Before Safavid era
Historical evidences confirm that carpet weaving has flourished from Sasanid era; related to a Chinese calendar called “Suyi”, which belongs to 590 to 617 AD, a short time before the decline of Sasanid dynasty, "Suyi" mentioned carpet among Iranian products. During three centuries of Sasanid dynasty, there are other signs, although vague and not convincing.
The above mentions prove that the Sasanid carpets contained images adorned with gold and valuable stones. Certainly, such carpets are not suitable as floor-coverings. The same glittery adorning style has been used in the king Khosrow Anoushiravan’s large carpet with Garden design, that covered the floor of great hall of Tisfoun Palace. Probably it has not been the same type of present carpets.
Somehow in the beginning of Arab’s rule , carpet weaving declined in Iran. Because of racial and tribal reasons, Arabs did not need any carpet or floor-covering, so despite pottery art, that they were the best in, they had not paid any attention to carpet weaving in any time of their history.
On the other hand, in the beginning of Islam religion, there was no type of luxurious carpets among Arab’s. This stop and decline lasted only until the time of Omavid and Abbasid Caliphs, who decorated their dreamy palaces with precious and magnificent Persian Carpets.
In 11th century AD Seljuk Turks occupied large part of Iran and Settled in Azerbaijan and central areas of Iran. With this invasion, they brought their language and culture, along that mixed with Persian art and culture. Its result was changes in Iranian carpet designs.
Unfortunately , there is no carpet sample left from that period of time; but their similarity to Aladdin Masque’s carpets in Qounia (Seljuk Capital) Could be noticed. Flourishing of Iranian carpet weaving continued only until the time of Mongol. But after the Mongol invasion, like other artistic activities, carpet weaving also stopped for the period of time in Iran.
After 15th century, Broken patterns became common in carpet weaving. Western painters were specially interested in carpets with Broken Patterns and showed it in their paintings.
The reasons below may make this special interest clear.
1- Since 15th century AD, carpets having curvilinear images, were considered Royal carpets and were not suitable for common places, but the Royal Courts.
2- Fine Arabesque images, yellow flower (Palmette flower), Chinese Birds, Animal’s combat and other very fine curvilinear images did not match the painter’s works, because these images attracted too much attention in their paintings.
3- Regarding the environments painted by mentioned painters, Broken patterns could inspire painter’s favorite space better specially unusual and illusory parts of it.
4- Iranian Broken Patterns have a complicated communicating language, that makes paintings more strange and considerable. This is what calls a painter’s interest.
Going over Iranian painting up to 14th and 15th century AD, clears that patterns and images had not changed until that time.
There is no Important carpet pattern among the works of first centuries of Islam, except Stripped design (like Elijeh carpet) in carpet and other weavings.
Since Persian painting glitters and changes from Ilkhanid era and exactly Abu Said Bahador’s period, carpet influence on painting is also observed, exactly in the same era.
For instance at Timur, the Lame’s, domination over Iran, most of art specialties changed essentially. Changes in carpet images were as follows:
Geometric designs changed gradually towards designs having rotating and curved lines. Images like Ivy and flowers, Palmettes, cloud shape masses of Mushrooms, Imaginary and real animals and birds like dragon, Simorgh (a fabulous monstrous bird), wild cat and…. mixed with designs.
One of the most important period in carpet weaving evolution is 16th century AD and the most important time is 15th century AD, that essential changes appeared in Persian carpet images and altered them from the image known as “Broken” to “Curvilinear”. This change is the result of 15th century AD designers effort. As it is seen, this change was not done simply and by sudden, but it progressed very carefully and cautiously to prevent any conflict with tradition and disagreeing with carpet weaving art and techniques of time.
After Safavid era
In Safavid era, Shah Abbas and Shah Tahmasb asked the best painters and carpet weavers of time to prepare carpets for them. Specially painters works were suitable for this purpose, because they were mostly two-dimensional, in small sizes and limited by rules and customs.
Actually, in that time, most of miniatures and images were designing rather than paintings, so that in recent years, some carpet weaving masters in Kerman and Tabriz have used exactly the same designs. Of course carpets that were woven under protection of these princes, were not rural, but urban products that needed tools, talent and artistic taste, which villagers and tribe members lacked those, Also, there are some information. Showing Shah Tahmasb’s interested in carpet designing . It is also said, that he has prepared some carpet designs by himself.
