Pictorial Rugs are those that depict scenic designs or portray specific people, figures, times, or places. They can depict the a traditional hunt like this fantastic Agra, a simple portrait, or a myriad of animals and people. A Persian Tableau Rug is an ornamental rug specially for hanging on room and hall walls for decoration. The designs and samples on pictorial carpets are completely different from those on common floor rugs. Silk is the main material of fine quality pictorial rugs, but they also use wool as well. Tableau rugs have usually frames to sell and use.The first evidence of a pictorial rug design dates back to the 9th century BCE and their production mostly blossomed at the end of the 19th century in Iran particularly in the cities of Isfahan, Kirman , Qum and Tabriz.
People weave Persian pictorial rugs exactly the same way as Persian rugs during the past 2500 years. Due to this fact, there is no difference in quality. But the design and the rug density are the main differences. Picture carpets usually show historical Persian legends or customs, beautiful landscapes, a basket full of flowers and finally Persian miniature. Persian miniatures are the most famous among the others. Comparing the paintings, tableau rugs are masterpiece of art. Because every detail is woven and knotted by hand instead of being painted.
Tabriz, 1950’s, 5.11×8.2 feet (180×250 cm)
Since ancient times, pictorial rugs have been woven in Persia (Iran). The most famous, the “Spring of Khosrow”, was in the royal palace in Ctesiphon, Iran’s capital under the Sassanians. It is said to have been woven with gold thread and covered in jewels: diamond snow on the mountains, emerald grass and leaves, sapphire rivers and lakes, colorful gem fruits and flowers. When the Arabs captured Ctesiphon in 637A.D., they cut up and divided the rug amongst themselves. An Arab historian states that 60,000 Arab soldiers each received a piece. In the 19th century, the first archeological evidence of rug design was discovered in Iraq on an Assyrian bas-relief (ca. 800 B.C). In 1949 in a Scythian tomb in Siberia, archeologists discovered a pictorial rug preserved in ice for 2,500 years: the famous Pazyryk Carpet now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Because wool is fragile, very few pre 16th century pictorial rugs exist, but a number of examples from the 16th-17th centuries are in European museums, such as the famous “Hunting Carpet” (1543) in Milan’s Poldi Pezzoli. The reign of the Safavid Shah, Abbas the Great was the golden age of carpet artistry. Fine rugs were often sent as gifts to European royalty. The so-called “Polonaise Rugs”, thought at one time to be of Polish origin, were in fact from Iran during the Safavid period, (1501-1721). After the Afghans invaded Iran in 1721, the carpet industry declined until the mid 19th century, when Westerners became interested in buying Persian rugs. Workshops were later set up in Iran by European merchants such as the Castelli Brothers in Tabriz and Kerman ; “The Peacock” was made for the Castelli’s. At the end of the 19th century, pictorial rugs were woven to order, primarily in Kerman and Kashan. Credit for this is given to the Qajar Prince Farman Farma, who returned from his studies in Vienna with European paintings and drawings, and encouraged Kerman weavers to copy them as pictorial rugs. The earlier 20th century subjects of pictorial rugs were kings, stories from the Bible and the Koran, and legendary heroes. Later, contemporary leaders could be seen in carpet shops. In 1975, Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli curated the first of the few exhibits of pictorial rugs in the literature. Called “Lion Rugs of Fars”, it traveled to museums around the world. From the 1980’s on, popular pictorial rugs began to resemble paintings and scenes described by major poets such as Omar Khayyam and Hafez. Today many pictorial rugs; mainly from Tabriz, are designed to be framed and hung as paintings.
Carpets with pictorial designs have been made for centuries. Pictorial rugs are sometimes referred to as ‘Tableau Rugs’.’ ‘Tableau’ is a French term used to describe a view or sight that looks like a picture or a graphic representation. Pictorial carpets today are rare and are among the most valuable types of Persian and Oriental carpets in the world. They are generally very detailed and are made of silk or a blend of silk and wool although woolen ones have been weaved for centuries. Some pictorial carpets are more tribal in nature and are made of a much coarser wool and seldom contain any silk. Their pile is thicker and their knots per square inch are lower. Those containing silk, silk highlights or very fine wool are mostly hung on the interior walls of opulent homes, government buildings, castles and palaces for decorative purposes. Unlike traditional carpets that are walked on, these carpets tend to preserve their original condition and thus have a high resale value. In fact, they can be seen for sale at prestigious auction houses around the globe. Pictorial carpets can also be seen at fine exhibitions throughout North America and Eurasia. They are often part of important museum collections.
The designs and samples of pictorial carpets are completely different from traditional Oriental or Persian floor rugs which usually showcase all over patterns filled with lush vine scrolls, medallions at their center or adorn geometric motifs. One can find a wide variety of scenes on pictorial carpets such as hunting scenes, the four seasons, people, faces, animals, statues, figurines, French gardens, Persian miniatures, poems, folk stories and religious themes from the Torah, Bible and the Koran Sometimes these pieces are made to pay homage to various statesman, ministers, kings and national heroes. At times, some are commissioned to commemorate special battles, wars and other important events in world history. As one can see, pictorial carpets are as diverse as the subjects and history they carry. They all have a story to tell and are quite pleasing to the eye.
