As our study of Oriental rugs is to be entirely from an Occidental standpoint, we shall first group them together without regard to their native uses and purposes. We have found that certain shapes and sizes are generally adhered to by Oriental weavers, and we have accommodated in our modern homes, as best we could, that which most readily would suit our special needs. Oblong rugs have served us fairly well as hearth-rugs and as coverings for divans, and to throw about small rooms over a " filling " of plain colour, or upon bare floors.
For room centres we have utilised the Afghan, Khiva, and Bokhara rugs, which came to us in larger sizes at first •than other makes were apt to, and though always expensive their value has been esteemed and considered commensurate. Long and narrow rugs we found suitable for halls and stairs, because until of late years our halls and stairways have been long and narrow, and have not been developed artistically.
Smooth-faced rugs, without pile (Khilim) have long been used as portieres and table-covers, and for cushions we have utilised small saddle-bags and Anatolian mats.
Following closely upon our adaptation of things Oriental, there came to us carpets manufactured on purpose for European and American homes, and it was then that those who could afford to do so ordered for their large rooms and salons "Turkish," or "Turkey carpets " of large and heavy make.
At the same time students were beginning to investigate the manners and customs of the Orient, and to ascertain the exact purpose for which textile fabrics were designed and made, so that at the present time we are apt to hear names more or less correctly applied, for in the Orient each need of life has been supplied with its appropriate rug, and isolated facts concerning Eastern habits reveal what many of these needs are.
However profane the use made of the Oriental rug, it was originally a thing of sentiment and should be studied as such. With unsandalled feet the ancients stepped upon it, and the poetry and religion of devout souls have mingled with the practical detail of daily life to make smooth its surface of silk and wool.
Each one of these was woven according to time-honoured rules, and in shapes and sizes following styles.
Of these many were adorned with significant designs which indicate their uses.
Aa bale containing a single specimen of each of these varieties would indeed be of inestimable value, and why should we not be more careful in our selection of these art objects, establishing in our minds some definite idea in making our collections ?
The dowry-rug is not always woven, but is made of material heavily embroidered or quilted in artistic design. It is the last possession that an Oriental woman will sell, and for this reason dowry-rugs are not commonly shown as such in this country. Small tapestry rugs, such as are known as Kiz-Khilirn (Ghileem), or "girl-rugs " are worked by girls, and are sometimes very beautiful.
Held to the light, a tracing in pattern of openwork is sometimes evident, and in very early weaving this pattern was intentional, and often very intricate, not always bearing relation to the pattern in coloured wools worked with wool upon the warp. This, a double task, was set the weaver, and great skill marked many of these exquisite creations.
Sometimes beads, bits of cotton cloth, or small tufts of wool, were attached to the warp threads of these Kiz-Khilims as talismans or to keep off the evil eye. As the dread of this malevolent influence exists universally throughout the Orient, it soon becomes apparent to the student that many things that have worked their way into ornament may be traced to the effort of the individual to appease some antagonistic power and prevent evil consequences.
The charms that have proved efficacious vary, and in the most extreme cases the evil force is portrayed in animal form, and the charm that allures the animal is adopted as a talisman. Mongolian adherence to the effort to keep off the evil eye has very decidedly marked the ornament of eastern Asia, and we find, even in Persian weavings, patterns that show their origin in talismans, so that it has seemed wise to make a special class for such ornament.
Wedding-rugs are never seen in large sizes, but all the originality and skill of the weaver was dedicated to the task of making such a possession beautiful. In them tribal designs of significance and purity were preserved, and they were used to cover the couch and to screen the apartments in the home.
The new tent roof stretched, the hearth-rug finds its place. Hearth-rugs may be distinguished by the shape of the field, which is pointed at both ends. To stand upon another's hearth-rug was to seek and find sanctuary. As rugs of hospitality they are indeed well named, for we can scarce form an idea of what it meant to those whose hands were against every man, to find a shelter from storm and from attack. The vow of the Moslem was not lightly taken, but when it was, it was protected by the faith which uttered the creed :
" We are believers in the book which saith, Fulfil your covenants, if ye covenant ; For God is witness ! break no word with men which God bath heard ; and surely He hears all ! "—Koran, chap. xvi ; Sir Edwin Arnold, Pearls of the Faith.
In fact, of other than the Mohammedans among the peoples of the Orient the same may be said in regard to the sanctity of hospitality. The host, whether in his home or upon his travels, was always well equipped with textiles worked in designs that indicated their uses.
Host-rugs for the home, showing, either in pattern or in weave divisions, where guests should sit and where the master of the house or tent should remain ; saddle-bags and " woven trappings," hunting-rugs,— and coverings of all sorts, are among the choicest weavings to be found, and antique specimens are of great beauty.
Throne rugs and mosque rugs
Throne-rugs and mosque-rugs are naturally the most costly and beautiful of all eastern weavings, and they demand entirely different consideration from the rugs that are made and used by nomad tribes and villagers.
They have ordinarily been made under royal patronage and careful surveillance, and the weavers have been protected in every way. It has been the good fortune of wealthy Orientals to defy the cold and unattractive winter time by having woven for them rare and marvellous carpets, which as nearly as possible represent both the flower-strewn fields and the gardens in which summer days and nights were spent.
Cool, splashing, and gurgling water flowing in and about the beds of flowers in the summer gardens furnished water motifs quite unlike those that are so called in the ornament of dwellers on the sea-coast, where waves instead of fountains and streams inspired brains and fingers.
