Inspiration

The Bacri Brothers

Bacri Frères was a Parisian art and antiquities gallery at 141, boulevard Haussmann. Heirs to 18th century ‘connoisseur’ collectors the Bacri brothers were prominent art dealers of the mid-20th century. Their collection reflects both the individual taste of the private collector and the professional competence of the antique dealer. But the legacy of the Bacri Brothers started centuries before that in 1782 when Joseph Cohen Bacri along with three of his brothers Jacob, Mardochée, and Salomon, founded a trading company named Salomon Cohen Bacri and Brothers in Algiers.

The company branches were spearheaded by Joseph in Algiers, Salomon in Livorno (Leghorn) and later on in Marseilles by Joseph. The Algiers branch shipped raw materials (feathers, wax, coral, leather, wool, grain) as well as great quantities of gold and silver to Livorno. In 1797 Nephtali Busnach joined and the company became the House of Bacri & Busnach and held the monopoly in Algeria for shipping grain to Europe. In the late Ottoman period Jewish merchants served as corsairs between European Christian countries and their Muslim counterparts in Northern Africa and so enabled them to do commerce with each other indirectly, much like the Radhanites of a millennia or so before then. This granted the merchants great political and diplimatic leverage in all countries that they were doing business with and it was no different for the House of Bacri & Busnach. What is more is that Nephtali Busnach had a great relationship with the newly appointed dey of Algeria, Mustafa b. Ibrahim, who even appointed him as his khaznadji or treasurer, a position that would later cause unhappiness in both the Jewish and Muslim quarters.

In 1798, Napoleon I invaded Egypt. To feed his troops, he bought grain from Bacri Busnach in Algeria, but he never paid them back. The dey, on advice of the Bacri Busnach, granted a loan to the French Directory at this time of 5,000,000 Francs and this debt would later be transferred to Bacri Busnach..The French government still could not afford to buy grain for the French populace, so in addition they borrowed money from Bacri Busnach to the amount of 8,000,000 Francs. A few years later in 1805 Algeria faced a grain crises and the dey’s leadership made him quite unpopular with his subjects. Tensions fuelled and the dey was assassinated for retaining his close relationship with Bacri Busnach (the monopoly holders of grain exports in Algeria) and this in turn spiralled into anti-Jewish riots. In the same year Busnach was also assassinated by a Turkish Janissary who the day before he had refused to hire. During this period of unrest the Bacri’s and their staff took refuge in the British consulate.

Following Napoleon's downfall, the next French government under Louis XVIII ignored the previous regime's debts, as did the successive regime under Charles X. In 1827, Hussein Dey, the new Ottoman governor of Algiers, called in the loans of Bacri & Busnach, but they claimed that they could not meet their obligations to the Dey until they themselves were repaid by the French. While trying to resolve the matter, the Dey met with French consul Pierre Deval. However, Deval refused to discuss the matter, remarking that His Most Christian Majesty could not deign to correspond with the Dey. Finally losing his temper, the Dey struck Deval with his fly whisk. News of the traded insults flew around the Mediterranean, causing international embarrassment for the French government and prompting the Dey to explain repeatedly that he was only responding to the agravating individual responsible for continued tensions between France and Algiers and that he meant no disrespect to King Charles or the French government in general. In retalliation for the perceived slight, France broke off diplomatic communication with Algiers and blockaded her port. The Dey then ordered several French trading posts destroyed at Bône (Annaba) and La Calle on the Algerian coast. Unable to permit the insults to go unanswered, the government of French King Charles X launched an all-out assault on Algiers in 1830 and the rest is history.

The Bacri family returned to Livorno and France after the invasion to continue their business and finally ended up creating the antique and antiquities dynasty that would collect many valuable antiques, including the Bacri-Clark Sickle leaf carpet that sold for near $34,000,000. On 30 March 2017 Sotheby's France concluded another sale of the collection of Jacques Bacri, one of the greatest art dealers of the mid-20th century. The auction reached a total of almost €4 million with 71% of the lots sold above their high estimate. These excellent results eloquently rewarded Jacques Bacri's refined and erudite taste in many fields: from paintings and drawings, to decorative arts and sculptures. The exceptional quality of the works was confirmed by enthusiastic bidding from both French and international collectors.

Photograph: Portrait of Jacques Bacri by Studio Harcourt

Extracts, sources and references:


The Kurds of Reshvan

The purpose of this article is to prove that I don't know, but I would love to know the Reshvan people. They are very special and being unknown makes it just more interesting to get to know more about them, just like Persian carpets in general. My journey into studying the Reshvan people started recently when I saw a carpet woven by them, published by Simon Ferenc Toth together with some interesting comments by Deniz Coskun.

Deep inside my subconscious there is a connection to the Reshvan Kurds that I translate as links from my ancestors or the legacy of these people that I admire. To study the Kurdish people one should consider a few facts. If one considers time and the fact that it is not linear but cyclical, you may find that events are influenced sometimes by the past, sometimes by the present and sometimes by the future. This is how I experience the study of the Kurds as well. They are one of the most ancient tribes that can trace their lineage to Noah and maybe even before him, to the more recent Mesopotamians, Ebliates, Mitanni's and the Medians of Iran, and yet, because they are wide spread in Syria, Anatolia, Caucasus, Iraq and Iran, they are named differently in different eras and areas.

Through their migrations they absorbed many cultures in all the different areas and the local cultures absorbed their customs too. This makes it hard to identify the true core of the Kurds and makes studying them challenging and more interesting. Just like the wind cannot be caught, neither can the true essence of the Kurds today. Needless to say that the political influences of the governing countries that they lived in and their relationship with them, also influences the way that history records the Kurds in each separate era and each separate area, for example, a specific clan of Kurds could be the heroes of one country during a specific era or the biggest enemies of the same country during a different era. Therefore studying them needs a collateral study of many documents and histories of all of the countries where the Kurds lived/lives as well as writings about them by neutral parties, such as ancient travelers Evliya Celebi or Bedlisi,

The name "Reshvan" by itself has its own mysteries. In Turkey they are known as Reshvan but in Iran they are called Rashvand or Rishvand or even Rashvanlou, which is related to Rash or Rish translating to "black" in Kurdish. Some scholars link it to the black goat-hair that they use to make their tents or the dark complex of their skin, but I suggest it comes from the Aramaic word "rosh" meaning "head" which somehow should be related to "being the head/rulers of the Kurds".

To further study this tribe you need to acknowledge two unknown versions of the spelling of their name as well. One is "Redwan" which, in my opinion, was a capitol city of a sanjak in east Anatolia, named Khalidi at the time. A sanjak was an administrative division of the Ottoman Empire that was governed by sanjak beys that was sometimes subdivided into timars and kandiluks (area of responsibility of a judge). Sometimes these sanjaks were unofficial and more like a geo-political regions, and in my opinion, Redwan was the Khalidi sanjak in east Diyarbakir. The most interesting thing is that near Qasvin in Iran there are traces of Reshvan people that called themselves Khalidi and my aunt's husband had that surname. The sanjaks in Arabic speaking countries, like Syria and Iraq, is more like a Liwa who, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, were used in Arabic countries formerly under Ottoman rule. To understand the Reshvan people we need to consider the Rizvan of Gaza or the Damascus Liwa who in the 16th and 17th centuries were ruled by the Rizvan/Ridvan Dynasty. This Dynasty was founded by Kara Shahin Moustafa who served as governor of a number of provinces and districts, including Gaza, during his career. His son continued the dynasty after him and was also the sanjablar of Yemen. During the son's reign the sanjak of Nablos and Jerusalem were also attached to the Gaza sanjak. Towards the 17th century he had the Mamluk-era Qasr al-Basha in Gaza enlarged and transformed into the family's fortress and governor's palace. He also served as Amir al-Hajj and was eventually appointed as the governor of Damascus in 1601.

According to Bedlisi the Reshvan people were part of a bigger tribe called Chamashgazak who lived east of Diyarbakr and south of Erzenjan, of whom 40,000 families moved to Iran and settled around Varamin and Qazvin and even later in Khorasan. Some historians relates the Chamashgazak, that is now a province in Turkey (East Anatolia), to Jamshidganzak which means "the castle of Jamshid" (who was an ancient Iranian king). Some claim that the territory of the Chamashgazak tribe was so vast that the territory was called Kurdistan for the first time in history. Another interesting fact about this tribe is that nearly 1,000 years ago they were ruled by Malik Shah, who created his dynasty in Tuncheli in eastern Anatolia, and this is the reason that some historians connect the Reshvan to the Malikshahi tribe. When Malik Shah ruled the area with justice and kindness, other tribes joined the Reshvans to create one of the largest confederations of the era with 40 tribes under his flagship and his area of control was so vast that it even included the Ilam province in west Iran, that still has a city today called Malikshahi. This Malikshahi tribe has a long history of interaction in Iranian affairs, for example, they were one of the biggest lines of defense of the Iranian army against the Mongolian armies. Or when the Uzbeks threatened the northeast borders of Iran they were asked by the Safavid king to relocate to Khorasan to protect the borders.

There are records of the existence of the Malikshahi tribe or Reshvan in Iraq, especially in the Baban province with the main city Shahrzoor. In summary, studying the Reshvan cannot be achieved easily by studying just one era or area. One of the most interesting parts of this study for me is their connection to the Marwanids dynasty in Diyarbakr that in that time was so vast that it covered northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey and Armenia, and all these territories more or less represent the area of the Mitanni dynasty.

Studying the religion and the ancient rituals of the Reshvan people is another interesting topic that we will discuss in another post. The photo in this article is courtesy of Simon Ferenc Toth and the carpet is the latest acquisition by Ghorbany Carpets, circa 1850.


Red carpet treatment - a history

At the time of the powerful empires, it was expected of a ruler to put his wealth on display when dignitaries came to visit. We all know about the elaborate palaces with gold, silver and precious stones gilded into pillars, roofs and walls, etc. Even the clothing worn in court and the food ate at banquets had to be of the best quality. Everything was elaborate to confirm an empire’s wealth and power.

