The Oriental rug in our Occidental home! How may we study it ?
In offering the chart, which, as a system of mnemonics, will serve to outline for us the information we should possess about each individual specimen we examine, there is no claim made to exhaustive knowledge, but rather an intimation that by adopting this simple method each student may secure for himself that which will represent his own research, and which may in a way be unlike all else that has gone before it, a weaving or fabrication of his own brain, with warp of fact and woof of fancy that may reveal some of the great truths and mysteries of Oriental lore.
Like the ancients who marked off a definite space in which to weave "a product of time in the field of eternity," we may claim it our right to impress our individuality upon the present by carefully formulating definite opinions in regard to the essential points in rug-study.
The bare outlines of the chart represent the laying out of the scheme.
We devote the middle panel on the field of the rug-chart to the statement of our belief that the governing and central thought in all artistic weaving produced by early peoples in strict adherence to tradition is that the Oriental rug is a thing of sentiment, and should be studied as such. It has always been the natural tendency for human beings to adorn their tents, temples, and tombs with the choicest work of their hands.
Applying this thought to any antique rug, we may discover certain features that appeal to us as verifying this assertion, and again and again we may try to work our way into the thought behind the evidence of it, until gradually we begin to detect the spirit of modern commercialism when it exists, or to note the presence of that very sentiment for which we have learned to look.
Questions quickly follow our initial interest and investigation, and we begin to wonder with what materials the ancients worked, and how they were prepared. Such facts, as we gather them, let us group in the column to the right in the rug-chart, adding information, from time to time, as our discoveries continue. In response to further questioning we devote column two to the consideration of colours and their value.
Thus in sequence we pass over to the left, and in column three the styles of weaving and of looms are enumerated, while in column four we endeavour to classify the various paraphernalia, finally reaching the ultimate and significant assertion that the knot carpet marks the highest development of the weaver's art.
All the information we may glean in thus broadly considering the subject may be applied to weaving at large; but as our purpose is to study Oriental rugs, we may divide the lower part of the rug-chart into five sections, with more or less fidelity to the position in Asia, east and west, of the various rug-producing countries, bearing in mind that the plan of study is to meet the requirements of those who wish to secure the simplest and briefest method, and at the same time so to outline the subject that it may accommodate their needs as they advance, excluding from their minds for the present all preconceived notions.
Progressing in our application of broad considerations, we note that primitive people might have arrived at a state of mere technical perfection along the lines indicated, so that in answer to their needs textiles might have been simply but perfectly woven, serving as canopy for shelter, and covering for body. Then followed evidence of thought, however, and the work of the hands of men was crowned with the thought of their brains. Thus we approach the result which in its fullest development we call ornament.
In the upper corners of the chart we group the various methods of dividing and subdividing this branch of the subject, coming face to face with the realization that there must have been meaning in most of the patterns which have become historic, else they would not have been so oft repeated ; and we turn for further light on the question to the star in the upper part of the field of the chart, which indicates the various religions that have most considerably influenced art.
We find that this star is placed in the part of the design which, we shall discover as we proceed, indicates that the rug is a prayer-rug, and, as such, is distinguished from others by the shape of the upper end of the field. This end is always arched or pointed, and differently ornamented from any other part of the rug.
Over the star appears the comb, one of the emblems of the Mohammedan faith, and immediately above the comb is drawn in triangular form the spot upon which the pious Mohammedan may place, if he will, his bit of sacred earth from Mecca, upon which his forehead may rest as he kneels in prayer.
With these symbols of Moslem faith we mingle those of the other great religions, and surround the prayer niche with as many or as few of them as our knowledge will permit, never placing any there—even though the space remains empty--that we are not personally convinced are symbols standing for absolute thought.
Hovering over and among these expressions of thought, we leave space for the consideration of the forces that made from these scattered motifs of ornament the great styles which may be recognised wherever found, whether near or far, from their places of origin.
Pilgrimages and wars have carried the evidences of man's thought from one remote place to another, and as we learn the various world-styles we will name the threads of fringe which extend beyond the upper surface of our imaginary rug, using only such names as we are willing to indorse, for we are to be the individual weavers of facts gleaned by ourselves.
It remains for us at our leisure to consider again the five divisions of rug country, and with open atlas and an outline map we may make our own discoveries, holding to our determination to confine ourselves to independent research, arranging both encyclopaedic and historic information in as original a way as is possible. As we learn to know various weaves, and as we examine great numbers of actual rugs, we may begin to subdivide and name each thread of the fringe extending beyond the lower surface of the rug chart.
Our attempt should be to study types as nearly as possible, discarding, until we are more familiar with main features, every object that is complex in pattern and which overtaxes our limited powers. In museums and in illustrated books of travel we shall find pictorial representations of early thought, grouped together without any intention of proving our theories, which may, if studied aright, help us to formulate our ideas and establish our standards.
The plan thus outlined is a simple one, and, after all, is only a list of questions so arranged that they will readily suggest themselves as a formula of procedure when we wish to discover the truth concerning any Oriental rug brought to our notice. But because the questions do follow one another consecutively, they force themselves upon us, and train our perception so that we eventually take in at a glance the whole make-up of the specimen examined.