Located in the far northwest of Persia, Tabriz has been a leading center for the production of the finest rugs and carpets since the fourteenth century, if not earlier. By 1500 it had emerged as a major capital of the Safavid Persian dynasty, and many of the Persian carpet masterpieces of this period were made there. During the great revival of Persian rug weaving under the Qajar dynasty in the nineteenth century, Tabriz still had its master weaver-designers like the famed Haji Jalili. Given this long and fabled tradition, it comes as no surprise that no other Persian center of rug weaving can demonstrate so a wide range of designs or pattern types. The Tabriz design repertory is in fact so varied and extensive, that its products cannot be identified according to pattern, but rather through the distinctive combination of refined classical Persian design features, and technically from a preference for symmetrical knotting, extra wefting, and dyed warps.
This superb example displays a classic Safavid medallion composition. At the very center is a small quatrefoil arabesque medallion with delicately scalloped edges outlined in red. The interior is filled by a radially symmetrical design of small flowers and vines set against a deep blue ground. This inner medallion is enclosed within a larger one of diamond form, although again rendered with a delicately scalloped contour imparting a gentle motion to the design. This outer medallion is embellished by finely wrought red arabesque vinescrolls that swirl symmetrically around the inner blue quatrefoil, set against a contrasting ivory ground. Between the red arabesque vines is a mesh of delicate blossoms or mille-fleurs in soft tan and orange shades that almost seems to fade subtly into the ivory ground until one looks more closely. A soft brownish green outline affirms the medallion’s shape, but mollified by an additional outlining corolla of tiny feathery or flame-like leaves.
The ivory medallion is echoed by the four undulating corner pieces that frame the entire field. Their larger, sweeping forms are rendered by the same scalloped contours, outlining, and interior fill of red arabesques and soft tan or orange mesh that we see in the outer medallion, thus unifying the composition, and providing as well a contrast to the intervening field. As part of this unity, the intervening space uses the same swirling fine arabesque vinescrolls and mille-fleurs, but the vinescrolls are now rendered in soft tan and celadon tones with the mille-fleurs in orange, all set against a variegated or ‘abrashed’ red ground, thus reversing the color scheme of the outer medallion and corner pieces, while still using the same design elements. Here one senses the inner brilliance and subtlety of the design, providing contrast within the unity. But again the subtlety is balanced by the monumentality of the whole medallion system, especially with its grand, lyre-like arabesque finials thrusting vertically into the lace-like complexity of the field.
The borders take us into a whole other world design-wise. These consist of somewhat more pictorial elements as opposed to the ornamental aspect of the field - a series of alternating flowering shrubs and cypress trees, separated in turn by treelike stylized palmettes and vinescrolls, set against an abrashed olive green and purple ground.. Here the designers of the rug have adapted the elements of Persian garden carpets more suggestive of nature, though still treated with a degree of ornamental stylization. The crowning touch here are the additional interior small corner pieces at the four extremes of the field, which pick up the purple ground and floral detail of the main border, again applying contrast within unity. In the same vein, the secondary borders utilize the garden shrubs of the larger main border, but at a reduced scale and with a softer, contrasting coloration. Yet what really holds all this complexity together, what gives it life, is the gentle swaying, rhythmic motion that undulates through the exquisite linear detail throughout the design, complemented by the glowing warmth of the tonality. This is the work of a master, and one worthy of his forebears centuries earlier - Tabriz weaving at its best.