To make an even greater statement carpets and even textiles were laid out in the streets for miles, in the famous “red carpet’” treatment to convey hospitality. Streets in cities and walkways in palaces were covered in thousands of brocaded textiles and costly carpets. In the most renowned red carpet treatment, textiles and carpets were used as a political statement to symbolize the greater glory of Islam over Christianity. This was staged in Baghdad in 917 at the Abbasid court by Caliph al-Muktadir for ambassadors from Byzantium. Twenty-two thousand pieces covered the corridors and courts from the Official Gate to the Caliph, but this did not include "the fine rugs...spread over other carpets, and these were not to be trodden with the feet."

Photograph of Tehran rolling out the red carpet during President Eisenhower's visit in the 1950's.

Extract:

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1398&context=tsaconf


Tantalizing Tiraz

It is not just handwoven carpets that were highly valued and sought after in the ancient world, but textiles too played a very big role. The Tiraz is an Islamic textile/armband/band with Kufic inscriptions embroidered on it given as garments of honor to those worthy of it. It played an immensely important role in the Islamic Umayyid courts (and after) and also in dimplomatic relations with other empires and regions. The word itself is derived from Persian meaning embroidery or inscription adopted by the Arab invaders during the Islamic conquests of Persia. The word ‘Tiraz’ is used for the textile as well the factory that produced it.

“Textiles, and especially silk, were very important in Islamic life. The prophet Muhammad himself was a cloth merchant, with agents in Egypt, North Syria, and South Arabia; he paid as much as fifty gold dinars (over $200) for one red cloak; he wore silk garments and had figured hangings and curtains in his house. Within a few years of his death the textile industry was so important that special royal weaving factories (tiraz) were, like the coinage, a prerogative of the caliphate. The special fabrics, also called tiraz, were inscribed with the name of the caliph, the place and date, and all the official formula. Thus it is no surprise that the earliest known Islamic silk was made in the factory in Ifriqiyya (now Tunis), that the main design is the pre-Islamic all-over roundel pattern, with a border combining the Sasanian pearl band and the heart-shaped petals of the Hellenistic Dura flower, and that in beautiful, severely proportioned Kufic letters it bears the words. "

In early Islamic times the easiest way to distinguish Muslims from Non-Muslims were done through dress code. The Arabic Muslims wore certain clothing and non-Muslims wore different attire. The Jews and Christians (People of the Book and thus protected under Islamic law) also wore different attire than those who practice pagan religions. During the Umayyid era Persian style coats and kaftans became very popular for the Arabs, even though it was banned to be worn by certain classes, and towards the end of the Umayyid era Persian clothing was completely integrated into official wear. From the earlier Sassanid and Byzantine textile motifs, the tiraz was later adapted to include the Kufc inscriptions. “Tiraz garments were produced in state-owned factories. At the caliphal and emiral palaces, there were tailors who worked away from the center, in tiraz factories. Officials controlled by the 'master of the tiraz' were empowered to enroll tailors, in return for a decent wage, to work for the state in these factories Tiraz garments were presented by rulers as robes of honor at formal ceremonies. Fragments of linen tiraz have been found in Fatimid Egyptian tombs where they were used as shrouds to the body. Blessings attained through the earlier khil'a ceremony, as well as the Quranic inscriptions written on them, made them especially suited for funerary purposes. Tiraz usually covered the eyes of the dead person and wrapped around the head, attesting the religious significance of the tiraz inscriptions.”

They were also given as gifts and even as gifts, the quality of Tiraz determined the importance of the recipient to the court. “In 1618, the Transylvanian ambassador Thomas Borsos wrote, "We went to say farewell to the [Ottoman] Sultan, but were not received in great honour. We were given very poor kaftans and were not offered food." In contrast, Borsos observed that a Persian ambassador was given "a very beautiful kaftan, the kind worn by the Sultan himself," and members of his delegation also received about sixty "good kaftans." In his text, Borsos identified three qualities: "very poor kaftans," "very beautiful kaftan, the kind worn by the Sultan himself," and "good kaftans." Such evaluations reveal that ambassador Borsos understood the overt symbolism conveyed by the quality of robes of honor bestowed as imperial gifts. Presumably both the quality and quantity were defined by a government document, as occurred in Iran. There, a hierarchy of robes of honor, composed of cloth of gold for the highest rank and plain silk fabrics for the lowest, plus the ordering procedure, was recorded in a court administration manuel in about 1725.”

References and extracts: 


Bardini Museum - Florence

The museum is situated in a fine building refurbished by Stefano Bardini at the end of the 18th century and donated by its owner to the Muicipal Administration of Florence in 1922. Bardini was a famous art dealer who collected objects of different periods and of high quality. Even the building itself is remakrable for its use of doors, windows and mouldings of old fragments originally belonging to ruined churches and villas. The ceilings are magnificent examples of Venetian and Tuscan woodwork ranging from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

The collection comprises sculptures, paintings, furniture pieces, ceramic pieces, tapestries but also fragments of the old centre of Florence, salvaged before its destruction. All these items are displayed on the ground and the first floors according to a layout that fully reflects the character of a typically private collection, with the touch of a rather suggestive setting. In addition to Roman sacrophagi, capitals, Roman and Gothic relief work, there are also other remarkable examples like the work of the Della Robbia brothers (15th and 16th century), works attributed to Donatello and to Nino or Giovanni Pisano, in addition to the famous "Charity" by Tino di Camaino (c. 1280-1337).

The most outstanding painting of the collection is perhaps St. Michael Archangel by Antonio Del Pollaiolo (1431-1498), although there are many other precious works among the collections of weapons, 15th century polychrome stuccoes and wooden sculpture. The collection of old musical instruments is also worth a visit.

The second floor of the building exhibits the Corsi collection that comprises some works from the 12th to the 19th centuries, donated by Mrs. Carobbi, the widow of Corsi, in 1938.

After long and accurate restorations work aimed at re-establishing the configuration which its founder, the antiquarian Stefano Bardini, had originally given the exhibition. Stefano Bardini trained as a painter, became famous as a restorer and put together a collection of artwork with the love and passion for the Renaissance. Thanks to him, the keenness for Renaissance architectural decorations, for stucco sculptures and terracotta sculptures was rediscovered.

The original decorations of the rooms of the present-day 
Museum, which was actually the antiques showroom in Bardini’s times, can now be enjoyed. On account of its uniqueness, the blue color employed was imitated by many, including Jacquemart-Andrè in Paris and Isabella Stewart in Boston.

Excerpt:
http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/Bardini_Museum.html

Further reading: 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefano_Bardini


Persian carpets and Story telling

Naqqali (which is a dramatic performance) has long played an important role in Iranian society, from the courts to the villages. The performer - the Naqqal or Pir/Morshed recounts stories in verse or prose accompanied by gestures and movements, and sometimes instrumental music and painted scrolls, Pardeh (sometimes even carpets). Both entertainers and bearers of Persian literature (mostly Shahnameh of Ferdowsi) and culture, Naqqals need to be acquainted with local cultural expressions, languages and dialects and traditional music.

Naqqali requires considerable talent, a retentive memory and the ability to improvise with skill to captivate an audience and usually these performances take place in tea houses, Heritage sites like Caravansaries or in streets on special occasions. Persian carpets are the visual stories of a culture, tribe, village, city, the family history of the weaver or current feelings of the weaver. In the same expressive way as the Naqqali transforms the lyrics and music and acting, carpets do this through patterns, colours and feelings.

What make this subject interesting is that the human brain is not a logic processor but rather a story processor. That is why the only books that is well kept during the history of man, and as widespread as the whole world, are the books about stories and the power of the stories in it, like for instance the bible or the shahnameh of Ferdowshi. These masters or storytellers have found a medium to connect to the reader's subconscious. This is similar to the hidden stories on any Persian carpet. The purpose of the carpets and their stories is not to tell you how to see them or how to think. They are not about the answers, but they give you questions to think upon rather. In this case, the weaver, like the story masters, are not filled with answers but they want to take you to deeper questions, that activates the subconscious of the listener or observer in such a way that it will transform the carpet into their own ideas and experiences. Since the carpet is an emotionally charged object it can release hormones in the brain, like dopamine, which makes the observer calmer and their ability to remember increases. Since the observer is making memories of the patterns and colours of any rug, it will lead to information processing which activates most of the brain, like the sensory cortex and frontol cortex, which make the brain of the observer healthier and the quality increases in the balance of the brain, when they encounter similar patterns and colours in the other carpets of the same group.

They said if you want to change the world, you need to change yourself and that starts with changing the stories of yourself. In this case, the carpets telling the stories are constantly changing our world.


Coco de mer

Water that's poured inside will sink the boat While water underneath keeps it afloat. Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure King Solomon preferred the title 'Poor': That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there Floats on the waves because it's full of air, When you've the air of dervishood inside You'll float above the world and there abide...

Nut and tree of the coco de mer, a rare species of palm tree native to the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is subject of various legends and lore. Coco de mer is endemic to the Seychelles islands of Praslin and Curieuse. Before the Seychelles were discovered and settled, nuts of this species were sometimes carried by the ocean currents to distant shores, such as those of the Maldives, where the tree was unknown. These floating nuts did not germinate. The exceptional size and suggestive form of the nut, the circumstances of its discovery, and some unusual qualities of the trees have given rise to several legends.

Malay seamen had seen coco de mer nuts "falling upwards" from the sea bed, and so they had reasoned that these nuts must grow on underwater trees, in a forest at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. According to Antonio Pigafetta and Georg Eberhard Rumphius, Malay people believed that the tree was also the home of the huge bird or bird-like creature Garuda (or Rukh of the Arabs). African priests believed that the Garuda was capable of hunting elephants and tigers. The African priests also believe that sometimes the coco de mer trees rose up above the ocean surface, and when this happened, the waves that the trees created did not allow any ship nearby to sail away and the helpless sailors were eaten by the Garuda.

