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Claremont Rugs - CompanyA Persian Tabriz, circa 1850

A Persian Tabriz, circa 1850, with a cerulean field tone and astonishing, original interlocking pattern is the crown jewel of this collection of antique floral carpets.


One chooses to furnish their home with antique Oriental rugs for several reasons. They serve as luxurious floor coverings, adding comfort and warmth to their environment, and are also extremely long-lasting. Most importantly, they are handcrafted works of art, which provide unmatched beauty and grace.


As with any art form, to truly appreciate antique carpets, one must learn how to look at them properly. “Educated viewing” amplifies the appreciation of the pieces you own and is a valuable aid in choosing rugs that are certain to provide years of enjoyment. As with the finest in any art form, my clients find that their woven treasures continue to educate their eyes the longer they live with them.

Oriental carpets from the 19th century comprise the oldest category of rugs still available that are practical to live with rather than hang on the wall or collect. Their origins lie in Persia (modern-day Iran), the Caucasus Mountains (today Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and southwestern Russia) Turkey, India, and Turkestan. Tribal groups within each area except India contributed significantly to this genre of visual art.


Claremont Rug - An oversize, late 19th century Persian Malayer Carpet

An oversize, late 19th century Persian Malayer carpet’s rich, naturally dyed colors and luxurious camelhair field adds splendor to this Asian-inspired urban décor.


Persia and the Caucasus Mountains were by far the most prolific rug-weaving regions during the 19th century. The sheer variety of styles from these two areas can be daunting. However, I suggest that new clients look at the rugs displayed on our website and to register which rugs they are drawn to. From my experience, most often, they gravitate to individual styles rather consistently. This is an excellent place to start. Take some time to look at a number of examples from the region of your interest.

In looking at antique rugs, one should initially strive to view them in the light of appreciation rather than criticism. Each rug is unique, the product of highly skilled artisans who developed their physical dexterity and sense of artistic balance over many years. An almost incomprehensible amount of creative effort went into making each carpet, regardless if it was woven in the countryside or in a workshop setting. A tightly-woven room-size carpet may have taken a group of weavers over a year to complete. The finest oversize and palace-size carpets are the result of three to ten years of effort by a team of up to 12 weavers.

Claremont Rugs - Persian tribal Afshar

Unifying this art-collector’s gallery space, a Persian tribal Afshar presents a tour-de-force rendering of the “Cane” pattern.

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This 170-year-old carpet in the important Mohtasham Kashan style presents a graceful, perfect harmony among its multitude of motifs and colors.

This 170-year-old carpet in the important Mohtasham Kashan style presents a graceful, perfect harmony among its multitude of motifs and colors.

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Detail of Mohtasham Kashan (above) showing sensitive spacing and diversity of scale.


When looking at an antique rug, as when viewing a landscape painting, position yourself so that you can see the entire piece at a single glance. Notice what it is about the carpet that catches your attention first. What in its overall design and combination of colors engages you? What are your eyes drawn to next?


Be sure to view the rug from two or more vantage points. As the napped pile of most carpets absorbs or reflects light differently from each new angle, you will be surprised to see that the colors take on strikingly varied hues, and the design has a somewhat new appearance. The most striking differences emerge when the rug is compared from one end or the other, as the knots on an Oriental rug were cut at a consistent angle, so that light reflects off the surface from one end and is absorbed at the other.

After getting an initial impression, now examine the rug’s central area, referred to as the field. There are numerous general styles of fields in Oriental rugs, each offering a distinct ambiance. Does it have the strong focal point of a commanding medallion? Is the surrounding field unadorned, sparsely patterned, or filled with dense ornamentation? A striking derivation of the single centerpiece format is the multi-medallion design of repeating or individually rendered large motifs. Converse to the use of large field elements, an allover field pattern may present spaciously free-floating, smaller motifs or a sumptuously detailed connected design.


Whatever the formatting, the magic of the master weaver’s art lies in the ability to create overall unity between all the motifs and tonalities in the rug as a whole, as well as in the relationship between individual details. Take time to familiarize yourself with its secondary motifs--a tiny animal, delicately drawn flowers or triangular forms resembling mountains. Look at each detail in relation to the larger pattern of which it is a part. Close inspection may reveal that even a tiny cross in one corner of the field is harmonious in terms of shape, size, and location with the entire rug. Though nameless, the most gifted carpet weavers created works, as in every art form, which serve as profound wells of emotional enrichment. The fields of antique rugs capture harmonious moments frozen in time.


