Influence of Herat
by Ian Grant
the late 1300's a conqueror known as Timur (or Tamerlane as he
is known in the West), a distant relative of Chingiz Khan,
came to the fore in Persia. In seven years he had conquered
the cities of Tabriz, Shiraz, and Bagdad. Nicknamed the
"Sultan of Babylon," Timur initiated what was to begin one of
the greatest artistic periods in Persian history; a period
whose center was the city of Herat, in the province of Khorasan.
the early 1400's the Timurid empire moved its capital from Samarakand
to the city of Herat. Herat quickly evolved into the new
center for Muslim science, literature and art. Shah Baisunker
Mirza (one of Timur's sons), brought Persia's finest craftsmen,
artists and calligraphers to Herat. At the same time Baisunker
established a library and academy for these artisans and as a
result, Herat was soon producing some of the most elaborate and
innovative works in calligraphy and painting in the Koran. It
was from these illuminations and calligraphies that the Herat
rug designers of the time found many of their motifs such as scrolling
vines, interlacing leaves and animals incorporated into the vine-work.
Above all in importance were the serrated leaf and fan-shaped
palmett motifs. These two not only played a major role in
identifying rugs being woven in Herat during Timurid rule, but
also began to appear more and more in other competing rug weaving
centers around the country, an unmistakable sign of the influence
Herat was having during this time.
In the following Safavid empire, Herat was still a very influential
rug weaving center even though the capital had been moved to the
competing rug market of Isphahan. To this day there is debate
over the origin of some of the great carpets attributed to the
city of Isphahan woven during the Safavid empire. Many rug
scholars point to the prominent serrated leaves and palmetts in
these Isphahans and claim that these carpets could arguably just
as well bear the name Herat rather than Isphahan. In any event,
these Isphahans and their contemporaries from Tabriz and Kashan
all show influence from Herat. Not long after, these same
motifs reached into the remote tribal regions such as Anatolia,
Turkmenstans and the Caucasus.
One of the great examples of weaving to come out of Herat is a
pair of rugs called the Emperor's carpets. These rugs are
dedicated by an inscription in the border of the rugs to the Shah,
undoubtedly referring to Shah Tahmsep who ruled in Persia during
the time these rugs were produced. One hangs in the Metropolitan
Museum of Arts, the other in the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.
These rugs incorporate all of the major styles developed
in Herat. Motifs include primary, secondary and tertiary vine
systems, Chinese cloud bands (an adopted motif from the Far East),
"chi-lins (mythical beasts of Chinese origin), dragons, lions,
and buffaloes, felines, molifons, spotter deer, tigers and lions,
masks are also seen," and of course
the prominent fan-shaped palmettes and flowing serrated leaves
are well represented. These carpets were presented to Leopold
I of Austria by Russia's Peter the Great in 1698, and since then
have been dubbed the Emperor's Carpets.
city itself is now only a shadow of its former self. Inside the
borders of Afghanistan it now shows the ravages of the 19th and
20th centuries. The old city, however, lives on in other
ways. Today's rug market continues to show the influences of 15th
century Herat. Kashans and Bidjar, two of the more popular Persian
designs, are in large part made up of the serrated leaf and palmett
motif - Bidjar being more geometric, Kashan more curvilinear.
In the last decade there has even been a resurgence of rugs
specifically attributed in design to these great Herat carpets
woven during the Timurid and early Safavid empires.