The coco de mer palm has separate male and female trees, unlike the coconut palm. And, unlike the more familiar fruit of the coconut tree, the coco de mer fruit is not adapted to disperse naturally by floating on the ocean water. When a coco de mer fruit falls into the sea, it cannot float because of its great weight and density; instead it sinks to the bottom. However, after the fruit has been on the sea bed for a considerable period of time, the husk drops off, the internal parts of the nut decay, and the gases that form inside the nut cause the bare nut to rise up to the surface. At that time the nut can float, but is no longer fertile, thus when the ocean currents cause the nut to wash up on a distant beach, for example in the Maldives, a tree cannot, and does not, grow from the nut. The name coco de mer is French, and means "coconut of the sea".
In the Maldives, any coco de mer nuts that were found in the ocean or on the beaches were supposed to be given to the king, and keeping a nut for yourself or selling it could have resulted in the death penalty. However, Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor was able to purchase one of these nuts for 4,000 gold florins. The Dutch Admiral Wolfert Hermanssen also received a nut as a gift for his services, from the Sultan of Bantam in 1602, for fighting the Portuguese and protecting the capital of Bantam. However, the nut that the admiral was given was missing the top part; apparently the Sultan had ordered the top of the nut to be cut off, in order not to upset the noble admiral’s modesty.João de Barros believed that coco de mer possessed amazing healing powers, superior even to those of "the precious stone Bezoar". In one of his books, Dr. Berthold Carl Seemann mentioned that many believed the nuts to be an antidote to all poisons.

The Dervish or Sufies of Iran make Kashkul or beggar bowl out of the half of the seed and carry it on their shoulders everyday and people on the streets used to give them gifts while they sing poems about Imam Ali and the Dervish put the gifts inside the Kashkul,later some poets/writers called their books Kashkul since there was not any specific order in their writings and their books consist of many different poems or writings on different subjects like different gifts inside the Kashkuls.


Mystical Konya

With the Sotheby's Rug Auction of 7 November 2017 done and dusted, "Anatolian" rugs became the shining stars with some selling 30x the estimated value. Persian carpets from Iran has always been the A-listers in the carpet auction world and because of the exceptional and unrivaled artistic workmanship employed in those carpets, my view is that it will continue to be so for many more decades to come.

This does not mean that carpets from other regions are less valuable. The "Anatolian" rugs sold yesterday, proved that their worth should never be under estimated. My thinking is that the Anatolian rugs only really became available for intensive study after the end of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. For the first time the extreme wealth in artworks of the Ottomans became known to the West and carpet connoisseurs had a field day! One of these is Christian Alexander whose view on the purpose of carpets, I discussed in my article last week. Mr Alexander gave 20 rugs and fragments to the auction at Sotheby's and a particular rug from Konya caught my eye (pictured here). Its estimated value was 4,500 - 6,500GBP but it ended up selling for a whopping 125,000GBP!

(CATALOGUE NOTE:
This archaic and wonderfully coloured work bears a number of similarities to lot 63 in this sale, to such a degree it seems likely they were woven in close proximity - this example is likely a little later in dating than lot 63. Another Alexander piece which shares the blue, red and orange colouring associated with Konya works of this time, is the Konya prayer rug, lot 121. Recognition of these fantastic village works from Central Anatolia is owed to the enthusiasm of collectors such as Alexander and Heinrich Kircheim and to the recent publication of the Ballard Collection in the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, by Walter Denny. 

The present example is beautifully balanced with a complicated array of rich organic colouring centred by an almost crimson field. A very similar example, which in turn is likened to the Alexander work, can be seen, Concaro. E., A., Levi, Sovrani Tappeti. Il tappet orientale dal XV al XIX secolo. Duecento capolavori di art tessile, Milan, 1999, p. 47. Here the authors, like Alexander, ascribe the medallion and secondary field motifs to the ‘Holbein’ group, and give a dating to the 15th century. Similarities can be drawn to works from the 15th/16th century, such as the ‘Para-Mamluk rug’ in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, no. 55.65.2, also believed to have been woven in Konya; this example also shares the central octagonal medallion with four minor medallions within the field and exhibits similar colouring, the border in this examples differs to the present lot, see Dodds. D., M. Eiland., Oriental Rugs from Atlantic Collections, Philadelphia, 1996, pl. 1. The border element in this and lot 63 is uncommon and interestingly can be seen in the medallion Oushak in the MAK, Vienna, which is dated to circa 1600, Völker. A., Die orientalischen Knüpfteppiche im MAK, Vienna, 2001, p. 53, cat. no. 15. Alexander observes that in the present example has a very well-articulated border solution which is unusual for a village weave, Alexander, 'Foreshadowing', op.cit., p. 192.)

The city of Konya is ancient and is to Turkey what Mashhad is to Iran. It is the place where mysticism and the faithful come together, mostly thanks to world renowned author and poet: RUMI. It is in this city, during the Persianate Seljuq Sultanate of Rum, that Rumi lived and produced his works. It is also in this city that he died in 1273 AD after which his son and followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, known for their Sufi dance or Sama ceremony. A shrine was built in memory of this great teacher and scholar in Konya. There is no doubt that the richness of Islamic and Persian art influenced the carpet weaving in Konya and thanks to surviving carpets such as these, we get a glimpse into life in Anatolia.

After this historic auction, my prediction is that more precious tribal carpets from Anatolia will finally come into the public domain and I cannot wait to see what we are going to find.


Johannes Vermeer

The Renaissance painters have done a great deal for the promotion of the Oriental carpet trade with their portraits of the wealthy and mighty surrounded by their valuables, of which of course Oriental carpets were also part. Most of these painters always chose a single design of carpet to complement their painting.

The classification and identification of Oriental carpets only became an obsession of carpet connoisseurs during the 19th century and since no “actual” carpets of these painters were known to have survived at that stage, it was thought out of production and was given the name of the painter, eg. Holbein,Lotto, etc. Great was the joy, however, when real examples of these carpets were found at the end of the 1800’s in the Ottoman Empire, etc. Together with the Renaissance art a history of said carpets could finally be determent.

I recently watched a documentary on valuable paintings and Johannes Vermeer was also discussed. It struck me how many of his paintings had Oriental carpets in them too but because Johannes used different Oriental carpets in each one (albeit many of his paintings appear to be done in the same room), naturally no particular design of Oriental carpet was ever called a Vermeer carpet.

This could also be attributed to the fact that Johannes Vermeer, although being well known in his home town of Delft, practically disappeared from history after his sudden death at the age of 43 in 1675. Local patron, Pieter van Ruijven, purchased a large quantity of his total of 34 paintings shortly after and this further attributed to his art disappearing from the public eye. It would only be rediscovered by French art critic, Theophile Thore-Burger, in 1842 when he saw the “View of Delft” in the Mauritshuis in The Hague. He spent many years after searching for other works of Vermeer and eventually published a catalogue of his works.

Johannes Vermeer grew up during the Dutch Golden Age at a time when the home was regarded as a safe-haven from the lack of Christian virtue and immorality of the outside world. It was also a time when the Dutch expanded their influence in the Trade World and even though Dutch nobility/ landowners still held a high position in society, it was the wealthy merchants that held the greatest esteem. It was also these merchants that set the standards for displays of wealth and the middle class followed suit. Vermeer’s paintings consisted mostly of middle class men and women inside the home busy with daily life in Delft. Copying the high class members of society they are also placed in settings reflecting items that show some form of wealth including Oriental carpets. Interestingly all the Oriental rugs are placed on top of a table with none under foot possibly indicating the high value and esteem these items carried.

Johannes Vermeer deserves a nod of gratitude for showcasing these exquisite pieces of art in his paintings! Known for his love of using expensive colors (lapis lazuli comes to mind), not only are his paintings almost the most sought after in the world today, but I am certain so too would be the carpets that he so lovingly painted with expensive paints! Imagine owning an original Vermeer and the actual Oriental carpet appearing in the painting...Priceless!


Ghorbany Riverside

Our second oldest showroom, Ghorbany Riverside, is run by Vanessa Ghorbany - wife of owner, Shervin Ghorbany. Ghorbany Riverside holds collector's carpets & woven items, exclusive classic carpets as well as the latest trends in "ready to wear" modern carpets.

Riverside Shopping Centre

Shop 15

317 Bryanston Dr, Bryanston, Johannesburg

Tel: 011 7065121


Ghorbany Design Quarter

Our Ghorbany Design Quarter showroom is run by our sister and daughter, Noshin Malherbe. Ghorbany Design Quarter holds the latest trending modern carpets as well as "ready to wear" classic carpets.

Design Quarter Shopping Centre

Shop 10

cnr William Nicol Dr and Lesley Ave, Fourways, Johannesburg

Tel: 011 4658718


Ghorbany Bryanston

Our Ghorbany Bryanston showroom is run by our mother, Mahvash Ghorbany, and is cozy store that holds "ready to wear" carpets, from classic styles to the latest modern trends.

Bryanston Shopping Centre

Shop 2A

cnr William Nicol & Bellyclaire Dr, Bryanston, Johannesburg

Tel: 011 7067792


Ghorbany Benmore

Our Ghorbany Benmore showroom is our first and oldest showroom. Run by our father and owner, Reza Ghorbany, it has served as our head office since 1994. Ghorbany Benmore holds exclusive classic carpets as well as the latest trending modern carpets.

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Gods and rugs

In my understanding the majority of scholars view the tradition of making carpets as a necessity for obtaining and retaining heat in a harsh environment. They view later evolution of the carpet weaving traditions as the logical next step in the life of the nomadic man settling in farming in villages and rural areas; with the development of the designs being further influenced by socio-economic changes, such as: groups forming villages and settlements, marriage between villages or tribes, immigration to other areas (voluntarily or forced), formation of urban centres, improved trade between places and the movement of carpets for making profit and business. This is probably the most traditional way of studying carpets which goes alongside textiles, anthropology, archaeology, history, geography, design and art in general.

