For centuries the best carpets werein the exclusive purview of nobility, kings and rulers. From Persia, to Anatolia, from Bukhara all through Central Asia and eventually to India, munificent and intricate pieces were commissioned solely for royal palaces, religious buildings and later for official state buildings. These magnificent works of art adorned opulent palaces and courts and the Artists received patronage from Islamic and Secular rulers alike.
The Modern World’s fascination with the now ubiquitous ‘Oriental Rug’ began in the 1800’s with several carpet exhibits taking place simultaneously in London and America. In 1877, Julius Lessing wrote the first western book on Oriental Carpets and since then, they have remained pasted in the western imagination as the quintessential symbol of high Islamic art! This fascination persists till today and ‘Oriental Rugs’ remain coveted collectors items; and a symbol of luxury and elegance.
In modern times,Oriental Carpets have found permanent homes in Museum collections across the modern world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has over 600 Carpets as part of it’s ‘Islamic Art Collection’ while one of the most famous carpets in the world ‘The Ardabil Carpet’ is part of the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
A Persian Sickle-leaf carpet that broke the world record at a Sotheby's auction sold at $33.7 million.
Such rugs are also a mainstay at Auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Bonham’s and Christies with ‘lots’ typically being auctioned at values in excess of a 100,000 pounds. An antique ‘Agra Carpet’ from Northwest India recently sold at a price of $ 2,42,000 at Sotheby’s (28 April 2010 lot # N08652) while an Anatolian Rug at Christie’sgarnered 230,000 Pounds (Lot # 101 Sale 5106 ). Most recently a Persian Sickle-leaf carpet set a world record for the highest value paid for a carpet in an auction. The exquisite piece sold for $ 33.7 million.
Like other Art, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and Carpet buying for most people, remains an aesthetic choice rather than a commercial investment. Yet the commercial value of such works of Art, however subjective their beauty, is undeniable.
“Oriental Carpets” come from the traditional rug-weaving areas of the world: Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia, parts of western China and with the arrival of the Mughals eventually to India.
Here, in India, carpet making was initially an attempt to imitate the original Persian masterpieces but over-time the art took on a life and identity of it’s own and today some of the best hand-knotted carpets are created in Kashmir, Agra, Mirzapur and Badohi.
The renowned Indian Silk Carpet (produced in Kashmir) is highly sought after, for both their elaborate and intricate patterns as well as for the innate skill required in producing them.
For some, buying a hand-made rug is a pure aesthetic choice– a decorative preference if you will and in that an extension of one’s home and personality. But for some it is an investment in a work of Art. Whatever the reason, hand-knotted rugs have both life span and value to be passed on from generation to generation as a family heirloom.
Today the Carpet industry in India is facing serious challenges to its continuity. With mechanization and rising costs associated with handcrafting anything, this hitherto centuries old art is crumbling in the face of blue-collar jobs and urban aspirations.
Simply put the age-old Master of the craft or Karigar has no one to pass his knowledge onto. Which makes it even more relevant to invest in this industry, to try and suffuse life into a centuries-old Art form and to ensure its continuity. Whatever your reasons may be, whether it is encouraging this art form or investing for the future or to purely enjoy the beauty of the rug, you will end up owning a piece of woven history.