Sunday 28 September 2014

On the Origin of the Herati Pattern

Considering its  widespread use,the Herati pattern has not received much scholarly attention.It appears suddenly at the beginning of the 19th century in an absolutely crystallised form,probably in Khorasan;an ultra-compact and dense Gestalt rarely seen in Persian carpet-making,which had always favoured more generous designs.

One group of carpets from the late 19th century,apparently produced in the Ferdaus/Qaen/Birjand area represent a last creative use of the Herati pattern and connects deftly to its progenitors.These “Baluch” style carpets(invariably on a blue ground) can be divided into two clusters,the first of which employs a large blown-up screenshot of the Herati pattern without serrated leaves


2-L-R:ebay,Sothebys 2008,Private Collection

In the second,more numerous group serrated leaves have been inserted,often in a clumsy way.The group is on the whole not so illustrious

3-L-R:ebay Gasparion;ebay DM;ebay oldandnewrugs

The borders on these rugs are derived from Indo Persian examples of the 17th century,much simplified


5-L-R:T.Hubbard;Davoud,Amsterdam;Koch Collection

Occasionally a palmette is added to the border system,and the ground colour may vary

6-Clockwise:Akif rugs;A.C Edwards;Anthony Fahmie;Peter Hansen

A final example,with arabesque borders,is a return to origin

7-Private Collection

The earliest carpets to use the Herati pattern are a distinguished group of large Kelleh.These frequently employ an arabesque border,”the turtle” of Edwards,and a distinct narrow yellow guard.The border concept seems to have been borrowed from a group of Polonaise carpets


The wool is soft and shiny,the colours of impeccable quality.Extensive use is made of jufti knotting and the ground structure is all-cotton,with a classic three weft structure,often of blue cotton.The general impression is more of a thin and pliable textile than of a heavy carpet.The design concept was later transplanted to western Persia where it was adopted by Kurdish weavers,border and all.The creators of these early Herati Pattern carpets also wove rugs with the Harshang design,whose elements were drawn from a variety of Classical sources.It is likely that they consolidated this design as well,which appears in a perfected form at the same time.The Harshang was also taken to West Persia and penetrated into the Caucasus.Interestingly the Herati pattern never made much headway into Caucasian weaving until the late 19th century,most prominently amongst a group of Persianate style rugs attributed to Perepedil

9-Ulrich Schurmann

An equally early and elegant form of the Mina Khani design also appeared,featuring the three petal border.

A splendid example was published by Gans-Ruedin


At least two dated pieces are known

11-Sothebys 1983,dated 1806

12-Christies 1995,dated 1807

It must be said that the inwoven dates are hard to see.An often cited piece was at the Bernheimer Sale


Once in the MAK,Vienna,but now lost


An example published by the London dealer Jekyll

15-Jekyll 2-24

A small fragment highlights the typical multi-plane spiral vine framework derived from classical sources,and the delicate coloured outlining


A distinguished weave


Heinrich Jacoby also published two border fragments,well knowing they were early pieces from Khorasan


A number of Khorasan carpets with Herati pattern entered the Victoria & Albert Museum in the 19th century

19-V&A 436-1884

Another V&A piece has a central medallion

20-V&A 256-1892

A further two items, on a rare white ground, feature medallions

21-Christies 1993

22-Christies 2003

Three carpets display a border with white petals,probably Indian-derived

23-Christies 2012

The following with an elaborate border which also appears in a Mina Khani field variation

24-Druot 1979

25-The V&A `s 437-1884

A last white-petal border carpet in the V&A also occurs on later Baluch rugs

26-V&A 300-1884

Two carpets are known with a square format(always supposing that they have not been cut)


28-James Burns Collection

That these carpets,woven for Persian homes,were not suitable for everyday Western use is clear,and many have survived only in fragmentary condition

29-Bob Maurer;Bertram Frauenknecht;Private Collection

30-Patrick Pouler;Private Collection;Gene Dunford

A carpet in the V&A entered the Museum in 1927 in poor condition yet has an interesting combined Herati/Mina Khani design forming substrate medallions

31-V&A T65-1927

And a last kelleh format rug with standard border features an Indian type medallion lattice

32-MAK Vienna,now lost

Contemporary productions also included a group of exquisite Harshang design carpets,some of which are dated.They all feature Nastaliq inscribed verses from Sadi and Hafez

33-Bernheimer,dated 1808

34-Clockwise:Bausback;Bernheimer,dated 1813;Sothebys 2001+2012,dated 1718;Christies 2006

Mention has been made of the copies of the Khorasan carpets later executed in West Persia,chiefly amongst Kurdish weavers.These are generally easy to recognise

35-Christies 1980

An example in the V & A Museum is much more difficult to detect


Dated 1860-61,it entered the museum in 1880,so the dating is likely to be correct,and not simply copying.It is of very high quality,but the colouring is earthier,with less coloured outlining and a folksier approach

37-V&A 390-1880

The motif of a diamond lattice with rosettes and palmettes is a recurring feature in carpets of the 17th century.It is used extensively on Vase carpets as the integral bracket of a scrolling vine system

38-Sothebys 1969

Two carpets,perhaps from Khorasan,exhibit the nascent lattice rosette and leaf designs and also incorporate an arabesque split leaf,which was later carried over into the Caucasus to become what is known as the Avshan design.A heightened marshalling of design elements is apparent

39-Prinz von Schwarzenberg

40-Textile Gallery

Essentially a sickle-leaf design,the Herati can also be deduced from a carpet such as the Gulbenkian


Two Khorasan carpets seem to pave the way for the Herati design inception


The above described as North West Persian by Kurt Erdmann.The Avshan split arabesques are still present but a lot of pruning has taken place.Another item appeared at Christies in 2014


For comparison,an 18th century Caucasian carpet with the "Avshan "design

44-Sothebys 1993

Khorasan was always a clearinghouse for ideas coming from India.An Indian inspiration for the Herati is not inconceivable.With a little historical squinting the Altman Mughal carpet with its rosette-sickle leaf composition(a recurrent in Cairene carpets)might well have led the way

45-Altman Collection,MET

A Lahore carpet in the collection of the Duke of Buccleugh reveals more of the Herati`s underlying vine system


Another Lahore production is,shortly before conception,almost Ferahan-like

47-Benguiat sale 1932

And for design compression nothing can surpass a Millesfleurs carpet( the white petals of Safavid origin)


Much maligned,the Herati pattern eventually led to a trivialisation of the oriental carpet.In the West it entered people´s consciousness through the medium of what Cecil Edwards termed  the"Gentlemen`s Carpet".Future generations grew up on its playingfields


The history of Iran can be read in its carpets.After the downfall of Isfahan in 1722 the old regime was finished.By the early 19th century a group of workshops in Khorasan  had developed the Herati,Harshang and Mina Khani patterns in a concerted effort,and a new era began.

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