But what I see is completely different than this logical well established documented way of looking into Persian carpets. From my perspective, with all this knowledge there is still an element that is either missing or is so big and in your face that you are unable to see it. Although I do not deny the importance of this traditional academic way of studying carpets, I am suggesting that there is more to it than meets the eye. This article is aimed at finding the balance between studying the carpets in an academic manner (that cannot produce all the answers required) and the alchemical/philosophical/magical way (that is not complete or rewarding without knowledge of the academic data). It is aiming to look at it from a point of balance between the brain and heart, as much as I am able to contribute.

For a start I need to challenge the academic way of studying carpets by suggesting that Persian carpets were not initially woven by the nomadic man to serve as protection from harsh, cold environments. There are plenty places with an ancient carpet weaving history that do not have cold and hostile climates. What I am suggesting is that the carpets might have found its way to areas with cold and harsh climates to be used as forms of heat, but the primary reason for making them is beyond climates, places or providing a solution to a need. The scholars have found a very nice way to transform the purpose of making these carpets from a necessity item to a luxurious item, through the ups and downs of the linear way of viewing history. What I see is that the carpets, from day 1 of making and creating it, was a luxurious item that found other purposes along the way, but what was the purpose then of this luxury item? To answer that I need to take you on a journey to the gods and their relationship with man.

The concept of gods as we know today has gone through many challenges, ups and downs, name changes and ritual changes. In my study I found that our concept of the gods initially placed them very far away from Earth, but over time they came closer to the point of living on Earth. With all these changes in the human psyche the patterns and the techniques of making carpets adapted and changed. As mentioned earlier, the first gods (or rather mother goddesses) existed very far away from the early man, as far away as the Sirius star, etc. The distance made them appear distant, cold, independent, wild, untamed and they hardly ever “checked in” on mankind. Man was left here alone and lonely, on a lonely planet in a lonely solar system in a lonely galaxy. The lonely man on Earth needed these goddesses but at the same time, he was weary of them and their powers in their day to day life on Earth. The goddesses of those men taught them to be like them: cold, distant, independent and wild and to never be seduced by the magic of Earth, so as to ensure that they retain their connection with their place of origin, which is not the Earth. This tough love was represented in the animals that have those qualities. They are wild, untamed, and independent with water as the main element. The best example I can give is the wolf. Surprisingly, many designs in carpets and kilims are related to the wolf in general. I call this category or timing or stage of consciousness: the Mother Goddess/wolf. The man of that stage made carpets to pay tribute to the Mother Goddesses not as an act of necessity but as an act of pure love. He made carpets from the best materials he had and sacrificed his own needs to create something for his heavenly mother far, far, far away.

If you have studied the pyramid of Maslow, in psychology, the man that lives for self-actualization has passed all his physiological necessities (safety, belonging, esteem in life) to get to the phase of utmost fulfillment and talent pursuing, which is creativity like creating carpets. In this case making the carpets is like building the tower of Babel or the pyramids of Giza. This man not only did not make them out of necessity, but he was willing to sacrifice his own needs to create them as devotion to the gods. That craze or wildness later moved to the second stage as the gods moved closer to Earth. The meeting point of the gods and men moved from the Sirius star to the gateway of Saturn. Here we are dealing with the untamed, cold, fatherly gods who have the element of fire instead of water like the mother goddess. These fatherly gods taught man the magical process of fermentation. These gods found a way to spoil man with yeast and wine without giving them knowledge of fire as the obvious tool, just yet. The man on Earth of that era could eat and drink something that they never had before and that made him break free from his loneliness on planet Earth. He was discovering how to be untamed, wild and independent, but with the luxury of time for himself while eating the bread and drinking the wine. The closest animals on the planet representing this stage of consciousness is the snake and dragon. The carpets that were woven in this stage has lots of patterns related to dragons and snakes. The fire of the dragon, the same as the poison of the snake, was the golden key to learn the magical process of fermentation.

The third stage of making carpets out of luxury to fulfil the self-actualization of man is the meeting point of the gods and men, when the gods came closer to Earth and became more obvious in the daily lives of man. The new meeting point moved from Saturn to the fiery ball of the Sun. This man found the god that has fire elements but in the most tamed and dependent way than had ever existed before. Now he knew fire as representative of the sun on Earth and this fire did not need the long process of fermentation. He could dye the wool in any colour that he wanted and the animals that had the qualities of those gods, fatherly and tamed and dependent, were the bull, goat and sheep. These are the carpets that are colourful and has lots of elements of horns, sheep or elements related to bulls and goats.

My conclusion is that the making of Persian carpets was an act of love and devotion of man to their different concepts of gods, and thus a pure act of luxurious items dedicated to the gods. These luxury items of devotion changed according to man’s consciousness of the gods and with the influence of the godly representatives on Earth, such as the kings, queen, priests and priestesses. Reading a carpet is reading the consciousness of the man who created them and the relationship he experienced with his god, which in the end is he himself. The closer the gods come to the Earth, the further the man moves from his devotion and prayer and creativity to the gods that he worshiped. The pureness of this act of luxury to the gods became less, as the source of the “self” came closer from millions of light years away to live side by side with man on Earth.


Cintamani revisited

Recently my attention was drawn back to the origin of Cintamani by a fellow carpet enthusiast, Mr Andrew Hauton, in a Facebook Group called "The Weftkickers”. The Cintamani design in Persian carpets is three circles arranged in a triangle generally on top or underneath one or two wavy “line(s)” called the cloud band. It has been the subject of speculation ever since it’s’ existence came to attention in the carpet world and its origins and meaning remains speculative. In my previous article I touched on the subject of Cintamani and its relationship to the Sirius star, but I did not study the Sirius star from the view of Ancient Persian cosmology and I am glad to see the connection between the Cintamani, the Cloud band and the Arrow and bow, which is related to the name of the Sirius star in Persian, being Tir (also translated to Arrow).

Sirius has played a major role in the Ancient World in relation to severe weather, with the Ancient Egyptians viewing it as the reason for the annual flooding of the Nile and the Ancient Greeks viewing it as the reason for harsh and hot summers. Even in China and India Sirius was the maker or breaker of a good harvest season. For the Ancient Persians Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, was known as Tir. Tir is also the fourth month in the Iranian calendar and it was connected to the rainfall season in July. So important was this star that the Zoroastrians had an entire festival in honour of appeasing Sirius/Tir into giving good rainfall, and all participants even wore a rainbow band around their wrists. ‘We sacrifice unto the rains of Tishtrya. We sacrifice unto the first star; we sacrifice unto the rains of the first star, whose eye-sight is sound.’ - Tishtar Yasht (Zoroastrian Hymn to the Star Sirius). In Ancient Persian mythology Tistrya (Tir) fights against Apaoso for the possession and liberation of the waters contained in the (cosmic) ocean Vourukaṧa. Tistrya is often depicted as an arrow also being shot to release the “waters of life” and thus fertilizing the goddess who will in turn birth good harvests.

The Persians were not the first to link Sirius to the form of an arrow. All other civilizations did the same with some depicting Sirius as the entire bow and arrow, others depicting it as the arrow and others depicting it as the tip of the arrow. Wanting to the influence the weather is nothing new with scientists even today attempting to seed clouds to influence the particular precipitation that is desired in certain areas, either by creating more moist or dispersing moist. Cloud seeding is the process of releasing chemicals into the clouds to alter its behaviour and it was recently found that something as simple as table salt can do just that. The ancients tried everything from ritual sacrifces to dances (in zig zag formation representing water and lightening) to playing harps and flutes, believing that the frequencies could influence weather patterns. They even shot arrows into the clouds to “bring rains”. The cloud band in the Cintamani design is very similar to the shape of ancient bows and the Cintamani itself in its triangular arrangement is very similar to an arrow tip.

The Cintamani design can be found all around the globe in all arts of all civilizaitons from the pagans’ “mother goddess” (generally depicted as a trinity) to the holy trinity in many of the modern day religions. To find it in a Persian carpet, however, woven by Turkic tribes and placed on top/underneath wavy lines, definitely requires more investigation, for nothing in Persian carpet designs are accidental. Considering the Turkic tribes converted to Islam it would be a good start to look at practices of ancient Arabic religions. In Arabic paganism and other semitic tribes around Mecca, the main deity that relates to this subject was the goddess, Al-shi’raa. She was the Meccan goddess of the star Sirius who had a popular cult among the pagan Arabs who lived in and around pre-Islamic Mecca in the Hijaz: the goddess was venerated chiefly by the tribes of Banu Khuza'a and Banu Qays. The cult of al-Shi'ra was so prominent among the tribes of pre-Islamic Mecca that it was specifically highlighted and condemned in the Qur'an. As one of the brightest stars in the sky, al-Shi'ra was thought to grant wealth and good fortune to her worshipers and oaths were often sworn in her name; another of which was Mirzam al-Jawza' and was believed to be the 'Doorkeeper of Heaven'. The worship of stars (najm) and other celestial objects (kawkab) was a common religious practice among the pre-Islamic Arabs and other Semitic peoples; especially among the nomadic Bedouin who grazed their flocks at night and observed the stars for directions. The temples of the sedentary Arab tribes who dwelt in the towns, most notably the Ka'aba of Mecca, were designed by certain.corners facing certain stars: a common Semitic religious feature including temples having rooftops from where stars and planets could be worshiped and observed.