Virtually every Persian and tribal pile rug is composed of a series of borders that function as a frame to its field. In the East, it is said that a rug’s borders simulate a window to the mysteries of the universe and that the pattern we see in the field extends infinitely in each direction. Peruse this ”frame” that is actually made up of a main border and narrow secondary ones. Each border may be totally distinctive in terms of design, yet the weaver usually aimed to include certain elements that are common in all of them, amplifying the field’s vision.

Claremont Rugs - A tribal Karakul herd with full coats of fleece.


As well as being a visual delight, getting to know an antique Oriental rug is a tactile experience. Be sure to touch the rug and experience the quality of the wool. The highest quality rug-making fibers are from Karakul sheep, a breed known to have existed in Mesopotamia as early as 1400 BC. Interestingly, the Karakul’s tail acts as sack holding 10 to 20 pounds of fat (oil), giving the animal the renowned ability to thrive under extremely harsh conditions, produce the richest of sheep’s milk, and yield a high lanolin content for its fleece.

Lanolin-rich wool in a rug is remarkably glossy and stain-resistant. It enters more deeply into the wool’s fibers when walked on and being subjected to light for many decades, creating the legendary patina of 19th century carpets. It also acts as a crystal, capturing light in the dyed yarn strands, giving extra illumination to the colors. The greater amount of lanolin in the wool, the more beautiful and long-lasting the carpet will be.

Claremont Rugs - This 150-year-old Persian Tehran “Vase Rug”

This 150-year-old Persian Tehran “Vase Rug” envisions a paradisical view of nature, depicting myriad birds and blossoms in an astounding range of tonalities.

Claremont Rugs - Persian Tabriz “Garden of Paradise Rug”

This 170-year-old carpet in the important Mohtasham Kashan style presents a graceful, perfect harmony among its multitude of motifs and colors.

Claremont Rugs Color Wheel

The 12 tonalities of color wheel born of primary red, blue and yellow.


After touching a rug’s surface, stand back and note how all the colors interact. Is the overall effect harmonious? Does one or more of the colors disturb the artistic balance? Unlike contemporary art, traditional Persian and tribal rugs were created from a palette that invariably represents the three basic areas on the color wheel— red, blue, and yellow. The most profound rugs, be they geometric Bakshaishs and Kazaks, or floral Mohtasham Kashans and Tabrizs, present an incredibly awe-inspiring range of tonalities that combine in utmost harmony.


The Near Eastern weavers did not approach the use of color as a science, such as the color theory studied by Western artists, but the result of epiphanies at the loom and the dye pot over thousands of years. Revering Nature as representative of the divine, they recognized their most successful works came from capturing their experience of it, sometimes symbolically, sometimes evocatively. As a result, Western artists are enamored with the chromatic wisdom held in antique carpets. Gauguin once wrote, “…study carpets and there you will find all knowledge.”

Finally, view at least one corner of the rug from the back. From looking closely at the rug’s particular structure, it is possible to determine in which region it was woven, which is how authentic antique Persian or tribal rugs are designated. Information such as the number of knots, color of the horizontal weft threads, and whether the surface is flat or ridged can be clues to the exact origin of a rug. Oriental carpets sprang from a plethora of centuries-old artistic traditions that begot an astonishing spectrum of styles--from geometric rugs of nomadic origin to the curvilinear “court” aesthetic and every nuance in-between. Tribal, village, town, and city carpets all look different from the back.

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This gracious 19th century Persian Serapi carpet with its large-scale botanical forms masterfully captures the swaying motions of a garden in a gentle breeze.

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With virtually two centuries of age, this little nomad rug from Persian Azerbaijan brilliantly presents the tribal art of asymmetrical positioning of design.

Claremont Rugs - Knot density in antique Oriental

Knot density in antique Oriental carpets usually falls between 50-450 kpsi and is one of nine defining factors of an antique rug’s overall quality.


Determining the number of knots per square inch (kpsi) is often misunderstood, asserting rugs with the highest knot count to be considered the “best.” The tightness of weave is something a novice rug buyer can comprehend, but it is gravely misrepresenting the valuations that determine the most brilliant works of art. In actuality, knot count allowed different artistic traditions to emerge—from the folkloric, more loosely woven village Bakshaish style to a penultimately refined Mohtasham Kashan. A world-class tribal Kazak from the mid-19th century will always be much more loosely woven than a decorative-level floral Kashan from the 1920s. In fact, the Kazak’s large knots and wooly surface serve to significantly enhance its folkloric aesthetic. Using the fineness of knotting to determine quality is only applicable between rugs from the same weaving tradition.

Look at your antique rugs as genuine works of art that reveal endless surprises and delight as you become more and more familiar with them. Overall, you will find that the closer you examine a masterfully rendered carpet, the more your mind will become captivated and your spirits inspired.

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