Armenian Carpets & Artifacts
Rug weaving has been part of the Armenian culture since prehistoric times. According to renowned rug Scholar Ulrich Schurmann the earliest known existing rug, known as the Pazyryk, circa 500 B.C., was in all probability woven by ancestors of the Armenians, the Urartuans (the people of Ararat).
The Pazyryk rug is a sophisticated piece of weaving, clearly the result of hundreds of years of rug weaving experience, the colors are still brilliant today, 2500 years after it was woven.
The outer border is composed of a row of horses, some being led and some being ridden. Each horse has a saddle cover or shabrak with a unique design, many of the designs on the shabrak's can still be seen in Armenian rugs today. e.g. the Karachov Kazak (above) woven circa 1850.
Published in Weavers, Merchants and Kings, the Inscribed Rugs of Armenia Catalogue Kimbell Art Museum 1984.
The christian date and the multitude of crosses and small figures on this rug attribute to Armenia origin.
In the 13th century Marco Polo wrote that the Armenians and Greeks on the West coast of Asia Minor wove the finest carpets in the world.
Everything needed for the development of rug weaving existed in the mountains of Armenia. Sheep, natural vegetation for dyestuff and most important metal salts, copper, tin and alum, from the volcanic soil, which provided the all important mordants to stabilize the dyes.
The tympanum of the gavit of Noravank monastery (pictured below) shows a stone carving of Mary with the infant Jesus sitting on a carpet. It was not until the 15th century that Italian artists began to show the virgin and child enthroned with carpets underfoot, This was after Gentile Bellini returned from his trip to Asia Minor in 1479 where no doubt he saw carpets. This is further evidence of the use of carpets in Armenian culture.
14th & 15th century Armenian manuscripts (upper left) depict Mary as a weaver and spinner. No other groups at this time show this activity. This demonstrates that weaving and spinning played a large part in the Armenian daily life.
The mission of the Armenian Rugs Society founded in 1980 was to find as many rugs as possible with Armenian inscriptions and categorize them according to design and technical analysis. If several rugs of a certain type were found to have Armenian inscriptions , it could reasonably be assumed that similar type rugs without inscription should be attributed to Armenian workmanship.
Just below the inscription the element in the center of the field is surmounted by a prominent cross.
Inscription: “This rug by the philologist KirakosI herbey donate to the Lady Hripsime. I wove it in the year 1202.”
The Konya Kazak circa 1780 is remarkably similar in size and design to the Hripsime rug 1202 which is inscribed in Armenian. This and the cross on top of the central element, plus the many crosses that are placed throughout the field and the upper and lower borders leads us to believe that it was woven by Armenians.
Over time the central cross was replaced by a crescent. Rugs of this design are now considered muslim prayer rugs.
Serapi Circa 1800 woven at a time of artistic freedom for Armenians.
The wide archaic border has alternating oak leaf and large crosses. With the advent of unrest leading to the genocide the crosses become wine glasses or chalices, as the weavers learn to use covert symbols to show their Christianity. The stylized dragons in the spandrels are similar to those found in Armenian dragon rugs.
Armenian history has many references to Vishaps, mythological dragons who live on Mount Araratand the Ararat valley. It was believed that Vishaps were guardians of life giving waterways, seas, rivers and springs. Armeniais located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the Black and Caspian Seas. Hundreds of years ago conduits were built using tufa stone and sometimes hollowed out tree trunks to direct the runoff from the snows of mount Ararat to the villages in the valley. The intersection where the conduit changed direction often had a stone Vishap carved above it. In the spring families packed a picnic and walked up into the mountains to remove the debris (sticks and leaves) so the life giving water could run freely.
In December 1920, Armenia became the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. In December of 1922 it became one of the fifteen republics that made up the Soviet Union. The Government banned cottage industries and as part of the industrialization process forced the weaving manufacture into factories. The Armenian Dragon rug pictured to the right has to be one of the first examples coming out of the factories, because it still made use of the natural dyed wool from the weavers homes. Later versions making use of this same design were executed using artificial dyes and harsh colors.
Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion in 301 AD. Up until the late 1800s, weavers felt free to weave christian symbols into their carpets. With persecution at its height during World War I and after, weavers had to obscure and hide their Christian symbols.
In 1920 Armenia became Soviet Armenia under the control of the Soviet Union. As part of the industrialization process, harsh, artificial dyes were supplied to the weavers who were now forced to work out of factories.
Since the 1980s there has been a return to the cottage industry of the past. A return to traditional designs and the use of hand spun wool and natural dyes that resemble the admirable antique carpets more than anything woven in the past 100 years.
Throughout the exhibition, one may uncover traditional design elements within the carpets, that are deeply rooted in Armenian culture through the ages: crosses, rams horns, falcons, stylized figures, dragons, and oak leaf and wineglass borders.
The Carpet pictured to the left with its rich but restraint colors and elegant design, is one of the last rugs of its kind woven before World War I and the genocide, that brought an end to the classic period of rug creation.
In the Armenian Village Rug below, the center medallion has been stretched into a rectangle, creating a pattern that has been linked to the classic floor-plan of the Armenian church.
‘Dr. Lucy Der Manuelian has suggested that just as in early times a church building might have been dedicated to the memory of a deceased person by a wealthy patron, in more recent times both the memorial steles called ”khatchk’ar” and inscribed rugs laid out in a similar way may have fuflilled the same function.’ -Armenian Rugs from the Gregorian Collection, 1987
The date is written in a uniquely Armenian manner. The day of the month is written over the month and inserted between century and decade of the year.
The Armenian textile pictured above, dated March 31st, 1918 is believed to have been woven earlier and the date embroidered in to commemorate the strife in Baku where Tashnak forces aligned with the Bolsheviks to fight for a free Armenia.