Quzah wass the Meccan god of storms, thunder and the clouds who was worshiped by the tribes of Banu Khuza'a and Banu Quraysh at his shrine in the vicinity of al-Muzdalifah, located not far from Mecca. Quzah was, in Meccan mythology, portrayed as a giant archer who lived in the clouds and fired hailstones at the shayatin (demonic spirits) from his bow: the crashing of thunder, said to be the battle-cry of the god, was believed to scare away spirits of disease and misfortune. The rainbow that appeared after a rainstorm was considered by the polytheists of Mecca to be a ladder to the heavens and Quzah was its guardian. In the northern regions of the Arabian peninsula, Quzah was often the consort or husband of Manat, goddess of destiny. The cult of Quzah in the Hijaz may have originated among the cousins of the Arabs; the Edomite tribes of southern Jordan, whose chief deity was a sky god called Qos in their language. The belief in Qos continued through with the Nabataeans who represented him a king flanked by bulls, holding a multi-pronged thunderbolt in his left hand. The memory of the god is still retained in modern Arabic with the words qaws' Quzah meaning ''Bow of Quzah'', a metaphor for a rainbow. The 'ifada was a feast in pre-Islamic times which was held by the polytheists of the tribe of Banu Quraysh at Muzdalifah in veneration of Quzah as part of their tahannuth (devotional religious practices) and istisqa (rain-making rituals), during the hallowed month of Ramadan. Amazingly in Quran it is mentioned Ghausain meaning two bows or two cloud bands associated with Sirius the three stars: “it is He Who is the Lord of Sirius”, (Qur'an, 53: 49) and “He was two bow-lengths away or even closer”. (Qur'an, 53:9)

According to the old Turkish clans, this star was a sacred gate that joined the Earth with the heavens, the luminous realm of the gods. The star was the frontier between the spirit realm and the material realm where mortals reside. You could also call it the line that separates gods from humans. The gods would send favors to people from this gate, and shamans would fly to the gate and communicate with the gods, but they were unable to truly reach the star and pass through to the other side. The gods would send a messenger from their realm and listen to what mortals had to say through this messenger. The symbol of the celestial (blue) wolf that descended from the sky in a blue beam of light is pretty common to the creational myths of the Turks. Sirius is known from Ancient times as the Dog star and part of the Canis Major constellation. In one of the Göktürk (the celestial/blue Turks) myths, a child whose entire family was killed (symbolizing the solar system) survives with the guidance of a she-wolf (the Dog Star). The wolf suckles the child and proceeds to marry him, and the Sky God descends to Earth in the form of a wolf. According to other esoteric teachings, the creation of the planet Earth was in fact the result of a union between our solar system and Sirius (the Dog Star). The similarities between these teachings and the tale of the wolf that married an orphaned child are intriguing.

Wolves were considered sacred in old Turkic beliefs. The symbol of the she-wolf has important significance in most creational myths and the collected symbolism of the world. The myth of a she-wolf called Ashina, who was sent to Earth from the heavens, has survived to this day. Many Turkic clans have used wolves in their flags, and their commanders were called Kök-Böri. The word kök is an old form of the modern word gök,which means sky, and böri is the word for wolf. You can find wolf reliefs in the earliest known historical expression of the First Turkish Empire, the Bugut Monument that was commissioned by Mahan Tigin (Prince Mahan). How meaningful is it that a wolf figure appeared on the first printed banknote of Atatürk’s government? His friends nicknamed him “crazy Turk” after the banknote incident. There are various opinions about the color of the star as well. Although Sirius is widely thought to be a red/orange color, both Manilius, a first century poet, and Avienus, an author from the fourth century, describe the star’s color as light teal. The star is also named the Blue Star in Japanese.

The Dogon tribe in Africa is well-known for their ancient knowledge on the star, Sirius. They believe that the gods came from Sirius and imparted on them knowledge of the star system that has only recently been confirmed in science as correct. According to the Dogon Sirius is three stars: Sirius A which is the big white giant star, Sirius B which is a smaller and less bright star (although one of the heaviest objects in our solar system) and “Sirius C” (which we have been unable to detect yet as it is a very dark star, but astronomers believe it is also orbiting the other two by observing anomalies in the orbiting behaviour of the other two stars). Sirius as a three star system could thus be represented by the three circles of the Cintamani.

Correlating all this information, Sirius was seen as the power behind fertility on Earth and studying Persian carpet symbolism, could open up more direction into ancient cosmology and astronomy and astrology. Thus the Cintamani design could very well be the most potent sign of fertility in Persian carpets and art. For the newly converted Turkic tribes (who were in love with Persian art) to include this design in their carpet weaving is no surprise, considering the Shamanic background and the importance of symbols of fertility and protection in their daily lives.

Sources:

·         http://www.green-man-of-cercles.org/articles/from_roman_to_romanesque.pdf

·         Point of Origin: Gobekli Tepe and the Spiritual Matrix for the World’s ...By Laird Scranton

·         Sirius Matters, p 29 By Noah Brosch

·         http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/tistrya-2

·         https://iranian.com/main/blog/nabarz/star-sirius-tishtrya-tir-sothis.html

·         http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/_Arash_the_Archer_and_the_Festival_of_Rain.htm

·         http://www.thehiddenrecords.com/davinci_part2.htm

·         https://vigilantcitizen.com/hidden-knowledge/connection-between-sirius-and-human-history/

·         http://www.crystalinks.com/sirius.html

·         https://newearth.media/dagdas-haarp-musical-weather-modification/

·         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirius

·         http://www.harrypotterforseekers.com/articles/siriusforseekers.php

·         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_seeding

·         http://www.thewisemag.com/mystery/sirius-the-mysterious-star-of-the-goddess-isis/


The Moors, Spain and her sheep

It is 30 April 711 and the Berber commander, Tariq Ibn-Ziyad, and his small force of soldiers had just landed in Gibraltar when the commander issued a startling command: “Burn all our ships”! His troops, shocked and puzzled, wanted to know how they would return home if all the ships were burnt to which Tariq Ibn-Ziyad replied: “We are not going home. THIS is our new home”, and thus began the invasion of the Umayyad invasion into Spain. What followed for the next 800 years would be a flourishing and rich soup of cultures that would finally result in the Renaissance in Europe and make Spain a wealthy country with immense influence over world affairs until the 17th century.

”Though ruthless fighters, the Berbers/Moors were very just. They gave the Goth Spaniards an opportunity to surrender each of their provinces, to which most capitulated. "It is a common misapprehension that the holy war meant that the Muslims gave their opponents a choice 'between Islam and the sword'. This was sometimes the case, but only when the opponents were polytheist and idol-worshippers. For Jews, Christians, and other 'People of the Book'. there was a third possibility, they might become a 'protected group', paying a tax or tribute to the Muslims but enjoying internal autonomy". Even in those early days, the Moors knew and practiced the principles of chivalry. They had already won the title to Knightliness which many centuries later compelled the victorious Spaniards to address them as "Knights of Granada, Gentleman, albeit Moors". Later, after advancing to Cordoba, the Muslims found that the Goth nobles of the kingdom had fled over the Pyrenees Mountains, all but abandoning their land to them. The occupation of the Moors set the stage for beginning the work of building an Islamic empire similar to the one flourishing in Damascus. Within a century of their activity, the Moors, with assistance of the all people and religions in Spain, had developed a civilization based in Cordoba that surpassed that of any in Europe; it was known as Al-Andalus. At the end of the eighth century, Al-Andalus was the most populous, cultured, and industrious land of all Europe, remaining so for centuries. During this prosperous period, trade with the outside world was unrivaled. It was during this time of economic expansion, the Jews, who had been virtually eliminated from the peninsula in the seventh century by the Christians, grew once more in numbers and flourished. Hume wrote in his book "Spanish People": "Side by side with the new rulers lived the Christians and Jews in peace. The latter rich with commerce and industry were content to let the memory of their oppression by the priest-ridden Goths sleep".

The Moors and Jews brought to Al-Andalus their weaving skills and together with Spain’s churro and merino sheep population, the Spanish carpets were born. In the beginning the carpets represented the Seljuk carpets from Turkey, but 800 years later during the Reconquest of Spain the designs changed and many prominent ruling families included their coats of arms, with borders still including the mystical Kufic scripts inherited from the Muslim dynasties. These carpets became known as Admiral Carpets (armorial carpets) and were made famous by paintings of Hans Holbein. With the start of the Renaissance in Europe the Spanish carpets changed once more and mimicked French Aubusson and Savonnerie designs. Carpets are still woven in Spain today following older Spanish carpet designs.

Spanish carpets, like everywhere else, was a sign of wealth and luxury and were commissioned by the powerful and wealthy families. It is, however, the Spanish sheep that enriched Spain. “Between 1500 and 1800, according to Phillips and Phillips, Spain exported an average of seven million pounds of washed wool each year, and during peak years, exports rose to more than fifteen million pounds in the mid-sixteenth and the mid-eighteenth centuries. The exported wool came mainly from flocks whose owners were members of the Mesta. During the reign of Alfonso X in 1273, an institution known as the Mesta was formalized to protect the interests of flock owners and shepherds. Routes of passage for seasonal migration were protected and privileges to the Mesta were extended for a variety of economic intents. Region by region after the Christian reconquest of Muslim areas, drovers’ roads under control of the Mesta expanded as wool became Spain’s major export, shipped from the northern ports of San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Santander. The Spanish churra of the Americas sustained the local communities of conquistadors and settlers with dairy products, meat, and wool, ultimately giving rise to the Navajo’s churro. Globally, it was the Iberian breed of merino sheep, initially protected within Spain and first exported in 1786 to Louis XVI of France, who purchased more than 300 Spanish merinos from his cousin, Charles III of Spain. Thus began the breeding of French Merino, or Rambouillet (named after the rural estate of Louis XVI), which in turn were among those first transported to Australia. In New Zealand, men and stock arriving from Australia in the early 1840s initiated the wool industry there. In particular, they brought the Spanish merino breed. New Zealand sheep farmers continued to import Australian stud merino for many years.”

