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Pieces of a Puzzle: Classical Persian Carpet Fragments
Pieces of a Puzzle: Classical Persian Carpet Fragments

Classical Persian carpets of the
16th and 17th centuries have long
been appreciated for their spectacular
beauty and fine craftsmanship,
although their development and
classification have been poorly
understood. Only in recent decades,
as scholars began to analyze specific
types of classical Persian rugs,
have the pieces of the puzzle begun
to fall into place. This exhibition
presents nine examples of one of
these types, named after the historic
Persian province of Khorasan. This
is the first exhibition to focus on
classical Khorasan carpets. The three principal surviving fragments of one
spectacular 16th-century Khorasan rug are reunited in this exhibition from three
different collections. These pieces also fit together like a puzzle, allowing us to
glimpse the grand scale of the original carpet. Despite their fragmentary nature, the
Khorasan carpets on view retain their delicate beauty and can reveal much about
the complete rugs and about classical Persian carpets as a whole.

Daniel Walker

Exhibition Curator and Textile Museum Director

The exhibition was on view at The Textile Museum from September 1, 2006 to
January 7, 2007.

That presentation was made possible in part by:

Persepolis Foundation
Patti Cadby Birch
Alavi Foundation

For more information, read Daniel Walker's article "Carpets of Khorasan" in HALI
magazine, no. 149, November-December 2006.
All carpet structural analyses by D. Walker.


The province of Khorasan has long been renowned for its carpets. Khorasan today
is the northeastern province of Iran, but, under the Persian Safavid dynasty in the
16th and 17th centuries, it also encompassed the cities of Merv in modern-day
Turkmenistan and Herat in modern-day Afghanistan. Travelers in that era remarked
upon the fine Khorasan carpets sold in the Persian Gulf port of Hormuz and in one
of the main caravansaries in Isfahan. Cities in Khorasan, such as Sabzavar, Herat,
Mashhad, Dorokhsh, and Sarakhs, are also cited as sources of fine carpets. Herat
and Mashhad, in particular, are associated with specific types of carpets, but it is not
clear exactly where these or any Khorasan carpets were made. Some of these cities
may have been commercial centers where carpets were sold, rather than
carpet-weaving centers.


Classical Khorasan carpets are characterized by superior wool and dyes; a broad
color palette including blue-green, orange, and a bluish-red; exquisite drawing; and
distinctive knotting variations. Although carpet patterns traveled from region to
region, weaving techniques, choice of materials, and secondary elements of design
often remained constant in one place and are therefore more reliable in identifying
the origin of a particular carpet.

Many Persian carpets use an asymmetrical knot to secure the pile yarns that
protrude from the surface and create the pattern. In Khorasan carpets, these knots
are usually wrapped around four warp yarns rather than the usual two warps. This
knotting variation is known as jufti, or paired or double, knotting. The knots in
Khorasan carpets are also often offset, or staggered, row by row.
This knotting variation may be a way of saving time and labor, although classical
Khorasan carpets are so finely woven that this seems unlikely. Jufti knotting also
could be simply a matter of longstanding local tradition, however it originated.


Many of the field patterns found in classical Khorasan rugs also appear in other
types of Persian carpets from that era. The compartment, tree, sickle-leaf, and
various lattice patterns can all be found in other major carpet groups. Even the
distinctive pattern of so-called Portugese carpets, named for the European-style
sailing vessels and costume of the human figures in the corners of the fields, is also
found in carpets from northwestern Iran. Identified only as recently as Khorasan
production, the "Portugese" carpets are unusual among Khorasan pieces in
surviving mostly in complete form; most classical rugs from Khorasan survive only as

Pattern is thus not as useful for identifying the specific origin of a carpet as other
features, such as secondary elements of design, weaving techniques, choice of
materials, and colors. In addition to jufti and offset knotting, classical Khorasan
carpets often feature red outlining of pattern elements; a bluish red color usually
associated with lac, an insect dye from India, along with the orangish madder red
found in most other types of Persian carpets; and blue-green and orange hues in
secondary design elements.

Carpets known to have been woven in Khorasan in the late 19th and 20th centuries
exhibit many of the same design and technical features as the earlier Khorasan
rugs, thus establishing a rare direct link connecting classical and more recent
production in one area.

Classical Persian Carpet Persian Rugs Fragments Pieces of a Puzzle