Isfahan rugs are regarded as some of the finest quality of Persian rugs woven in Iran. Although the rugs that originate from this region come in a wide range of qualities, a fair amount of production is specifically dedicated to producing high quality pieces.
Most of these rugs are woven with a wool pile on cotton or silk foundation with a few specially woven with silk accents running right through the pile for an absolutely stunning effect.
The rugs are dense and constructed with a higher than normal knot count but despite their denseness they remain quite malleable, which in itself speaks highly of the quality of the work.
The weavers who work on these rugs use a wide palette of bold colors in their work but the predominant colors that are featured include indigo, bright red and deep blue on a background of ivory.
History of Isfahan Rugs
Isfahan rugs are woven in the Isfahan Province, which consists of over 15 districts and several counties. Isfahan is an important city of Persia and a major weaving center in the country.
The Safavid kings who ruled the area were huge art lovers. When it come to art of all types, nothing but the best was good enough for them.
They attracted and encouraged artisans and craftsman across all niches, from rug weaving to painting and architecture. To get the best from these skilled craftsmen, fine materials were acquired and given to them to practice their art.
Some of the art pieces that remain from that era are still a huge attraction for art lovers from around the world. With the huge amount of stunning artwork amassed in one location, the city of Isfahan was eventually declared a world heritage site..
Rug weaving flourished in this region during the Safavid era but the craft became stagnant when the Safavid dynasty ended after Iran was invaded by the Afghans.
It was not until much later, sometime in the 1920s that the people of Isfahan took up weaving again in earnest. They slowly went back to their centuries old tradition of weaving the characteristic Safavid designs and eventually become an important nexus of the Persian rug weaving industry.
Today, they are amongst the most wanted variety of Iranian rugs amongst serious rug collectors around the western world.
Isfahan Master Weavers
Isfahan has a long and rich history of rug making. One of the most notable aspects of this city’s history is the multiple invasions and military occupations over the years.
While these events disrupted the regular rug-making process in the city of Isfahan, it give rise to another unexpected facet.
As different cultures settled in this cosmopolitan city, they increasingly added to the diversity of the city in terms of artwork, architecture, food, festivities, palaces, mosques, and rug weaving.
Every culture also brought along their master weavers who settled in Isfahan and made it their home. Sarafian, Zogagi, Asachi, Haghighi, Ghenaat, Mehdee, Dorri, and Nael are some of the many master weavers who have created stunning Isfahan rugs over the years.
Their unswerving commitment to technical perfection is evident in the symmetry of the designs and the high knot count. They were so proud of their creations they often signed the finished rugs. The signatures served as a stamp of quality.
Isfahan rugs created by these master weavers are highly sought after by rug enthusiasts and collectors. Some have gone on to fetch millions of dollars at recognized auction houses across the world.
The Sarafian family from Isfahan was and still is one of the most famous master weavers in the region.
Only the best locally sourced wool is used in their creations. The rugs are finely knotted and have silk warps and relatively short piles.
Average knots counts of these rugs may be anywhere from 500 KPSI (knots per square inch) to more than 1000 KPSI, which is much higher than the knot count of an average rug.
The distinguishing mark of rugs made by the Sarafian family is the inscription cartouche at one end with the name written in Persian script and sometimes in English script as well.
Hekmatnejad is another modern Isfahan rug weaver who specialized in creating smaller pieces with silk warps and a signature cartouche at one end.
Main Characteristics Of Isfahan Rugs
Isfahan rugs are some of the highest quality rugs you can find anywhere. Most of these rugs are made from Kork wool, which is obtained from baby sheep. Some rugs may also be made with a combination of wool and silk.
Weavers drew inspiration for their designs from nature as well as the rich cultural and architectural history of the city.
Delicate floral patterns with classic curvilinear elements such as vines, tendrils, scrolls, and lacing patterns the details clearly visible are commonly incorporated into the design of these rugs.
Highly skilled weavers patiently filled the rugs with these intricate designs making one knot at a time while ensuring that the designs remained symmetrical.
Weavers often featured other stylized motifs into the design, most commonly the Tree of Life, birds, prayer arches, and vases.
Because of the high knot counts every detail in the design can be seen very clearly adding to the allure of the rug. Cutting the pile very close also helped accentuate the elaborate design elements.
Mosque Of Shah Lutf Allah
Another popular pattern in Isfahan rugs is a floral design with a central medallion and four corner pieces. Some weavers found their inspiration from historical buildings and mosques that dotted the landscape. The most famous architectural sources of inspiration is the well-known mosque of Shah Lutf Allah.
Construction And Design
Isfahan rugs are knotted on either cotton or silk foundations with a knot density of up to 1000 knots per inch.
The wool used for the pile was the best quality available – Kurk wool. Vertical looms used to manufacture these rugs using double wefts and Persian knots.
The designs of these rugs were typically symmetrical and balanced, with palmettos and vines surrounding a single distinct motif.
Other designs that are featured on these rugs are the allover Shah Abbas, Tree of life, pictorial schemes, hunting and vase but the most commonly seen design remains the medallion and triangle surrounded by a variety of flowers and islimies or vines.
Popular Motif Used
The elaborate and ornate Shah Abbassi floral design is one of the most popular motif featured in Isfahan rugs.
This distinctive design was named after Shah Abbas, who first commissioned it to adorn Isfahan’s mosques. The pattern was a huge hit and its popularity rose quickly.
Before long weavers in the surrounding regions as well as other regions around Persia started to incorporate the Shah Abbassi floral design into their creations too.
The Shah Abbassi floral design was also hugely popular in western markets, which are the biggest buyers of Persian rugs.
Not surprisingly, weavers from all over Persia and other rug-making countries started incorporating the Shah Abbassi floral design into their rugs.
Isfahan rug weavers employed superior rug making techniques, which is evident in the high quality of the finished product. They took great care in creating one knot at a time with a higher knot count per square inch as compared to many other types of Persian rugs.
The average minimum knot count is about 120 KPSI – that’s just the minimum. Most rugs have much higher knot counts of about 500 to 700 KPSI.
The use of the highest quality wool or silk in creating the pile resulted in a rug of superior quality in terms of texture, looks, and durability.
The colors used in these rugs are very distinctive. 12 colors are usually used to create the designs which were woven on a field of ivory. Deep blue, bright red, bold earth colors were used in abundance.
Some of the newer pieces have a more subdued palette to make them more compatible with Western home décor.
The decorative aesthetic of Isfahan rugs is offset by the combination of colors used. A light color palette against a rich ivory colored background was the favored color choice. Baby blue, ivory, cream, green and red are among the more common colors used in these rugs.
The use of lighter colors on an ivory setting gave the rugs a regal, sophisticated look, which only reinforced their reputation as being fit for royalty.
Typical Sizes Available
Isfahan rugs are available in a wide array of dimensions. Most of these rugs range from medium to large with very few small size. The most common size range is between 4’x6’ and 8’x10’ but you can find larger and smaller rugs too.
With their intricate detailing, high knot count and precision weaving, it takes weavers several years to complete a single Isfahan rug. All of these factors contribute to their relatively higher price.