Carpet pictured here: Heraldic shield with the coat of arms of Admiral Fadrique Enríquez, detail of an Admiral …
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Joseph Lees Williams Memorial Collection; photograph, Otto E. Nelson

Sources and extracts:


The Tehran Carpet

Majority of the scholars and carpet dealers, especially those from Tehran, remember the time that Reza Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty appointed the military governor from Ravar, Kerman, Mr Abbas Khan Nakhaee Ravari, to build and run the first modern prison of the capitol, Tehran. As head of the prison he came with an idea to teach the prisoners a craft that will not only make their time in prison more productive, but will also produce extra income. Besides that, the prisoners would also be able to take this craft with them for the rest of their lives. Abbas Khan brought master weavers from Ravar, Kerman, to teach the prisoners carpet weaving and as such, these early carpets from the Tehran prison looked very similar to Kerman and Ravar carpets in terms of weaving and colour.

What the majority of us don't know, however, is that long before this there was another carpet weaving center in Tehran. For that story, I need to take you back in time to Nasser din Shah of the Qajar Dynasty and the political and cultural turmoil that raged during his time. Amir Kabir was the prime minister at the time and his goal was to modernize Iran, especially the education system. Although Amir Kabir's efforts resulted in the first modern college in Iran, Dar Al Fonoon ("house of all knowledge"), all of the reforms ceased upon his death. Another gentlemen, Mr MIrza Hasan Roshdieh from Tabriz whose father was a religious scholar, was sent to Lebanon and Egypt by his father to learn about modern educational systems from them, but upon his return to Iran he realized that his country was not yet ready for these new educational concepts and so he opened his first school in Georgia. When Nasser din Shah came back from his trip to the West, he asked Mr Roshdieh to open similar schools in Iran, which he did in Tabriz and later Tehran. The king changed his mind, however, as he thought that these kind of schools will pour more oil on the fire for pushes towards constitutional revolution. After the king was assassinated, his son Mozafar din Shah inherited the thrown. He had an entirely different view towards educational and constitutional reforms than his father and many new school were established during his reign that were called Mozafarieh schools since the government helped fund it.

One of these new schools funded and managed by Mr Mirza Sayyad Mohammad Tabatabaei, one of the leaders of the Iranian constitutional revolution, was called Islam school and opened in 1899 in the Sangelaj district in the South of Tehran. Besides the modern educational curriculum he also brought the art of carpet weaving into the school with master weavers from Kerman as teachers of this craft. In two years time the carpets of this school became so famous that they found their way to the royal court and was also given as gifts to the Ottoman Empire by Mozafar din Shah. Sadly, after the death of this Shah, not only did the constitutional revolution meet its end, but the carpet weaving at this new school did too.

There is a pair of carpets signed "Madrese Islam" (Islam school) dated 1319 (circa 1901) dedicated to the kIng, woven with A-symmetrical knot, that was moved from the Golestan palace to the Carpet Museum of Iran in Tehran. At Ghorbany Carpets we have an exact replica woven by Ostad Akbari with a slight difference at the bottom of the carpet and it was woven either at this school or later. In any case this majestic carpet reveals and holds a piece of history that might have been forgotten otherwise.


The Berbers of Morocco

500 BC Herodotus called them descendants of Troy who fled to North Africa after it was conquered by the Greeks, Sallustus called them Persian a few hundred years later and Procopus, during the Byzantine Era, called them Cananeans who fled to North Africa after David defeated Goliath. Some Berbers see themselves as native inhabitants of North Africa from as far back as 8,000 BC and others as Yemeni descendants.

Whichever is correct, and maybe they all are, the Berbers are a fierce people who have been present in North Africa before the Phoenicians founded Carthage. No Empire could ever successfully manage to make them loyal subjects, instead all the mighty historic forces had to be content with existing alongside the Berbers if they wanted to obtain any kind of loyalty from them and sometimes they even had to pay tributes to the Berbers..

The Greeks were the first to call them Berbers (barbarians = non-Greek speakers), but they were also called “Mauri” referring to people from Mauritania, (an ancient Berber kingdom which existed from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century in the far north of modern-day Morocco and Algeria) and this later changed to “moros” in Spanish and “moors” in English. Today they are distributed in an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River. Some Berbers are still nomadic people with seasonal migrations, others are settled permanently and farm for a living, like their ancestors. Like many other ancient tribes they too are weavers and their weaving is predominantly for domestic use. Thicker piled carpets for heat and kilims for bedding and clothing. The design of Moroccan carpets are very primitive compared to other countries, but that is what has made them so appealing to the West since the mid-20th Century.

The Berbers known as Amazigh in Morocco is a very mysterious tribe with many mysterious beliefs and rituals. One such ritual is the facial tattoos that the women of the tribe get whenever they come of age or reach certain milestones, such as marrying, giving birth to their first child, etc. The first tattoo celebrating their coming of age is a line or lines that stretches from the lower lip to the bottom of the chin. This represents a palm tree. Whenever there are dots put around it, it represents seeds that in turn represents powers of fertility. As each milestone is reached in their lives more tattoos and motives are added. Each motif is believed to carry special magical powers of protection, especially against the evil spirits. There are tattoos put on other parts of the body as well as their hands and feet, seen as the most vulnerable body parts. Every single motif is applied only as protection and bestowing power onto the receiver.

What is intriguing is that it is exactly these motifs that are also used in the very popular Beni Ourain and other Berber carpets. The reason for this is that with the Arabization of North Africa some centuries ago the laws of Islam prohibited tattooing and as such the Berber women adapted this custom of theirs to apply temporary henna tattoos and also to include these protective motives in their weaving, whether it be carpets or clothing. Even their jewellery became talismans incorporating all good wishes, powers and protection that their tattoos once did. The diamond pattern, that the Beni Ourain carpets are especially known for, is specifically for protection of the owner of the rug.

Sources


Carpets and the kingdom of heaven - Part 1

The way to look at a fantasy is that it is created either when one wants to escape reality or when one wants to understand reality, even though reality in itself is also a fantasy. In the Old Testament when the God of the Hebrews asked Moses to count the number of people in a gathering, He prohibited Moses from counting the people directly. Instead He proposed that Moses puts a coin from each person in a container and count the coins instead.

 

The profound meaning of this exercise is that human beings cannot simply be counted, to arrive at a total. How can you add two apples to get to the number two, when one apple is not equal to another apple? This is what I call the most advanced understanding of individuality that we have not achieved yet even in our modern times. The reality is that each human being, or whatever life form, is the whole Cosmos in itself and the only reality is the dot, that represents the atom, and holistically possesses all infinite possibilities to become nothingness and everything dancing together inside the dot. While you can look at the dot from one angle and observe it as nothing, you can also see all the designs and opportunities that few or many of dots can create without losing the essence of the core atom, from another angle. In other words you can see it as everything. Designs and colours of Persian carpets simply follow this concept. Any Persian carpet has been created to reveal and unite the nothingness and everything, which is the harmony and balance of two views of one truth, the unification of body and soul with each other, which creates the third element that is a mediator between these two aspects of one coin, the coin of truth, which is the highest understanding of the concept of beauty. That third element is another illusion which we can call “the mind”. Therefore, in each Persian carpet the two opposites that are not really opposites, through the third element, try to find the harmony amongst themselves in a dance of give and take, the truth, the shadow of the truth and the connecting element of these two.

In Part 2, I will discuss how these three elements represent each other in a Persian carpet and what the ultimate aim of the Persian carpet is


Carpets and the kingdom of heaven - Part 2

Carpets with focus on body

 In order to find the ultimate bliss of enlightenment you need a healthy and strong body. From ancient times the Persians were trying to find the golden key to produce strong and healthy offspring and also to enhance their health with spices, herbs and traditional medicines and also, through their alchemists, the way to eternal life.

All the traditionalists and philosophers and alchemists of Persia throughout history, in order to achieve all these goals, focused on the birth place of a child. They secretly accumulated all their wisdom and knowledge in figurative forms and motifs to resemble the womb and its relation to the Mother Goddesses, eg. Anahita (the Mother Earth, the Goddess of Fertility and Birth) or Nahid (the Wife, the Sister, Mother of God). In all Semitic religions in the beginning there was the concept of God the Mother or the Wife of God. This feminine concept is the most influential elements of the body. The focus on the mother of a child and her health and strength was of utmost importance in ancient Persia. In Persian philosophy the womb is the holiest place and resembles the Earth that is the body of Cosmos. The concept of yoni is one of the main figures that shows itself either as a medallion in the middle of the carpet or a flower or sometimes as a boteh (teardrop) design. This womb or Earth, has the seed of life that if nurtured correctly passes through different phases of life to blossom and become the flower of life and later the tree of life. Usually this seed of life, or cosmic egg, needs to be protected by guardians, but the carpets that resembles the womb is the early stage of life which is focused on the body. The colour choices of these carpets correlate with the lower vibration of the womb that are the warmer colours, in this case, red and orange which is the Fire element and the oven of life which through heat and fermentation evolve into a new stage of life. These carpets are produced subconsciously to improve and heal the root chakra which is the lowest vibration of the colour spectrum. The relationship of any man with the mother, Mother Goddess and Divine Feminine Energy is critical in the development of the psyche and spiritual growth

In Part 3 I will move to carpets with focus on spirit.


Carpets and the kingdom of heaven - Part 3

Carpets with focus on spirit/soul

 You can either see yourself as a body that has a soul OR as a soul that has a body to use. It has been a dilemma and a big question for all alchemists, philosophers and religious scholars as to where the seat of the soul in our bodies is. Since Ancient times we have heard about a bone in the human body that never decomposes no matter how long a body is deceased. It contains the DNA of a man or woman that can be activated at any time and like a magical resurrection, the Creator of the Cosmos can create an entire new body with only this bone. Through my studies I discovered that this very special bone in our bodies is called the Luz bone. Luz means a “nut bearing tree” or the almond tree. The almond tree is very special as it is the first tree to awaken from its winter sleep in the beginning of spring and it is related to the spring and awakening of the soul.

