Persian rugs are frequently absorbed into the generic description “oriental,” a class of fine, patterned rugs woven throughout Asia and the Middle East. Strictly defined, Persian rugs come from Iran, although historic Persian rugs originated in that entire region, not just within present-day geographic boundaries. The rugs are characterized by dense weaves, unique knots and opulent colors.
The oldest known rug in existence is from the 5th century BCE. The 2,500-year-old Pazyryk rug, was found frozen in an icy tomb in Siberia, and still retains its deep red dye. The art of rug weaving is ancient and so too are the color dyeing techniques, symbols, styles, and motifs. The meaning attributed to these are a way to share stories and pass them down from generation to generation.
Colors used in rugs also convey meaning. The wool is dyed by masters before being passed to the expert artisan weavers. Before the advent of synthetic dyes plants and minerals were used to create the variety of beautiful colors for the wool. Madder root produces a rich dye in the red family and was a sought-after, traditional source of colorant for spun wool. The nomads who developed complex Persian weaving techniques used a variety of indigenous and imported plants, insects and sea creatures to obtain prized colors for their carpets. Snails, beetles, flowers and weeds — from ground cochineal to dried pomegranate.
Here we share the traditional meanings commonly attributed to the standard colors used in Persian (Oriental) area rugs. Characteristics, ideals and emotions evoked by color change with the times. In carpet lore, common themes emerge from the mists of history and still inform color choices for designs today. Red invoked happiness, joy, luck, courage, wealth and a vibrant life force. Blue symbolized solitude, honesty, power or the afterlife. Brown was the color of fertility, a reminder of earth and soil. Yellow suggested the sun and came to be associated with, and often reserved for, royalty and rulers. White could mean purity and peace or mourning and grief. Black was forceful, could edge into destructive, and was typically used for outlines and borders, to define a precise design. [Reference: Benna Crawford, SF Gate]
Weavers in modern Iran have re-embraced traditional dyes to create the colors and patinas of the finest antique rugs. Madder is back, as are many of the plant, insect and animal dyes that cheap, convenient chemicals replaced. The rarity of certain dye sources meant particular hues were expensive to acquire and strictly controlled. So, different colors stood for wealth, power and nobility as herdsmen’s floor coverings and blankets became ornaments and assets in palaces and affluent households. Yellows are made from pomegranate skins, vine leaves, saffron or Ox-eye chamomile flowers. It is no surprise that gold symbolizes wealth used wisely, but it is also the symbol of good health. People who favor the color gold are optimistic.
Blues: Dyers Woad Blue is produced from the plant of the same name, which grows and western Anatolia and yields indigo, which is the oldest and most important blue dye! Indigo, a deeper blue, symbolizes a mystical borderland of wisdom, self-mastery, and spiritual realization. While blue is the color of communication with others, indigo turns the blue inward to increase personal thought, profound insights, and instant understandings.
Black is authoritative and powerful; because black can evoke strong emotions, too much can be overwhelming. Black represents a lack of color, the primordial void, emptiness. It is a classic color for clothing, possibly because it makes the wearer appear thinner and more sophisticated. And white projects purity, cleanliness, and neutrality. Doctors don white coats, brides traditionally wear white gowns, and a white picket fence surrounds a safe and happy home.
The history of rugs is rich with cultural and social significance. Hand made area rugs carry with them a richness or creativity, artistry and meaning equal to all other works of art. With today’s technology advances and production methods, you now have quality options with hand-tufted wool and machine made rugs too, like the ones featured in this post. Next time we will share a guide to the meanings of common symbols found in hand knotted area rugs. Which color are you drawn to most?
See these area rugs and many more at any one of the NW Rugs Showrooms in Oregon, California and Nevada.