This bold and charming small rug has made me turn many leaves and has puzzled me a bit, both in terms of 'deciphering' the design and in terms of attributing it more precisely than just calling it a 'Hamadan' or 'Kurdish Hamadan' (which broadly speaking, it is, after all).
The bold flowers pattern design showing a circular arangement of geometrized flowers with large angular leaves and surrounded by a variety of smaller flowers immediately suggest a Kurdish origin. Only after extended search and comparison did I finally realise that this is in fact a hugely enlarged version of the Herati pattern which is usually rendered in much smaller scale—one of the commonest endless repeat designs of all.
In fact this rug's design seems to rest on a precursor of the herati pattern—it reaches back to the sickle leaf design of Ottoman carpets from Cairo. It is all there: the five blossoms surrounding a central blossom (an elegant palmette in the precursor design, an angular grid design here); the leaves extending from this central blossom (thin and sickle-shaped in the precursor, coarse and beam-like here); below that, the smaller serrated leaves bending downwards; even the smaller flowers in profile (lilies? tulips? bellflowers?) map topologically quite closely onto the pattern of the sixteenth century precursor—compare, for example, fig. 170 in P.R.J. Ford's book Oriental Carpet Design below.
|Herati precursor; East or south-east Persian carpet, 16th c. 265x195 cm Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washngton, D.C. (W.A: Clark collection). Picture quotation from P.R.J. Ford: Oriental Carpet Design, 78.||Pattern detail showing a very coarse rendering of the same design type|
A look at the backside shows the basket weave (single shot wefts, a visible pattern of warp specs) - this and the symmetrical knotting point to the greater Hamadan area or Kermanshah (Songhor, Kolyai?). However, identifying the origin more precisely proved to be difficult. The nice organic abrashed dyes suggest some age (around 1900, may be as late as 1920). The very regular and tight weave on cotton warps suggest a village rather than nomadic origin. The identical "floral scroll" herati-derived outer an inner borders are one of the most commonly used in Kurdish rugs, more often in double or multiple wefted all-wool rugs from NW Persia. The central border, which seems abstracted from rosettes alternating with flower buds in profile, can also be frequently found in Kurdish rugs.
I consulted Peter Willborg's nice little Hamadan book which includes technical details on the weave and close-ups of the reverse side of the 43 Hamadan rugs assembled. I was looking for the closest match regarding weave and materials.
I thought that the knot count and vertical/horizontal ratio, in combination with the angle of depression (most Hamadans in the book have zero depression, i.e. the warps lie all on the same level) and the reverse pattern ought to give a closest match. With a knot count of vert. 41/dm and hor. 27/dm, the rug is relatively fine for a Hamadan area rug; the closest match in this respect in Willborg's book turned out to be no. 13, Khamseh, with vert. 46/dm hor. 29/dm. (Note that this 'Khamseh' is an administrative district between Hamadan and Zenjan towards the north—it should not be confused with the Khamseh federation in Southern Persia.) And, surprise, this Khamseh rug sports the same pair of narrow 'flower scroll' borders enclosing an equally narrow central border of albeit different design.
The field, however, could not be more different; where our rug here displays the proverbial Kurdish 'wildness' or apparent lack of refinement, the Willborg rug has a small scale and very regular repeat pattern he calls reminiscent of the Türkmen aksu motif (it also reminds me on a miniature mina khani structure). Willborg identifies as Khamseh characteristic the untidy character of the reverse weave pattern due to wefts of unequal thickness. I see indeed similarities in our rug here, but I am not versed enough in reading the weave patterns (apart from some ovious variants that really stick out). The weave pattern is actually closer to Willborgs next Khamseh, no. 14, which has the same characteristic of having two identical narrow borders enclosing the central border (which is wider in this second rug)
I also wrote to Peter Willborg, asking for his opinion. This is what he wrote:
It is good to see that someone is taking Hamedan attribution seriously. I can't give you an exact answer reg. your rug. You are right the back looks a bit like Khamseh. The black ground may point in the Chahar -râ direction. The 3 narrow borders which are very kurdish in execution could also indicate the Zenj‚n area. On the whole I would be tempted to guess Zendjân. The design as you point out must have been derived from sickleleaf designs. It is certainly an intriguing and cute little rug. best regards peter willborg
The rug measures 141cm x 97cm (4ft.6in x 3ft.2in.). Symmetrical knotting, Hamadan structure. The knot density is vert. 41/dm and hor. 27/dm, which translates to about 10 knots vertical x 8 knots horizontal, i.e. ca 80 kpsi - quite fine for a Hamadan. The warps are hand-spun (irregular thickness) s-ply cotton, single wefts are of off-white to tan cotton. The wefts in the kilim end are wool. The weave is very tightly packed, leading to a quite high v/h ratio of about 1:1,52. The weave pattern, as already mentioned, seems slightly irregular due to the wefts of varying thickness (probably also handspun). The pile is quite short, perhaps 8mm near the border and very short in the central field. In some areas of the brown ground the pile is down to knot heads, with some white cotton warp knot ends visible.The top end kilim is preserved even with knotted fringe. It shows a characteristic decoration line in blue and red which can also be found in other rugs from the greater Hamadan area (e.g., in rugs attributed to Kolyai, Nahavand, Zaghe and Tuisserkhan in Willborg's book).
The dyes look all natural to me. The abrashed brown ground is somewhat corroded in the centre, but not exposing foundation. The main blossoms are a saturated madder red, secondary flowers use lighter shades of madder. The inner border ground has a nice abrash from a light rose to more saturated salmon tone, the mid blue from the central border is also subtly abrashed. White is used for outlining and linear elements, then there is a mottled medium green and a lighter shade of brown also used as background of the outer border.