persian cultureThe timeless appeal of the Persian rug

Foreign invaders, rock and rollers, and other menacing creatures have tramped, tread, and indulged to excess on the floral sprays and undulating patterns of this little Iranian masterpiece, which if history be any guide will come to see many more tales woven upon it in time.

Even on todays runways, Persian rugs and Persian rugrelated designs continue to impress shionistas. Aside from some of Suis designs, Hermes Persianinspired Tabriz collection from named after the Iranian city, and Givenchys Persian rugobsessed authumn/winter collection, Alexander McQueen autumn/winter is also worth noting for a lush headtotoe Persian rug getup, as is Dutch designer Marlou Breuls, who bagged the peoples choice award at the MercedesBenz Fashion Week in Amsterdam for an outfit largely composed of an actual Persian rug. Other labels including Etro and Liam Gallaghers Pretty Green have also long been extensive use of paisley in their designs.

Adored for their intricate designs, sumptuous colours, and inimile craftsmanship not to mention their investment value Persian rugs have not only found their way into households and interiors the world over, but also onto catwalks and concert stages, as well as in scores of artworks.

As with the highheeled shoes introduced to Europe by Iranian cavalrymen, and the later intuation with Iranian philosophy, ancient religion, and literature during the Enlightenment, Europeans in all corners of the continent were going gaga over Persian rugs.

Poetry, wine, and song such splendid things have, for millennia, constituted the very essence of the saffronstrewn Iranian soul and psyche.

Pharnabazus appeared dressed in clothes that would have been worth a lot of gold, Xenophon remarks in reference to a Persiansatrapin his Hellenica.And then his servants came forward to spread down for him the kind of soft rugs on which the Persians sit.

While Alexander may have burned to oblivion many of those soft rugs when he torched down Persepolis, the Persian rug like many other aspects of Iranian art and architecture not only survived, but thrived, too. In the centuries that followed, rugs continued to be associated with luxury, as well as indigenous folk culture. But it wasnt until the golden age ushered in by Shah Abbas the Great of the Savid dynasty in the th Century that the Persian rug truly became thePersian rug.

And, while Sadighis comments are certainly disheartening, judging from its enduring popularity and the many luxurious and stylish associations it enjoys, the Persian rug or, at least, theideaof the Persian rug isnt going to bite the dust anytime soon.

Prior to his reign, many of Europes carpets came from Ottoman Turkey due to its proximity, but, as a result of various reforms and treaties brought about by Shah Abbas r. , as well as Western colonial interests, the iles industry was given a muchneeded jolt, and began operating on a scale as never before seen. Shah Abbas really revived the carpetproduction industry, says Dr. Aime Froom, curator of the forthcoming Bestowing Beauty exhibition of Iranian artects at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Among many other items from the Sixth Century to the th Century, two showstoppers will be on view at the exhibition; a rug that once belonged to Italys King Umberto, as well as an animalthemed one from the Savid era.

Visionary designer Paul Poiret invented the catwalk and freed women from corsets

According to specialist and dealer Anahita Sadighi, owner of Berlins Arts of Asia, Chinese and Indian varieties have been a problem since the Revolution. Important makers left the country and moved to India, Pakistan, and China, resulting in the spread of cheaply produced, lowquality carpets, she says. Persian carpets had always been regarded as highly prestigious luxury goods that only the elite could afford. This changed dramatically after the shift.

View of Credit Houston Museum of Fine Arts

From the reign of Shah Abbas onwards, Persian rugs can be seen in works of master artists of the Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque periods like Vermeer, Terborch, and Rubens. In Vermeers Young Woman with a Water Pitcherc. , for instance, the pitcher in question rests, according to the Met Museum, on a soft and thickly ured Persian carpet. The aristocratand jeweller Sir John Chardin, who visited Iran during the reign of Shah Abbas II, writes at length about rugs and other iles in his classic travelogue, and Virginia Woolfs genderbending protagonist Orlando was known to own some Persian rugs of his own as an ageless androgyne in Elizabethan England.

In spite of its domestic woes, the Persian rug still, as it has for aeons, holds a timeless, luxurious, opulent and extravagant allure and appeal.

Having, as usual, withstood the vagaries of time and fortune, Persian carpets once again found themselves all the rage in the th Century. In , the renowned Frenchhautecouturedesigner Paul Poiret hosted his Thousand and Second Night alternatively known as the Persian Fte a lavish, overthetop Persianthemed ball in the garden of his Paris residence. In addition to the extravagant Persianinspired outfits and congeries of exotic animals, there were, of course, choice Persian rugs laid out to complete the Persian effect.

