Tabriz Oriental Carpets

Pair of Tabriz Mats, early/mid 20th century, urn and tree designs on red panel

p4A ItemID F7963031
TABRIZ CARPET, Northwest Persia, 20th c.

p4A ItemID F7961410
Palace Sized Persian Carpet, early-mid 20th century, possibly Bijar repeating designs on cobalt ground

p4A ItemID F7959072
Tabriz Carpet, early 20th century, Shah Abbas repeating vine and floral designs

p4A ItemID F7958706

Tabriz Carpets

Of all Iranian city carpets Tabriz carpets are perhaps the most Persian. Tabriz has long been a major weaving center and has been dominated by Persian merchants. Only in the last 50 years has the Persian carpet trade shifted to Tehran. Tabriz carpets are made in all sizes from small mats and prayer rugs on up to some of the largest carpets made.

Carpet Construction

Size: All sizes made up to 15 by 30 feet;

Structure: Symmetrical knot; 100 to 842 knots per square inch;

Yarn Spin: Z;

Warp: White cotton;

Weft: 2 shots cotton;

Pile: 2 wool singles;

Selvages: 1 cord plain wool;

Handle: Medium to stiff.

Most Tabriz carpets are wool pile on a cotton foundation. Silk highlights are seen, as are silk foundations, but they are far less common than wool on cotton. Even more rare are all-silk Tabriz rugs. Among Persian city carpets the Tabriz production is about the only example that produces city and workshop rugs with a Turkish (symmetrical) knot. Tabriz weavers are also unusual in tying knots using a hooked knife. The knife allows the Tabriz weavers to tie about 25% more knots per day than most Iranian weavers. Normally a master weaver can tie 8,000 knots per day, but Tabriz weavers can reach 10,000 knots per day. Because of this advantage the jufti or false knot is not seen in Tabriz rugs.

Tabriz Quality Factors

When valuing Tabriz carpets knot count is one factor. Perhaps more important is intricacy of design and execution of pattern. Common patterns include the afshan or scattered pattern, the Shekargah or hunting ground carpets, toranji (medallion) carpets and the Shah Abbasi.

In Tabriz carpets quality is often described in Raj. The low end is the Bazaar grade rug that in the market place is called 30 Raj. A Raj measurement is based on the number of knots in seven centimeters. 30 Raj is 118 kpsi (knots per square inch) and the high end of the Tabriz production is 80 Raj or 842 kpsi. Keep in mind that these knot counts are often lower in the market place but this is a guide as to what they should be. When judging a Tabriz carpet a lower knot count rug can be very nice but the better quality rugs are 50 Raj (330 kpsi) or finer. The finest carpets are usually art pieces and are sold as such. Older carpets tend not to be as fine as the newer ones and should be judged according to when they were made. Here are the specific knot counts for various Raj ranks:

30 Raj: 118

40 Raj: 210

50 Raj: 330

60 Raj: 475

70 Raj: 645

80 Raj: 842

90 Raj: 1066

When counting knots keep in mind that Tabriz carpets have a compressed two level foundation. Therefore only one of the two knot nodes will be visible on the back.

Carpet Color

In a series of books and articles written in the mid-1990′s Richard Wright and John Wertime advanced a new theory suggesting that the brilliantly colored Dragon carpets of the Caucasus were really from Tabriz. Other experts disagree with this theory for a number of reasons, the most important being color. Natural dyes color wool through use of a mordant and a dye. The mordant causes the dye to fix upon the wool. The actual color achieved depends on the dye to a great extent but the mordant and even trace minerals in the water play a big factor in the final tones achieved. The Dragon rugs have brilliant color consistent with Alum as the mordant and trace amounts of tin salts causing bright clear color. These colors are unheard of in Tabriz carpets due in a large part to the presence of copper in the water of that part of Iran. Copper has a “saddening” affect, meaning that Tabriz colors are much more subdued. For instance a copper red will not be as bright or as clear as a tin salt red. Greens, however, react well with copper in the dye bath so there is an attractive range of greens from Tabriz.

Important Producers

While there have been a number of workshops producing Tabriz carpets for many years, they are not generally well known outside of Iran. Two producers having a reputation in the West for superior Tabriz carpets are Benlian, an Armenian who produced excellent carpets from around World War I until about 1970, and the more modern producer Shafaghi, who is highly esteemed for producing some of the very best carpets as art pieces. Benlian Tabriz Persian carpets have an eight-pointed star logo in one corner, usually on the inner guard border. Among many designers, Shafaghi of Tabriz is a pioneer of photo realistic rugs that are generally displayed on the wall and often framed.

Reference Note by Barry O’Connell, p4A Contributing Editor.


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