Since the Saracenic conquest Arabic characters have been used by the scholars and scribes of Persia, and such have figured largely in the decoration of pottery and weaving. It would indeed take the learning of a sage to grasp even a faint idea of the various ways that the alphabets of the world have figured in design. Ideographs, hieroglyphs and signs innumerable defy the most careful study, so modified and change are even the most readily understood forms, by accents, positions, and abbreviations.
There are signs of tone and signs of punctuation ; there are vowel strokes and classification of consonants ; there are signs to represent inarticulate sounds, and laws of succession. In fact there is enough in the mere study of alphabets to occupy an ordinary lifetime, for in them all sorts of traceries and interlaced knots and ornaments have found their origin.
Rude scratches accompanying the patterns used by primitive and illiterate peoples have proved to be explanatory phrases, which, though untranslatable, add greatly to the value of fabrics which they decorate.
Calligraphy, however, is a fine art ; and as applied to the weaver's craft it accomplishes a double purpose : it serves as ornamentation, and at the same time suggests the intellectual and artistic qualities which have always distinguished the people of Persia.
Calligraphy, "the golden profession," has always been patronized by royalty, and many and various accounts are treasured of the appreciation bestowed on him who could practise his art most successfully. The writer of the " Life of Shah Jehan " had his mouth stuffed full of pearls as a reward, besides his regular fee.
Ever and always the scribe of the Orient has been and is honoured. His ink-box, horn, or case, of whatever shape it is, always bears the marks of the highest decorative art of the period. From the Mediterranean to the China Sea, with pens of metal and with brushes of finest hair, the art of writing holds sway over the appreciative Oriental. Reverence for the written character is taught in the far East, where even printed matter is burned and not thrown about carelessly.
What wonder, then, that the choicest fabrics of the loom should receive, as the most finished decoration, that which was so highly honoured and practised as a fine art ?
To the untrained eye of the Occidental student the characters traced in rugs are not always apparent. Sometimes over the entire . background the word " Allah " is traced in green wools between the patterns, green being the sacred colour of the Mohammedans.
Words expressing the humility of the weaver are often found woven most dextrously into rugs, revealing the habit so customary among Orientals, of speaking disparagingly of their own ability and possessions, trusting themselves to the consideration of the listener, who is supposed to show his appreciation in inverse ratio to that which the maker and owner professes.
Dates and names are sometimes found written plainly or obscurely in the upper ends of rugs. In order to decipher such writing one should carefully count the stitches or knots it has required to make them, and should depend upon this accurate analysis to determine the cursive forms of the letters. Only in this way can a safe estimate be made of what the characters really are.
When correctly copied, any Oriental scholar sufficiently versed in the language will be able to translate them. Unless each little point be carefully observed, however, the meaning will not be apparent, as each one has special significance and bears upon the whole. The Arabic numerals are not altogether unlike those to which we are accustomed, and in an old legend they are traced back to the famous signet of Solomon.
In very old embroideries these rectilinear figures are occasionally found forming borders, but no corroborative authority can be found for the legendary statement. It is a most interesting matter to investigate, and it is to be hoped that some one able to do so will bring forward satisfactory testimony which shall establish as fact that which now must be classed as speculation.
Silk rugs bearing inscriptions in cartouches arranged as border designs around elaborately decorated field patterns have been made as dowry rugs for princesses, and are treasured as choice possessions by their present" owners. Such are sometimes most elaborately worked in silk upon backgrounds of gold and silver, which as woof upon a fine warp make a smooth metallic surface for ornamentation in relief.
Sentences from the Koran or quotations from
the poems of famous writers are used in calligraphic decorations. Occasionally
some adulatory opinion finds expression, in an inconspicuous place, upon
a rug ornamented in the main with writing held in cartouche forms.
They should not, however, be sold or bought as antiques, or as rugs made for distinguished individuals in the Orient. In strong contrast to many that arouse question are the few that stand as veritable and authenticated treasures in many Occidental homes to-day.
Such, for example, is a most wonderfully woven and beautiful silk rug in which upon a background of silver the following sentences are held within car-touches :
The Dowry-Rug for our Princess Marazade, by the Master-Weaver Abdallah Ebn Salam.
(Date Hapro 1221, or 1781 A. D.)
" I direct my face unto Him who
hath created the heavens and the earth."