The coloured tiles over which the water trickled gave an iridescence to the transmitted hues, and lent to the ornament derived from such natural conditions a charm that we feel in studying the reproduction in wool of these subtle themes. Skilled workers, engaged at the present time in the palaces and homes of dignitaries, are copying with precision the rare carpets of past centuries, in which are treasured up the poetry and soul of the ages.
The gardens of the Orient have marked the art of its weavers in two entirely distinct ways. The style most prized, if there be any definite choice, is that which in a naturalistic way portrays minute flower forms. In palace carpets of the sixteenth century such decoration reached its highest state of perfection, and rare copies of famous " palace-rugs " are from time to time shown as museum treasures.
These are finished with narrow borders, which serve no purpose of decoration, but merely bound the flower-strewn field. The other style of carpet inspired by the garden is that in which the divisions of the rug, with its borders, follow the general plans observed in Oriental pleasure-grounds. In some cases even the crenellations that finish the walls which surround the gardens furnish motifs of ornament for the outside or limiting border.
The ridges that separate the flower-beds in the natural gardens are sometimes covered with vines, and these are faithfully copied in the small dividing borders between the broad ones, which are also ornamented with flower forms. Terraces, fountains, trees, and fruit are all faithfully reproduced, and are treated by some weavers conventionally, and by others in a naturalistic way.
The rose-gardens of Persia have especially appealed to the luxury-loving natives of the land loved by the poets, for, as in all countries where desert lands abound, the oases are highly prized, and wherever irrigation is necessary in order to make the desert blossom, verdure depending upon human effort, man endeavours to make for himself within prescribed limits a perfect baharistan, or paradise.
These earthly pleasure-grounds furnish to the imagination models for abodes in bliss which await those loved by the gods, who, while resting here on earth, sing of joys to come:
" Lo, we have told you of the golden
Sir Edwin Arnold,—Pearls of the Faith.
In old Mongolian devices we find, in the outer border of garden-rugs, mountain and cloud designs indicating an extended view from the place of retreat. These once faithfully portrayed natural objects have very few of them been preserved with their original meaning in modern ornament, but like scattered petals they are strewn upon the solid-coloured fields of modern rugs in highly conventionalised forms, as roses, tulips, pinks, and lilies.
Like throne-rugs and palace-rugs, mosque-rugs are among the most magnificent fruits of the loom, and as votive offerings they are made costly beyond description. Floral symbolism may be traced in many of the designs used in these gift rugs, and panel decoration of the most ornate character abounds which follows architectural types and is enriched by significant motifs taken from existing ornament.
In rugs that are used as palls and grave-carpets we find the tree in ornament, as well as many special emblems of mourning that have both national and personal meaning. These fabrics are made in all grades, needed as they are by high and low alike, and, according to the faith of the weaver, symbols of immortality adorn them. Many of the same general designs that are found upon grave carpets decorate antique prayer-rugs, and the study of the " prayer-rug " is of paramount interest.
When the call was first sounded in the seventh century-
" Turn whereso'er ye be, to Mecca's stone, Thitherwards turn ! "
the necessity was forced upon the followers of the prophet to make for themselves some sacred thing upon which to kneel. Tunics and outer garments or some woven fabrics were used, until thought seized the inventive genius of the weavers, and its application to warp and woof produced the prayer-rug.
The prayer rug
The field of the rug was pointed at one end, which was supposed to be placed during the prayer so that the worshipper should face toward Mecca, that hallowed and sacred spot where King Solomon, more than fifteen hundred years before the birth of Mohammed, is supposed to have gone on a pilgrimage, transported hither and thither upon his fabulous green carpet, which at his bidding arose from the place where it was stretched, and floated through space, covered with a canopy of flying birds.
The necessity of facing Mecca has given distinctive patterns not only to the main outlines in the designs of prayer-rugs, but, in detail, many of the articles used by the pious Mohammedan are sometimes worked into the fabric.
A compass was necessarily carried to determine location, so that the rug might point in the right direction. A comb to keep in order the beard, and beads to assist in prayer, were needful accessories, and accordingly were used in decoration. The Moslem rosary consists of ninety-nine beads, each one designating one of the " ninety-nine beautiful names of Allah."
These various articles are to be generally found in the pointed end of the prayer-rug if they are used at all in designs. This pointed end is called the " niche," and it is supposed to imitate the form of the " Mihrab," or niche, in the temple at Mecca, where the Koran is kept.
" With strands of vow and shreds of prayer" have been woven, by and for the faithful, rugs which not only bear evidence of Arabian and Turkish ideas of the needs of time, and the belief in immortality, but designs that show that the creed of Islam found devotees in central and eastern Asia, and even among the dwellers in far Cathay.
Special emblems of local significance were worked into prayer-rugs ; and Zoroastrian cypress-trees, Indian lotus-flowers, and Chinese Buddhistic symbols testify to the mingling of beliefs.
Although prayer-rugs are now made for commercial purposes, and vast numbers of them are sold, artistic specimens always command our interest in no ordinary way, for there is always the possibility that upon their surfaces some true believers in all that is good in the teachings of Mohammed have bowed toward Mecca in response to the call to prayer :
In poetic fancy this thought has been given expression in the verses of Miss Anne Reeve Aldrich:
My persian prayer rug.
Made smooth, some centuries ago,
It lies upon my modern floor,