After Shah Abbas’ death, there was a period of decline, chaos and failure for Iranians. But there is no evidence showing the revival of this art at the time of Karim Khan Zand’s governorship, who was a kind but illiterate man. Carpet weaving profession also declined to its lowest level of quality in this time.
Safavid took the art of the carpet weaving to its highest point of perfection and splendor. Iranian artists created such gorgeous and magnificent works, which were unique. Carpet weaving went further than rural or tribal craft and became an important profession in urban work-shop. Carpet trade and exporting to European countries began. Carpet designs were so much rich in genius and creativity of artists of the time, that even after hundreds of year they are still copying.
So except a few cases, none of carpet designer’s attempt for crossing the artistic frame of that time, was successful. As if the whole possible motifs and images have been designed and completed by these skilful artists hands before. By using these designs, carpet weavers of this era left about 1500 carpets and rugs that some of those are recorded as the definite world’s carpet weaving masterpieces. Regarding their designs, woven carpets of this era are classified as follows:
1- Medallion design
2- Ardebil design
3- Sea wave carpet
4- Chelsea carpet
5- Animals view Medallion carpet (Milan Museum)
6- Vase design
7- Hunting design
8- Tree and Paisley design
9- Herat flowered design
10- Garden design
11- Polonaise carpet
There are also big knotted woven carpets, that is produced by double-weft weaving, and in each row there are two wefts instead of one.
Curved carpets are the ones with rotating and round designs. Doubtlessly these designs had very important influence on carpet weaving techniques and probably caused flourishing of double-weft weaving, that was the necessity of curved carpets weaving, against single-weft weaving (with Broken Pattern), which was common in Iran’s tribal and rural carpet weaving.
One of the other cases is the matter of some color-schemes of transformation period (15th and 16th centuries AD), for instance in some miniatures, there were carpets with green or yellow grounds, which were signs of same color-schemes of Safavid era, especially the ones with yellow or green ground.
Nowadays, these color-schemes are not admired because in contemporary history of Iran, dark colors are used more. Regarding the paintings remained from Safavid era, we could see, that carpets color-schemes have changed in Iran, specially since Safavid era, and have become darker day after day, Safavid kings exerted direct control over this industry.
By establishing carpet weaving workshops in Royal Palaces neighboring, between Chehel-Sotun and Shah Square, Shah Abbas could control carpet quality and finesse of carpet weaver’s work directly. Notes of travelers like Tavernier, Chardon and Robert Sherly prove this saying.
By gathering the best painters, designers and weavers from all over the country in Royal work shops, Shah Abbas provided a good situation for creation of art unique masterpieces. The mentioned artists have changed carpet images with inspirations from miniature and illumination. By fall of Safavid dynasty, decline of carpet weaving began too; Afghan invasion vanished everything and reminded people of painful remembrance of Mongol attack.
Preservation of the unity of country, gave Nader Shah the opportunity to consider art subjects. But gradually, with protection of peace and security resulted by Iranian’s courage and bravery, the art which was surviving secretly gained more importance in Zand period and the time rulers became interested in it.
In Qajar era, by flourishing of European markets, that had begun from Safavid era, with many rises and falls during centuries, art of carpet weaving followed its normal trend again. Tabriz merchants establish many carpet weaving work shops, not only in Tabriz but also in Kerman, Meshed, Kashan and other cities and sent woven carpets to European markets, via Istanbul. By flourishing of carpet market, foreigner merchants invested in Iran and with establishing carpet workshop in different cities like Kashan, Arak and Kerman leaded this technique too.
Also changing designs and exerting their own tastes, caused the loss of originality. American designs, represented American’s taste, were copies of French designs (Abuson, Savneri) and were used by the name of American fashion (Bab America). This was the result of changes in original Iranian carpets in this period. World Wars I and II caused an unexpected decline in Iranian carpet market and resulted the shut-down of many beneficial carpet workshops. Also using artificial dyes, which had come to Iran as the result of European dye industry development and double-knotted weaving, reduced the value of Iranian carpets very much.
Returning to the past originality and artist’s creativity in designing during recent decades could bring this ancient art back to its first position and rose it to its highest level in a short time.