History of Rugs
Look at--look into--any fine Oriental rug. There is a depth of beauty here that rewards the eye in ways that nothing else can duplicate. Little wonder, down the centuries, everyone from heads of state to the world's taste setters, the wealthy and famous, as well as those of more modest means have chosen Oriental rugs as the showpieces of their palaces and homes.
The term "Oriental rug" refers to any hand-knotted rug created in the ancient rug-weaving centers of the Near East and Far East: from the Balkans through Turkey, North Africa, the Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China and Nepal. While the exact origin of hand-woven oriental rugs is uncertain, ancient writings mention a variety of weavings and locations. The earliest surviving piece--known as the Pazyryk carpet--dates back to 400-500 BC. (Discovered in a burial site excavated in southern Siberia between 1947-49, it is now part of the Hermitage Museum Collection in Leningrad.) Certain scholars, in fact, believe that Oriental rugs probably existed even before the building of the Egyptian Pyramids and the fabled palaces of Babylon.
While rugs themselves are among the most long lasting of fabrics, we can also look to art and literature to bring us early visual renderings and written accounts of these timeless treasures. The famous painting titled Somerset House Conference, executed in 1604, shows diplomats from England and Spain seated around a table, negotiating the historic treaty of peace and trade between these two countries. Covering that table is a gorgeous Oriental rug, which is at the center of the painting and is actually the largest single object in this work of art.
Centuries later, at another famous diplomatic meeting--the Yalta Conference of 1945--the legendary figures of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin are shown seated in chairs atop another beautiful Oriental rug, which, incidentally, provides the only pleasingly colorful item in the entire photograph.
However little is known of the earliest Oriental rugs, their first weavers were most likely the Nomadic tribes people of Central Asia some three thousand years ago. These shepherds had ample wool with which to weave, as well as the incentive of bitterly cold winters. More than any other single fabric, rugs contributed to the comfort of these nomads. Rugs served as tent flaps to batten down the opening of their homes, keeping out the wind, rain and snow. Rugs covered their benches and floors, providing warmth and softness for sitting and sleeping. Toss a rug over a large object and you suddenly have a table. Use a rug to carry things over your shoulder--or as a saddlebag over a horse--and you don’t need a suitcase or trunk. Interestingly, the notion of actually placing a rug on the floor and walking on it is a relatively recent one--originating in Europe about 300 years ago.
How did Oriental rugs, created in the eastern part of the world, arrive in the west? Most likely they were first imported from Turkey to Italy by merchants and traders such as Marco Polo. Italian paintings dating back to the 1400s show Oriental rugs in a variety of scenes. In England, King Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey were among the first to procure these amazing rugs from Italy. Portraits of the famous monarch--known for his many wives--feature the rugs prominently displayed.
Oriental rugs made today are hand-woven in substantially the same manner as that of the earliest surviving example: the Pazyryk carpet discovered in Siberia. This, of course, is part of their enormous aesthetic appeal. Many rugs use design motifs that trace their origin back hundreds of years, yet remain as timely, and as beautiful, as ever. In certain of the rug-producing countries, each weaving district has its own distinctive patterns associated with that district. Just as in centuries past, this helps identify a rug and tell us from where it came. This is indeed a true link to the past--one that contemporary rug owners possess and can pass down to their own children, generation after generation.
Today, the Oriental rug is every bit as beautiful--as rich and enchanting--as it has always been, although a number of dramatic changes have occurred in the industry itself. While weaving techniques and traditions remain virtually unchanged down the centuries, today's weavers can now adapt their designs and colors to reflect contemporary tastes and trends. A look through LaBrashe’s collections will immediately show how varied and diverse--from highly traditional to surprisingly contemporary--today's rugs can be.
The export of Oriental rugs is often an important part of each producing nation's economy, too--bringing employment and a higher standard of living to families who might otherwise remain impoverished. However, it is the individual buyer who reaps the greatest benefit--who chooses a brilliant design for home or office and then enjoys this unparalleled beauty for generations.