The Nuanced Grandeur of 19th Century Persian Ferahan rugs

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The Nuanced Grandeur of 19th Century Persian Ferahan rugs
Persian Ferahan “Gentlemen’s Carpet,” circa 1850, High Collectible.

OAKLAND, CA.- In this installment of continuing series of interviews and articles featuring Claremont Rug Company founder/president Jan David Winitz, Art Daily spoke with him about Ferahan and Ferahan Sarouk carpets woven during the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving (circa 1800 to circa 1910).

Designed for an aristocratic regional clientele, the small rug-weaving workshops on the Ferahan Plain of West Central Persia developed a distinctive rug-weaving tradition in the 19th century. These rugs blended refined, curvilinear designs based on the museum-level carpets of the Safavid Dynasty with geometric influences from the surrounding tribes and villages. Ferahan carpets were one of the rug-making genres displayed at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873, which ushered in broad Western interest in Oriental rugs.

“As a whole, true art-level 19th-century Ferahan and antique Ferahan Sarouk rugs in good floor condition,” says Winitz, “are now very difficult to find overall and extremely highly regarded. They stand solidly in the upper tier of investment-level collectible antique Persian carpets."

Investment-level Ferahan rugs [Levels 2 and 3 in Claremont’s proprietary Oriental Rug Market Pyramid (™)] were not produced after the 1910s, and the finer 19th- and turn-of-the-20th-century examples have become quite rare. The best antique Ferahan rugs woven are considered to be among the most original and artistic antique room-sized carpets ever woven in Persia.

“What makes them distinctive,” said Winitz, who founded Claremont in 1980, “are their extremely high-grade wool, uncompromising workmanship, sublime color palettes, and durable construction, which have made them the parlor rug of choice of European and East Coast families since the middle of the 19th century.”

The Ferahan area produced two distinctive styles, known generally as Ferahan Sarouk (or Feraghan Sarouk) and simply Ferahan (or Feraghan.) Some rugs combine traits of both styles, making an exact attribution impossible.

Antique Persian rugs known simply as “Ferahan” are characterized by a close-cropped and tightly packed pile of fine yarn. They typically employ dense allover field patterns, notably the Herati blossom and curling leaf antique carpet design, epitomizing the exceptional craftsmanship of 19th-century Persian carpets.

Pieces of somewhat heavier foundation with graciously drawn teardrop- or sunburst-shaped central medallions are called Ferahan Sarouk. Winitz says, “Ferahan Sarouks often incorporate alternating floral and geometric patterns in a single rug and motifs that display continual nuance in their exact size, color and placement, thus giving them a palpable sense of great visual movement and depth.”

Several design features set the most exquisite antique Ferahan region rugs apart from the styles of other areas. Their floral motifs show original, inventive drawing and exceptional delicacy, each blossom varying slightly from the next, both spontaneous and balanced. Ferahan carpets often offer intricate allover patterns, most frequently on a glowing midnight indigo ground and woven in densities of up to 800,000 knots in a 4×7 rug. Some pieces have borders based in unique celadon to apple green hues, and all have a closely shorn pile and a fine, “handkerchief” handle.

Although they are sometimes less detailed than the court carpets of the large cities of Kashan or Isfahan, Ferahan antique Persian rugs often match their elegance and surpass them in their creativity. In contrast to the exactitude of pattern in Persian city rugs (known as “The Art of Absolute Perfection”), Ferahan region rugs have a more freeform, improvisational quality in both their designs and colors. “In the best antique Ferahans and Ferahan Sarouk rugs, each petal and leaf is unique in its exact size, colors and patterning, making living with them a fascinating process of discovery,” said Winitz.

Antique Ferahan Persian rugs also offer a broad spectrum of vegetable-dyed colors, mellowed to soft yet rich shades. One exemplary color is an exceptionally deep the midnight indigo shade that weavers were able to produce and to use so effectively as a counterpoint or backdrop to the rest of the subtle palette of color. The best Ferahan rugs are also known for their abundant use of seldom-found tones of green, from soft celadon through rich apple green to the deepest forest greens.

The art of streaking color, a technique known as abrash, was developed in Ferahan carpets to a high degree and is used profusely in 19th century-examples, especially those woven in the pre-commercial period of the 1880s and before. Often in these early antique Persian carpets, the base color will change dramatically from one end of the field to the other, a traditional technique that can produce great drama and distinction.

“At Claremont, we carry very few Ferahan rugs of the 1920s and later, as they often use some harsh, static artificial dyes along with static and standardized designs,” Winitz stressed. “The 19th-century and turn-of-the-20th-century Ferahan and antique Ferahan Sarouk carpets in which we specialize are found most often today in the area-size (3ft x 5ft to 4ft 6in x 7ft) and room-size (7ft x 10ft to 10ft x 14ft) formats. Art-level, room-size antique rugs in good condition have become far less available internationally, especially in the best qualities, while oversize and even palace-size antique carpets are only occasionally found.”

Winitz said the Claremont current trove includes nearly 100 examples of Ferahan and Ferahan Sarouk rugs. “At that, because of the rarity of elite-level pieces, that number represents less than four percent of our entire inventory,” he said.

Today, the high-quality 19th century and circa 1900Ferahan Persian carpets have become a favorite of connoisseurs and the most sophisticated interior designers for their great decorative appeal and consistently escalating market value. Winitz said, “They rank high among the styles antique Oriental rugs that truly reached the status of ‘rare tangible assets.’”

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