorasan, Kurdistan, Mashhad, Nain, Qom, Sanandaj, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran, Yazd, Zanjan.
(8) Persia produces about a third the world's carpets and three quarters of its hand-made carpets.
(9) Different historical periods have each got their peculiar characteristic way of making carpets. In the 8th century CE, Azarbajan province became the largest center of carpet and rough carpet (zilu) weaving in Persia and the provinces of Khorassan and Sistan became famous for their innovative designs and motifs. Common motifs include scrolling vine networks, spiral patterns, all-over patterns, derivative patterns, interconnected patterns, paisley patterns, tree patterns, Turkoman patterns, hunting ground patterns, panel patterns, European flower patterns, vase patterns, intertwined fish patterns, Mehrab patterns, Shah Abbassi pattern, striped patterns, arabesques, palmettes, cloud bands, medallions, and overlapping geometric patterns rather than animals and humans. Figural designs are particularly popular in the Iranian market but when the Mongol dominated Persia, they produced mostly carpets with simple geometrical designs.
(10) The Persian carpet reached its zenith during the reign of the Safavid Dynasty in the 16th century: approximately 1500 sample of such are preserved in various museums and in private collections worldwide. During the reign of Shah Abbas (1587 - 1629), commerce and crafts prospered in Persia. Shah Abbas encouraged contacts and trade with Europe and transformed his new capital Esfahan into a big city and created a royal carpet workshop where the best designers and craftsmen are gathered to produce silk and even carpets woven with gold and silver threads. The first to demand Persian carpets use gold or silver threads were Polish princes. Some 300 of such carpets have been identified but only 7 have so far been found in Persia.
(11) Royal encouragement of the Persian carpet ended with the Afghan invasion in 1722 when in 1736, a young Chieftain from Khorasan, Nader Khan became the Shah of Persia and mobilized all the country's resources of the country for fighting against the Afghans, the Turks, and the Russians so that during his reign and for several turbulent years after he died in 1747, no carpets of any great value were made, and only nomads and craftsmen in small villages continued the tradition of this craft
(12) In the last quarter of the 19th Century and during the reign of the Qajar dynasty, trade and craftsmanship regained their importance and carpet making flourished again with Tabriz merchants exporting carpets to Europe through Istanbul. At the end of the 19th Century some European and American companies even set up businesses in Persia and organized craft production destined for western markets.
(13) Two of the best known carpets of the Safavid period one dated 1539 come from the mosque of Ardebil.The larger of the two carpets called the "Ardabil Carpet" is now kept in London's Victoria and Albert Museum while the other is displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum.
(14) There are about an estimated 5 million weavers and others related in one way or another to the carpet and related industries or tradesor occupations in Persia either in its productionand/or sales: through sheep raising, cutting, spinning, dying, weaving, washing, repairing or sales. Persia produces both carpets for the domestic and international markets.It exports its carpets to more than 100 countries, as hand-woven rugs are one of its main non-oil export items and account for 80% of its production.
(15) Persian carpets are renowned for their richness of color, the variety and quality of their design. Persian carpets are still found in palaces, famous buildings, mansions and museums the world over.

The carpets that we saw in the Carpet Museum form part of a permanent collection of the museum but on the first floor which we did not have time to see, there were also temporary collections. The Carpet Museum has some 7000 books available to researchers and those interested in art but obviously we did not have time to see them.We understand that the museum also organizes classes teaching carpet weaving, design of carpet motifs and repair and darning of damaged rugs and kilims and will award accredited certificates to those passing the tests. In addition, the Carpet Museum also offers a paid repairing service to help collectors repair their precious carpets. We're told that the skills of carpet weaving are still closely guarded family secrets, passed on by one generation to another. 

(To be cont'd)