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Anatomy of an Object: A Baharlu/Ainalu Carpet

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Khamseh Confederacy carpet, Baharlu or Ainalu tribe, Fars Province, southwest Persia, second half 19th century. Symmetrically knotted wool pile on a woollen foundation, 1.77 m x 4.00 m (5′ 10″ x 13′ 1″). Abel Trybiarz Collection, Buenos Aires

Although unsigned, this grand Khamseh Confederacy carpet, of unusually large size and great artistic merit, was likely made for a tribal khan by a weaver of the Baharlu or Ainalu tribes.

This magnificent 19th-century southwest Persian tribal carpet, from the collection of an Argentinian architect and artist, is worthy of attention both for its generous dimensions and its clear and vigorous graphics. The narrow borders identify it as the work of a weaver of the Baharlu or Ainalu tribes in Fars Province.

Both the Baharlu and the closely-related Ainalu (Inalu) are Turkish-speaking affiliates of the historical Khamseh (meaning five in Arabic) Confederacy of five quite disparate Persian, Turkish and Arabic-speaking tribes. These nomadic pastoralists from southwest and west central Iran were put together by Shah Naser-ed Din Qajar (r. 1848-1896) into an administrative entity in 1861 to counterbalance the emerging power of the Qashqa’i in Fars. The other three tribes of the Khamseh Confederacy, which was disbanded in the late 1950s, were Arabs and the Farsi-speaking Basseri and Nafar.

The carpet is woven using symmetrically-knotted sheep’s wool on woollen warps and wefts. The natural ivory field is filled with an overall repeat of horizontal rows of paired fowl, probably chickens (murgh), with madder-red bodies but with gold, green or blue colour variations on their wings. These are arranged between rows of polychrome quadrupeds, all facing each other on either side of a tree or shrub. Superimposed on the field is a powerful vertical column of four complete and one partial large diamond-shaped, blue-ground medallions, with multicoloured stepped outlines, and prominent lateral extensions reaching to the border. These divide the bird and animal ground into ten hexagonal fields. The medallions contain concentric variations of boteh and cruciform motifs.

Several of the elements used in the rug are attributed by the authority on the weavings of Fars Province, Cyrus Parham, to the Lori tribe (Masterpieces of Fars Rugs, Tehran 1996). These and other design elements suggest a synthesis of diverse influences.

Executed with great finesse, although not inscribed with a commissioner’s name or a date, it is quite likely that such a large, complex and valuable carpet would have been woven for the tent of a tribal chieftain, or as a gift for a visiting dignitary.

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