There was a place in the Old Testament where Jacob “halted and had a prophetic vision” which changed the entire history of humanity. That place was Luz and in that special place Jacob saw God face to face therefor that was the place of the “Face of God”, which in Hebrew is called “Peni-El”. From that time Jacob’s name changed to Israel and Luz became Peni-El. But how is the almond tree related? The almond tree in Hebrew is “shakeid” which translates to “to watch” or “to awaken”. It is therefore God’s watchfulness and immediately it comes to mind that we are talking about a God who observes through His eye, God’s eye. Where in the body can a man like Jacob see God face to face, or more specifically, eye to eye? The Luz bone is the sphenoid bone or the “winged bone” which with its two “wings” is protecting what is seated inside on the “saddle” of the bone. This protected part is called the pineal gland or “the third eye”, which is cone shaped like an almond fruit.

God has two extreme characters: the most kind and the most just. With the balance of these two extreme characters the cone shaped fruit of the almond tree will develop into the tree of life. Love is the force that nurtures this fruit and helps it to grow through different phases of life so that it can reach its full potential. It is the movement and flow of the deepest chakras towards the highest chakra. In order to have the kingdom of heaven on Earth we need to find the balance of the just quality of God and the merciful aspect of God. In Ancient Persia and Sumer they knew that each of us need to find that balance by awakening our pineal gland or third eye and in so doing give opportunity to the fruit of our tree of life to become the flower and then the tree of life, thus getting to the highest level of heaven whilst our roots are still here on Earth. The Hebrew Ark of Covenant and the Ark of Laws that was protected by winged angels or cherubim was built in order to find that heavenly balance on Earth.

The Persian carpet as a tool for mysticism and Sufism was designed in such a way that it reminds us of the journey of our soul on Earth and what is needed to be done to experience heaven whilst we are experiencing life on Earth. If you remember, on the carpets of the body – Part 2, we were talking about the lower frequency colours that correlates with the lower chakras in our bodies, ie. the root chakra and the tones of red. In the next article when we discuss the mind and Persian carpets we will see the colours of the high frequencies like green, blue and indigo, which correlate with the higher chakras in our bodies. What is amazing is that on the carpets that relate to the soul the balance colour which has a medium frequency, yellow, is more dominant and the background is often white and black.  It gives credence to the theory that the path of the soul is the balance of the higher and lower frequencies and from the frequency of yellow (which is also related to the solar plexus chakra and the Sun God/dess, like Mithra) you find a gateway to come out of the world of frequency and vibration and rest in an “all colour or no colour zone (ie. Black and white)”. Majority of the Persian carpets that focus on the soul have a one directional pattern that is related to the niche or mihrab design whilst the others have a repeating design. The niche/mihrab design usually has a resemblance to a vase or tree of life with two protecting winged angels or cherubim on either side.

In Part 4 we will discuss carpet with focus on mind.


Carpets and the kingdom of heaven - Part 4

Carpets with focus on mind

من آن شکل صنوبر را ز باغ دیده برکندم  که هر گل کز غمش بشکفت محنت بار می‌آورد

In Part 2 - carpets with focus on body, we revealed the importance of the valva or yoni as the birth place of the body and discussed the medallions or flowers that represent the symbol of valva, for example the lotus. Those carpets have less sharp angles in its designs and are in lower frequency colours such as red and orange. In Part 3 we discussed carpets with focus on soul which are usually in the shape of a mihrab/niche or vase and tree of life design in the colour of the middle frequency, i.e. yellow or gold. As mentioned, when you complete that cycle of your life you will move to another frequency out of the cycle of reincarnation and into the zone of no colour or all colour, meaning white or black. These two, the body and soul, are the most important elements of our being but they are very raw. The amount of truth that they contain is difficult to observe with bare eyes, so in order to view them and to find a way to comprehend them without dealing with their rawness, the human beings created a metaphor, a shadow of both and a fantasy that I refer to as the “mind”, The carpets that are focused on mind are tools to imitate the journey of the soul in the world of shadows. That is the danger of the mind, because if you forget that the mind is only a fantasy, a bridge and a metaphor to grasp the soul, you can get trapped and sink into the underworld of the mind. The designs related to the carpets focusing on the mind often resemble the carpets with focus on body and/or soul, but in a more analytical and calculated manner, because it stems from the left side of the brain. If there is a medallion used in these carpets they are more geometric, such as hexagons or octagons that have more masculine angles.

There are 7 layers of essence and spirit for the soul and since the mind follows and shadows the soul there are 7 layers of heaven and earth that the mind should pass in order to reach its fulfilment. Usually these carpets are designed in such a way that they represent the 7 layers from the outer corner of the carpet to the inner most part of the medallion. Just as the sceptre of Hermes/Idris/Enoch, who was and is and will be the source of all wisdom on earth, had 7 layers carved into it, these 7 layers in these carpets represent the 7 main colours of the rainbow, 7 music notes in an octave and 7 main chakras of human beings. This is also the 7 stages of enlightenment in the Mithraic religion symbolized in the 7 layers carved into the wine goblet of initiates and only the holiest of the holy was allowed to drink all 7 portions.  The sacred geometry, the golden ratio and the Fibonacci sequence are the main characters when the shadow mind interprets the journey of body on earth whilst connecting to the spirit of the heavens. Carpets of the mind that resemble that soul metaphorically to the utmost, usually include the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna, that are the two serpents or elephants of peacocks or cherubim that are protecting the “seed of life”. In the carpet of the soul we talked about the pineal gland and the connection to the fruit of the almond tree. The fruit of the almond tree in the kingdom of plants is a motherly, gullible tree that retains her happy and nurturing nature, regardless of all she goes through. In carpets that resemble the almond tree from the metaphoric mind perspective, the almond tree has been replaced by the Cyprus tree that is, like the willow tree, forsaken, abandoned or deserted tree that represents loneliness and loss and the need to find answers. In Mithraism this tree is a holy tree that goes deep inside itself and faces the death and depression and despair of the melancholy of the mind to find the truth. In the Persian language the pineal gland is called the “senobaar” gland and “senobaar” is also the fruit of the Cyprus tree and what it resembles in the journey of mind. It’s always associated with the cemetery, mourning, death and the sadness of the lonely mind.

The colour of these carpets are higher frequency colours starting from green, moving to blue and then indigo into violet. These are the mind colours that represent the strength of the masculine energy of the mind that logically wants to pave his way to the higher level. Unfortunately since this metaphor is an illusion and a fantasy, the chance that you can get lost in the sky above or the waters below, is high. In the end the mind is our secondary nature existing to take you through the development and growth of your body and ultimately your soul. This is why for centuries, Persian carpet weavers did not use the higher frequency colours in their designs and the use of the sacred geometry with the sharp angles and masculine energy is the product of a few hundred years only.


Baluch Khorjin

Another recent acquisition of Ghorbany Carpets is this 70 - 80 years old Baluch khorjin (saddle bag) woven in beautiful rich red tones with an octagon medallion on both sides. The use of it is exactly in the name, saddle bag, used on horses, donkeys and camels. The Baluch carpets are known as geometric nomadic and the use of geometry is key to the Baluch carpet designs.

There has not been much research done on Baluch carpets to date but the name derives from the Baluch tribe that lives in Iran, mostly in Baluchestan & Sistan, and also Khoresan and Kirman. Other Baluch tribes live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is also not just the Baluch tribe that make Baluch carpets in Iran. Other tribes that also make these carpets are the Tīmūrī, the Kurds, the Arabs, the Brahui, the Jamšīdī, and the Barbarī.

According to Baluch lore they are descendants of Hazrat Ameer Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammed, who settled in Aleppo, Syria. Over the centuries they migrated to the areas where they are settled today. Tracing the origins of their name is also a tricky business. Some say that they are named after Belus (Bel Marduk) who was the god of Mesopotamia and Babylon, with others arguing that their name comes from the Persian word for cockscomb, due to the fact that the Baluch soldiers wore hats with a cockscomb on it, around the 6th century BC.

Whatever the actual history of the tribe is, their carpets no doubt carry in it many secrets that we are yet to unlock that will reveal to us who they are exactly.

Contact Shervin Ghorbany on 0824548533 for more information.


How carpet weaving came to India

Early man’s ability to create fire happened two million years ago. This revolution caused many changes to happen in human civilizations and so also what we eat and how we eat it. Having unlimited vegetation available for consumption introduced us to herbs and spices that could change the taste of food that we ate, when we cook it. This discovery eventually led us to trade with different people in different places for different herbs and spices, because humanity’s desire to experiment and create is fulfilling our innate need to always keep “moving”, to always keep changing. It is after all the species who can adapt to change the fastest that are prone to survive the longest and so here we are.

Trade amongst humans are very old and so too the trade in herbs and spices. Neolithic discoveries prove that it has happened from at least the 10th millennia BC and it is of course still the case today. All we need do is visit our nearest grocery store and all the wonderful spices from all over is available at our finger tips. For our forefathers is was by far more a diplomatic endeavour. The Spice Route, existing from at least 3000BC according to Egyptian records, was used by the Egyptians, the Arabs, the Ethiopians and the Indians to trade various spices and luxury goods. What were on the ancient’s import lists? Well, there were spices, ebony, fine textiles, sea shells, obsidian, silk, precious stones and incense, the latter giving rise to the Incense route. Later gold, leather of rare animals and pearls were added to the desired items list. This made the supplying kingdoms/empires/regions very wealthy and it caused other areas to either produce their own luxury goods or to become middle men for such trade.

