- Tribal Simplicity or Early Modernism?
a few years ago "Gabbeh" rugs were only known to the people of
south Persia. The Lurs and Qashqi tribes of south Persia have
been making these heavy blanket-like woolen rugs for perhaps 400
years. There is recorded information about them in travelers'
diaries and other such sources. The oldest source is a document
from the sixteenth century A.D. In a decree from Shah Tahmasb,
the Safavid ruler (1524-1576), concerning a reception to be provided
for Humayun, the Mugal emperor of India, who sought refuge in
Iran in 1540. The decree reads in part:
we have ordered a silk tent to be set up for the kitchen near
the royal pavilion and the private quarters, covering the ground
with silken carpets from Khorasan, with gabbehs, with felts from
Jam, and with suzanis (embroideries)".
word "Gabbeh" is of Persian origin, and is found in current usage
dialects of Fars province. According to the definition given for
Gabbeh in the standard Persian dictionaries, it is "a kind of
carpet with long weft" (meaning long pile).
In more recent times Gabbehs failed to capture the attention of
wealthy Iranians or middle class city dwellers, perhaps for the
fact that they are much simpler in design than the traditional
Persian rugs. Such simplicity, however, gives us a clue as to
how and why they were made.
Gabbehs were made and used by tribal nomads of south Persia for
their own use. Used either as a tent floor covering or a blanket,
they did not need to be elaborate in design. Known for their fantastic
imagination and high quality craftsmanship, the weavers of south
Persia did not find it necessary to create delicately woven rugs
for the floor of their tent. Thus a simpler and more functional
rug was created for utilitarian purposes. The geometry of
tribal rugs which remains a recognizable pattern in all such rugs
in the Near East was further simplified and a more open space
was created. Other tribal symbolism such as animal or human depictions
and floral related patterns were incorporated in to the Gabbeh
The apparent similarities between Gabbehs and the work of early
modernist painters such as Piet Mondrian and other members of
the De Stijl movement explains the popularity of Gabbehs in our
time. While acknowledging that such similarities are only
superficial, we can not dismiss the need for simplicity which
is behind the creation of such obviously different products.