Trade as well as exchanges in general with Europe increased, and the English, French, and Dutch, amongst others, were only too willing to lounge on their newfound luxuries from the land of Shakespeares Sophy Savid.

Bestowing Beauty Masterpieces from Persian Lands is on at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston until February ,

While these, undoubtedly, are some of the things for which Iranian culture is known and celebrated, perhaps no element of it is as recognisable and striking particularly abroad as Persian rugs and iles.

Theres something so magical about it, says Froom. It pervades so many different aspects of life.

Far from being a recent phenomenon, the scination with these iles is a history nearly as illustrious as the woven wonders themselves.

As for Persianrug patterns like paisley, which have become ubiquitous in shion and design, Suis words echo Frooms [Paisley] is so beautiful its not that you either like it or donteveryonelikes it I think theres a reason its been so successful in carpeting its a pattern you can really live with.

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This isnt to say that only Westerners have been intuated for centuries with Persian rugs, or that theyre seen as commonplace among Iranians.

In Iran, as well as in the Iranian diaspora, contemporary artists have been inspired by Persian rugs, and have employed related themes in their works. Babak Kazemis Exit of Shirin and Farhadseries, for instance, makes beautiful use of Persian rug ry in his mixedmedia photography, while diasporabased artists like Germanys Anahita Razmi and Americas Sara Rahbar have used actual Persian rugs in installation pieces dealing with their identities.

Persian rugs earned the spotlight elsewhere, too. In the s and s, acts like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and the Grateful Dead performed on Persianrugstrewn floors, while in more recent years, luminaries such as Eric Clapton, and the late Tom Petty and Leonard Cohen were spotted crooning away on them onstage. Still today, stages are often strewn with them while artists strum and sing away.

Some decades later, in the swinging s, the scination reached new s. Iranian patterns such as paisley or Persian pickles an indigenous Persianrug staple were all the rage amongst the hitmakers of the day, who often sourced paisley shirts and other garments of Iranian origin e.g. kaftans from boutiques like Granny Takes a Trip on Londons Kings Road, and Kleptomania on Carnaby Street. According to veteran designer Anna Sui, who recently enjoyed a retrospective at Londons Fashion and Textile Museum in the s, paisley was kind ofit. As a kid, I saw all the rock stars wearing paisley, like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. In the late s and early s, leading shion publications like GQand Vogue,as well as lesserknown ones such as Honey,visited Iran to stage exotic photoshoots in environs like Eshan and Persepolis. Needless to say, there were rugs aplenty.

View of Credit Houston Museum of Fine Arts

From contemporary art to shion and even music, the symbolism of the mous Persian rug pervades in many of aspects of modern life beyond interior decoration, says Joobin Bekhrad.

View of Credit The Metropolitan Museum of Art

All, however, is not well in Paradise or,pairidaeza,as it was originally known in Old Persian. Even after the lifting of many crippling sanctions, the Persianrug industry is under threat from cheaper ctorymade alternatives from China and India, as well as a relative loss in interest from some middleclass Iranians, who are opting for other home dcor. Chinese rugs may be emblematic of having made it to Iggy PopHere comes my Chinese rug! he and David Bowie howl in the song Success on s Lust for Life but to weavers of Persian rugs, who knot them entirely by hand in an entirely organic process using natural dyes and sheeps wool, they are inferior substitutes threatening not only their livelihood and way of life many local producers are, as the Scythians were, nomads, but also a priceless aspect of their heritage.

While the earliestknown carpet wasnt discovered in modernday Iran, its story concerns the region and the Iranian people nonetheless. Dating back to the Fifth Century B.C., the Pazyryk carpet was discovered in the s in Siberia amongst other treasures of the Scythians an ethnic Iranic people, like the Persians and Kurds, as well as the Alans of Georgia and Russia, for instance. It was well preserved in ice. Aside from the Scythians Iranic ethnicity, archaeologists have surmised that the carpet itself may have found its way to Siberia from Persepolis in Iran, as the motifs featured on it bear a striking resemblance to those that can still be seen around the ancient Persian capital. Even in ancient times, as Greek writers like Xenophon attest to, the Persians were known for their carpets.

How paisley went from Persia to Scotland to shion staple

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