RUGS, in the house beautiful, impart richness and represent refinement. Their manufacture was one of the earliest incentives for the blending of colors in such harmony as to please the eye and satisfy the mind ; consequently, it is one of the most important of the industrial arts. Since the days when ancient peoples first lay down to sleep wrapped in the skins of animals, the human intelligence has quickened, and as the race has become more civilized, rugs have gradually taken the place of skins. Thus began the industry of rug-weaving, and it has grown to such an extent that it is now of world-wide importance.
The word Rug is used in this volume in the following sense : “A covering for the floor ; a mat, usually oblong or square, and woven in one piece. Rugs, especially those of Oriental make, often show rich designs and elaborate workmanship, and are hence sometimes used for hangings.” In several books rugs and carpets are referred to as identical. In fact most written information on rugs has been catalogued under the term carpets; and there seems to be good reason for assuming that the terms tapestries and carpets, as used in ancient times, were synonymous with the word rugs of the present day, for these were spread loosely on the floor without the aid of fastenings.
Historical references to spinning and to the weaving of tapestries date back to a very early period. An ancient Jewish legend states that Naamah, daughter of Lamech and sister of Tubal-Cain, was the inventor of the spinning of wool and of the weaving of thread into cloth.
On at least two of the wonderful rock-cut tombs at Beni-Hassan, in Egypt, 28002600 B.C., there are pictures of weavers at work. In one, women are filling a distaff with cotton, twisting it with a spindle into thread, and weaving this on an upright loom. Beside them is a man, evidently an overseer, watching the weavers and their work. The other wall-painting represents a man weaving a checkered rug on a horizontal loom. Other monuments of ancient Egypt and of Mesopotamia bear witness that the manufacture of rugs dates a considerable time prior to 2400 B. C.
At Thebes a fresco, dating 1700-1000 B. C., represents three men weaving at an upright loom. A small rug, discovered in that city some time between the years 666 and 358 B. C., and now in the possession of Mr. Hay in England, is described by Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson as follows : ” This rug is eleven inches long by nine broad. It is made like many carpets of the present day, with woollen threads on linen string. In the centre is the figure of a boy in white, with a goose above it, the hieroglyphic of ‘ child’ upon a green ground, around which is a border composed of red, white, and blue lines. The remainder is yellow, with four white figures above and below, and one at each side, with blue outlines and red ornaments ; and the outer border is made up of red, white, and blue lines, with a fancy device projecting from it, with a triangular summit, which extends entirely round the edge of the rug. Its date is uncertain, but from the child, the combination of the colors, and ornamental border, I am inclined to think it really Egyptian, not of the Pharaonic, but of the Greek and Roman period.” Dr. Samuel Birch, who edited the last edition of Wilkinson’s work, affirms that this is so.
On the marbles of Nineveh is represented the pectoral worn by Sardanapalus. It is an exact miniature of a Kurdish rug of modern times. The Tree of Life, the motif of most of the Persian rug designs, is in the centre, and the border is ornamented with rosettes and bars.
Phoenician art is intermediate between Egyptian and Assyrian. The color most prized in the art of Phoenicia was the rare and beautiful purple (properly crimson) dye used exclusively for the garments of royalty. For centuries the process of making this dye was lost, and even at the time of its highest fame it was familiar only to the maritime Canaanites, who procured the color from an animal juice of the murex, a shellfish. The shellfish and the dye were known to the ancients as conchylium.
When Cleopatra, the famous Queen of Egypt, went to meet Caesar for the first time, she knew that he would not allow her to enter his presence if recognized, and therefore she cleverly had herself carried into his palace wrapped in a rug of the finest texture. It may well be imagined that the unexpected disclosure of the charms of this subtle Egyptian shared largely in bringing the great Roman general into her toils.
Besides Biblical writers, Homer, .AEschylus, Plautus, Metellus Scipio, Horace, Pliny, Lucan, Josephus, Arrian, and Athenaeus all speak of rugs. To persons interested in rugs the search for these allusions is a most fascinating occupation.
The Egyptians bestowed the greatest care and patience upon the rugs they wove, as upon all else of their handiwork. They spread them before the images of their gods, and also on the ground for their sacred cattle to lie upon. They loved Nature intensely ; like true lovers, they seemed to have reached her very heart, and they symbolized her works in their artistic designs. Even to this day many Oriental rugs have symbolic signs borrowed from the works of Nature.
In design and color the rugs woven to-day in the Orient are similar to the Assyrian and Babylonian textile fabrics of 1000607 B. C. (Fall of Nineveh) and 538 (Fall of Babylon). At that early period these were used for awnings and floor-coverings in the palaces of the Assyrian kings Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Sardanapalus. The designs on the stone slab from the palace of Koyunjik, Nineveh, and on the door-sill from the palace at Khorsabad, are probably copied from rugs.
From Egypt and Chaldea the manufacture of rugs was carried into Assyria, and then into Asia Minor. Ancient Egypto-Chaldean designs are occasionally seen in modern rugs, but usually in a modified form. For a long time the industry of rug-weaving was supreme in the countries mentioned, but about 480 B. C. it arrived at a high degree of perfection in Greece. Later, the art was corrupted by the Byzantine (Lower Roman) influence. In the seventh and eighth centuries the Saracens came into power in the Persian Empire after the fall of the Sassanian dynasty, and in the African and Syrian provinces. The Saracens believed that all labor tended to the glory of God ; consequently, on their western campaigns they carried rug-manufacture into Sicily, Spain, France, and Italy ; and thus it was introduced through-out Europe. It should be here noted that the name Saracen was given by the later Romans and Greeks to certain of the nomadic tribes on the Syrian borders of the Roman Empire. After the introduction of Mohammedanism the name was applied to the Arab followers of Mohammed.
From earliest times it has been the custom in the East to hang rugs over graves. About the vault of the mosque at Hebron where the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are said to be buried, rugs are hung at the present day.
During times of grand fetes in Europe, when house decoration is done with lavishness, people, to make their homes more attractive, drape with beautiful rugs the balconies, the loggias, and the front walls of buildings. The richness and color of these rugs blend harmoniously with flags and other emblems, producing an effect of great magnificence and splendor.
When we see the exquisite loom-work that has been wrought in the Orient, we sometimes wonder how the weavers have achieved such success, for they are destitute of what we call education, and they dwell amid the humblest surroundings. But Nature has been their instructor, and the rare shadings and varied designs of the rugs are excellent imitations of the forms and hues of the natural world. The weavers have intuitively grasped what is correct in color from the works of Nature surrounding them, and we reap the benefit in the rich specimens of their art which they export.
These patient toilers of the East delight in subdued colorings and artistic designs ; and without a doubt many a story is woven in with the threads that go to form the fabric, many a song of joy, many a dirge of woe and despair. The number of Orientals engaged in the manufacture of rugs in the United States is increasing. It is now not an uncommon sight to see these weavers at work before the loom in the show windows of the rug-importing establishments of the larger cities.
The increasing use of polished hard wood and yellow pine floors and mosaic work, even in buildings of moderate cost, is displacing the use of cheap flooring, which could be covered satisfactorily only with carpets or matting. This has enormously increased the demand for rugs ; and the selection of them affords a much wider range for the exercise of personal taste and discrimination in securing an article not only of greater artistic merit, but of greater durability.
( Originally Published Late 1900’s )