It’s important to know that every Pictorial rug is not only handmade, it’s created from the memory and vision of the individual weaver. As no two people see an object, person, place or thing exactly the same, no two rugs will ever be exactly the same—even when made by the same person. Images depicted by the artist are carefully designed through laborious work, and only after many hours of thought, mathematics, balance of design and color, can the image begin to take shape and be shared.
Ravar Kerman, 1890’s, 2.5×4.7 feet (73×140 cm)
A rather strange-looking peacock with a fully opened tail stands amidst flowers in a central medallion with a pink background that is framed within a larger medallion full of flower motifs set against a deep red background. Separate flower clusters and cartouches are united by the alternating pink and white flowers lining a beige field that eventually becomes the border. The pastel colors and floral designs are typical of Ravar Kermans. The most interesting thing about this rug for a collector is the cartouche at the bottom of the rug that says (upside down) “ordered by Castelli”. The Castelli brothers were Italian merchants, probably Venetian, who came to Iran in the 1880’s and started a carpet business in Tabriz, later setting up additional looms in Kerman. The size of this rug is unusual for a Castelli, which is typically much larger. Could it have been cut down to this size?
Kashan, 1910, 4.7×6.4 feet (140×193 cm)
Bahram Gur This very finely woven carpet illustrates an incident during one of the hunting trips of King Bahram Gur (ruled 421-438 AD), as told in a poem by the 12th century poet, Nezami Ganjavi. A prince carrying a falcon accompanies the king. Watching from nearby on horseback are his mistress and her servant. Bahram Gur, renowned as a skilled hunter, was said to have boasted that he could shoot any animal in any position. His mistress challenges him to pin an animal’s foot to its ear with a single arrow. The king then shoots an arrow so close to a wild donkey’s head that it tickles its ear. As it raises a hind leg to scratch the spot, the king shoots a second arrow, successfully meeting her challenge, as is seen in this carpet, where hunting dogs pursue deer and rabbits, while ducks swim undisturbed in a river. Careful attention has been paid to details of Qajar dress and caparisons. The beautiful calligraphy throughout the triple border reproduces the poem as it might appear in a fine book of Nezami’s verse.
Afshahr Tribal, 1990’s, 4.7×6 (82×140 cm)
Every inch of the main field of this incredibly lively rug is covered with birds and animals of every size and description. A partial inventory includes lions, leopards, cats, horses, wild birds, domestic birds, birds of prey, and several types of deer. Two strange creatures claw at a tree on either side of the rug. Two woodpeckers peck at the tree while a snake twists around it, hovering over a bird’s nest decorated with two swans. A geometric cypress tree rises in the middle of this colorful chaos, its base filled with birds, including four chickens. The body of the tree contains two lions. Above them are two large white cats, with an almost invisible brown animal on either side, two smaller orange cats, with a small white animal on either side, a spider and two white horses with saddle blankets – all against an indigo field that, in addition, contains flowers and butterflies. The exuberance of life depicted in this scene is framed within a quiet border that has a traditional geometric floral design in a madder field.
Ravar Kerman, 1900-1925, 3.10×5.10 feet (117×178 cm)
In this Khosrow and Shireen carpet, Prince Khosrow, who later ruled as King Khosrow Parviz (590-628 AD), is riding to the North, accompanied by an attendant, when he is struck by the beauty of a lovely girl bathing in a river, and falls in love with her. She is Shireen, an Armenian princess. This story is told in one of the famous poems by the 12th century Persian poet, Nezami Ganjavi . The cartouches on either side of the umbrella (a symbol of royalty) over Khosrow’s head say, “Drawing of Khosrow and Shireen”. To the left of Khosrow is a lion, symbol of strength — in this case embellished with flowers. In each corner of the unusually wideborder, there is a cartouche in which a Sassanian prince is depicted in front of a miniature landscape. Fierce lions guard a series of thrones (some of them double, which might refer to the importance given at that time to a queen) in the top and bottom sections of the border, and at the sides, deer being attacked by predators are seen above gardens containing flowers, a rabbit and a cow.
Tabriz, late 20th century, 1.8×2.6 feet (51×76 cm)
In Iran, pictorial rugs – and particularly portrait rugs – are often framed and hung, as is done with paintings in other parts of the world. This depiction of an old man and a boy, probably grandfather and grandson, was framed in Iran. The difficulty of reproducing the changes of color required to show, for example, the wrinkles, beard, and major blemish on the face of the grandfather would be difficult for a painter, let alone for a weaver. The two appear to have come from their village carrying rugs to be sold. The wary look on the grandfather’s face contrasts with the innocent look of the boy. Their rugs are, in themselves, works of art – one primarily geometric in design, the other containing birds and flowers. A faint signature (“Hasani” – ?) can been seen in the upper left-hand corner of this extremely fine Tabriz weave.