India was not only the most desired supplier of spices but also their fine textiles, produced from at least 3000BC, made of silk and cotton embroidered with gold and precious stones were in high demand. Over time more empires joined the trading and this no doubt gave rise to the Persian Royal Road and later the Silk Road, because the Spice and Incense Routes were mostly dominated by the Egyptians, Arabs, Ethiopians and the Indians. Finding other ways of obtaining these luxury items that now became a need rather than a want, would ensure that the Persians and other empires could control the trade from another vantage point and pay less taxes and tributes to all the middle men. It also created the desire to expand empires so that they could finally own the lands in which these special items originated. Trading directly with suppliers also meant that you could offer your own goods for trade and the Persians and later the Greek rulers of Persia, the Seleucids, not only traded their own unique vegetation, but also their exquisitely woven Persian carpets and textiles. It soon became as high a commodity as any spices, silks and precious stones. A millennia later when the Ottomans came into power and obstructed European trading with the East, the Europeans wanted to find another way to their luxury goods and the Portuguese sailed around Africa to become the rulers of the Spice route around Africa, whilst the Spanish found the Americas. Soon the Dutch and the Brittish would join the lucrative trade and life, as we knew it, was changed for ever to the global trade that we know today.

But before all of that would happen, India as much as any main trading country, became a hub for foreigners. But unlike its co-silk producing country, China, due to its highly valued spices it would become a country that everyone wanted a piece of. There were numerous invasions and dynasty changes through the centuries. Strangely enough, for all the foreign cultural influences, India would only start to produce carpets itself from around the 11th century with Muslim conquests and it really only took off with the establishment of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. Babur, the ruler of the Mughal Empire, was a direct descendant of Tamerlane (Timur), the Turco-Mongol conqueror, from his father’s side; and a direct descendant from Genghis Khan from his mother’s side. Being born in Persia, Babur loved the Persian culture and it is rumoured that when he established the Mughal Empire in India, he was disappointed with the “lack of luxury” there. He set out to introduce a Persianate ethos in his empire that would influence his successors as well. One of the items he missed the most were Persian carpets, so he brought some weavers from Persia to produce carpets in his kingdom, giving rise to the now famous Mughal carpets. These carpets’ designs were influenced by the design of Kashan and Kerman, etc. He was a great promoter of the arts and he set up royal carpet weaving centres in Agra, Delhi and Lahore. When the prisoners in his kingdom became restless and revolted, he instructed the master weavers of Persia to teach the inmates the skill of weaving. This not only calmed the prisoners, but also made them productive and taught them a skill that would stay with them for life. Some of the inmates eventually outshone their teachers and these carpets were used in the palaces as well as diplomatic gifts. The Indian carpet weaving industry would receive a further push forward a century later when Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, came to power. He not only promoted the carpet weaving arts but also inspired changes in designs to include more Indian designs in the carpets.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babur

http://store.bashircarpets.com/indiancarpets.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incense_Route

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spice_trade

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-discovery-of-fire-169517

http://char.txa.cornell.edu/IndianTex.htm


Antique Bakhtiari

Woven by the famous Bakhtiari tribe of Iran, circa 1910, this exquisite antique piece gives a gentle nod to the "garden design".

The weaver "planted" various flora in his carpet garden with the Cyprus tree quite dominant as well as the pink roses favoured by the Bakhtiari weavers. Pure elegance in the colourful tones that the tribe is well known for. This piece is exclusively available at Ghorbany Carpets. Contact Shervin Ghorbany on 0824548533 for more information.


From Tehran with love

Woven on white background with highlights in silk make all the designs magically come to life and takes you back to the chic styles of the early 20th century.

This exquisite carpet made in Tehran is exclusively available at Ghorbany Carpets. Contact Shervin Ghorbany on 0824548533 for more information.


Getting Dressed

We are so thrilled with the new art installation at Ghorbany Design Quarter. It literally got dressed up!

Artist, Adri Neuper of In Eeden Design Concepts, is showcasing her models at Ghorbany Design Quarter and we collaborated with award winning designer, Colette Angelucci from Colette Living, to style them with our Persian carpets. From the intricate and elaborate ball gowns of the Renaissance era to modern day cat walks, textiles in all materials and designs have always been a means to express ourselves, and so too how we use it in our homes whether it be curtains, upholstery or Persian carpets. The result of the installation is simply breathtaking and inspiring! Visit Ghorbany Design Quarter to view.


Back to the roots

And here they are, our two new Ghorbany Bryanston residents!

In a grateful nod to the origin of all Persian carpets we welcome these two sheep sculptures made by Adri Neuper from In Eeden Designs, styled by award winning designer, Colette Angelucci from Colette Living. The coloured wool used to decorate them with symbolizes the wool we receive from the sheep that we process into workable coloured threads that are woven into each Persian carpet. Without these precious beings none of our carpets would see the light of day in the form that we all love and know!


Smooth as Silk

“Patience and the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown” – Chinese Proverb .

The legend of the discovery of silk in China goes back to 4000 BC: Lei Zu, the wife of Emperor Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, was sipping her midday tea under a mulberry tree when something unexpectedly fell into her cup. She looked to see what it was she saw a cocoon starting to unravel slowly. After the silk cocoon completely unravelled it stretched the entire garden long and Lei Zu saw the silkworm that was the creator of this magnificent silky thread. She imagined that this fine thread could be used to make fine gowns and from that day on she became the inventor of sericulture, the cultivation of silkworms. The Chinese for centuries enjoyed and refined all the different types of weaving that could be done with this extraordinary material and they experimented with all the different types of objects that could be made from it too, from clothing to paper, etc.

Silk has bedazzled the world for millennia and we still cannot get enough of its look and feel, be it clothing, bedding, décor and of course, carpets. Evidence that this phenomenon has existed from at least 3,000 to 4,000 years was found in the form of a silk cocoon cut in half at the Yangshao cultural site in Xia County, Shanxi, China. The species was confirmed as Bonbyx mori, the humble domesticated silkworm that produces this thin strain of beauty. The Shang and Zhou Dynasties of China produced silk items on a large scale and the weaving techniques became more sophisticated too. Just how important and precious this medium was for China and it’s trading, is evident in the find of Shang Dynasty silk (c. 1600 to 1046 BCE) in an Egyptian tomb.

It would be the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) that really made silk an International commodity when they started the Silk Road on land but also improved their sea trading that would later be called the Maritime Silk Road. “Evidence found in Chinese literature, and archaeological evidence, show that cartography existed in China before the Han. Some of the earliest Han maps discovered were ink-penned silk maps found amongst the Mawangdui Silk Texts in a 2nd-century-BC tomb”. Just how far this Maritime Silk Road progressed before the expansive land Silk Road, is evident in the Roman glassware that has been found at Han-era tombs. “The weave of some Han period pieces, with 220 warp threads per centimetre, is extremely fine. The cultivation of the silk worms themselves also became more sophisticated from the 1st century CE with techniques used to speed up or slow their growth by adjusting the temperature of their environment. Different breeds were used, and these were crossed to create silk worms capable of producing threads with different qualities useful to the weavers”. The Han Dynasty ensured that China held the global monopoly on silk production and promptly executed anyone who tried to smuggle the silkworms or their secret out of the country.   

After the Han Dynasty’s collapse various periods of war reigned in China until the Tang Dynasty came to power (AD 618–907). The Tang s did much for Chinese trade and trading partners and through their efforts the Silk Road was reopened and expanded to reach their neighbour, Persia, and from Persia it reached the West. The Silk Road thereafter became the legend it is today and through this route China gained many new technologies, cultural practices, rare luxury items as well as contemporary items. “From the Middle East, India, Persia, and Central Asia the Tang were able to acquire new ideas in fashion, new types of ceramics, and improved silver-smithing. The Chinese also gradually adopted the foreign concept of stools and chairs as seating, whereas the Chinese beforehand always sat on mats placed on the floor. To the Middle East, the Islamic world coveted and purchased in bulk Chinese goods such as silks, lacquerwares, and porcelain wares. Songs, dances, and musical instruments from foreign regions became popular in China during the Tang dynasty. These musical instruments included oboes, flutes, and small lacquered drums from Kucha in the Tarim Basin, and percussion instruments from India such as cymbals.” Via the Silk Road Buddhist knowledge was imported to China, as well as many other influences. There was even a Turkic-Chinese dictionary available for serious scholars and students and Turkic folksongs became a great source of inspiration for Chinese poetry. Thousands of foreigners immigrated to Chinese cities during the Tandy Dynasty, including Persians, Arabs, Hindu Indians, Balys, Chams, Jews, etc.

The Tang Dynasty also strengthened and expanded the Maritime Silk Road. “Although Chinese envoys had been sailing through the Indian Ocean to India since perhaps the 2nd century BC, it was during the Tang dynasty that a strong Chinese maritime presence could be found in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, into Persia, Mesopotamia (sailing up the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq), Arabia, Egypt, Aksum (Ethiopia), and Somalia in the Horn of Africa.”

With China still holding the monopoly on the silk trade as well as the secret of how to cultivate the silkworm, the Western Empires saw their much needed funds flow East in mountains, so the Byzantine Empire sent two monks to China to learn what the secret of silk is. These two monks managed to smuggle some silkworms west and so began the silk production there, however, they did not know China’s secret of unravelling the cocoons in such a way that only a single strand of silk remained and although the Byzantines used Sasanian techniques to produce fantastic textiles, it was still inferior to Chinese silk.  

Silk inspired many arts and its praise is sung in this poem by Master Xun of the Warring states Period (476 – 221 BC):

How naked its external form,

Yet it continually transforms like a spirit.

Its achievement covers the world,

For it has created ornament for a myriad generations.

Ritual ceremonies and musical performances are completed through it;

Noble and humble are distinguished with it;

Young and old rely on it;

For with it alone can one survive.

 

Sources and extracts: 


All wool and no shoddy!

As you approach Ghorbany Riverside you are greeted by our colourful Wool Art display, inspired by the very product that our carpet collections are made of, WOOL, and done by award winning designer Colette Angelucci from Colette Living. Paying homage to the craft of man many millennia old that has evolved as our civilizations and tastes changed. We honour this magnificent medium of art that still allows us to create wonders out of single colourful strings to tell stories and share memories. Without it our industry will cease to exist.