Kashan, Persia, late 19th century - wool pile of cotton foundation
Like those of nearby Isfahan and Tabriz to the north, the rugs and carpets produced in Kashan can rightly lay claim to a distinguished Persian weaving tradition going back to the Safavid period, if not earlier. There is evidence that Kashan was an early center of silk production in Persia, and some of the finest silk carpets of the Safavid period were apparently made there. Even today Kashan continues to play a leading role in Persian silk production. Still, since the late nineteenth century most Kashan rugs have been made of wool, although their wool is sometimes known for its exceptional, silk-like softness under the name Motashem. While late nineteenth-century Kashans often resembled Sarouks, the very finest or Motashem Kashans of this period were closely modeled on classical Safavid Persian carpets, at times using sophisticated pictorial elements within the complex ornamental designs. This magnificent example is no exception.
A grand central medallion hovers majestically within a terracotta, burnt orange field. The medallion is itself complex. It has an inner scalloped diamond section embellished by a central quatrefoil set against a celadon ground with surrounding sprays of vines and palmettes. The outer area of the medallion is more richly articulated with a mesh of mille-fleurs vinescrolls punctuated by larger palmette forms, all on an ivory ground. Both the inner and outer medallions are crowned by arabesque finials.
The surrounding terracotta field repeats the mille-fleurs mesh of the outer medallion, imparting a wonderful, textured consistency to the design. But for variation it adds a series of beautifully rendered birds that perch amidst stylized yet naturalistic flowering shrubs, very much in the manner of classical Persian garden carpets meant to evoke an image of paradise. The field is capped off by four grand scalloped corner pieces with orange vines on a celadon ground, nicely picking up the format of the innermost medallion. The effect of corner-pieces is adroitly accented by smaller interior ivory arabesque cartouches that repeat in turn the detail of the outer central medallion, reinforcing the subtle echoing of detail that underlies much of the composition.
The monumental main border takes us back again to classical Persian garden carpets. There, delicate trees blossoming forth with small flowers alternate with trees topped by lush palmettes. Both types of tree are surrounded by flowering wreaths. They are all organized within a larger framework of flowering oval cartouches connected by scalloped arches that lend an ordered, architectural quality to the main border design. The border also plays against the central medallion and corner pieces in its use of varied celadon tones at times abrashed with soft blue. Minor borders of flowering thin, linear vines are set against light and dark celadon grounds, while the innermost one is set against terracotta to delineate the border system as a whole from the field.
The complexity and subtlety of the overall design is all the more effective because of the controlled, masterful drawing, just as the rich yet delicate tonality of the color is maximized by the lustrous, silken quality of the wool pile for which Motashem Kashans like this are prized. A fitting heir to the great legacy of the classical Persian carpet.