How to Read a Rug

Most Oriental rugs have a meaning.  And, deciphering a rug’s meaning: its symbols and colors can be a real history lesson of the rug’s origin, geographic region and culture.  A few customers will ask and even want me to write down what I know of the rug’s design and origin.

Symbols or the colors and overall design of the rug can tell you if the rug was woven by a tribe (nomadic tribe) or woven in a village or town.  Usually the more formal the pattern the more urban the rug…and the more geometric the pattern the more likely the rug was woven by a family within a nomadic tribe.  For example, rugs that are directional like a prayer rug are more often nomadic family made rugs.

  Some common Symbols:  Animals and human figures whether children are adults will not be depicted in  Islamic rugs.  Hunting scenes on rugs besides depicting the hunt also symbolize well being with the deer, and long life with a stag.  A dog will symbolize protection or friendship…or guarding a palace. Bats represent happiness. A duck or crane represent loyalty or faithful marriage and longevity.  A camel represents wealth.  Fish symbolize abundance and prosperity.  Phoenix can represent the royal Empress while the Dragon the Emperor.  Peacocks are often promonitely displayed in Persian carpets and represent divine protection. A horse represents speed.  A lion victory. Butterfly happiness.  Elephant power. A tarantula prevents bad luck. And, a dove, of course, represents peace.

Symbols from nature:   Tree of life is common in gabbeh rugs and can be seen in both town rugs and nomadic tribal rugs.  The Weeping Willow represents meditation. The Lotus flower depicted in so many Tibetan rugs represents purity and rising above struggle and adversity. Also depicted in many Tibetan rugs, the Chrysanthemum represents a long life. Iris represents liberty.  Cyprus Tree  immortality.  Carnation is wisdom.  Bamboo wealth and honor.  The Lily purity. Peony rank, status and wealth. Pomegranate fertility.

Colors:   A rugs background or highlights of color can vary in meaning depending upon the region and culture, but overall a deep blue of the Persian rugs and Afghan rugs represents royalty as in “Royal blues” and a deeply felt spiritual life following religion.  Red can mean happiness and joy.  Orange devotion and piety.  Often a prayer rug will have highlights of orange or even purple to signify devotion. Yellow can be an imperial color only woven for Nobility (a palace rug color) also yellow can mean power or glory.  Green is a holy color, sacred, a prophet’s color…also it represents paradise.  Various shades of blue can represent solitude or truth as in ‘true blue.”  Black can represent death or destruction, but it is also commonly woven for it’s dramatic affect in highlighting other colors.   Brown often represents fertility, and White can represent a wedding or purity or peace or grief, in the Orient white is the color of mourning…depending upon the country of origin…the color white’s meaning changes.

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