Posted on

Gabbeh (addendum)

Tribal rugs from Iran’s Zagros Mountains have for decades captivated the attention of rug collectors the world over.

At auctions, the tribal works by the Qashqai, Bahtiari and Afshars would at times outsold exquisite artifacts from the most prestigious palace workshops.

The charm of these primitive works of art in textile rests mainly in their fascinating play of colours, and their spontaneity of design.

Among these tribal wonders, a coarsely woven, long-pile and low-knot density gabbeh plays a very important role.

Image result for gabbeh lion rug

Efforts by rug collectors and educators such as Jim Opie and late Peter Wilborg led to increased popularity of gabbehs (Bahtiari Kersaks) bringing this ancient ‘uncomplicated’ art out of the ‘black tents’ to the world museums, and the market at large.  

 ‘The increased interest in gabbas among Western collectors since the 1980s and a shared aesthetic with minimalism and the color field movement in modern art, as well as a contemporary appreciation of the charm of gabba rugs, have led to higher demand [and] has spawned commercial manufacture …’ (Jean-Pierre Digard and Carol Bier)

The first references to gabbeh can be traced in texts dating to the middle of the 16th century (J. Opie), however:

‘Some authors believe that gabba represent much older traditions of pile weaving, and that their origins may date to the emergence of this technique in the steppes of Central Asia soon after domestication of sheep.’
(J-P. Digard and C. Bier)

This thesis is strongly argued against by J. Opie:

‘…  [there is] abundant evidence of extremely old tribal design traditions in western Asia, especially in Iran, [suggesting that e.g.]  Luri gabbehs, like indigenous Luri weavings did not merely survive in southwest Iran, but originated there, and that the weaving techniques involved were even more deeply rooted in western Asia than they were, out on the steppes.’

Sadly however,

‘Those that have survived date only from the last two centuries. There is evidence, however, that the lion motif was utilized by rug weavers prior to this.’ (Tanavoli)

These gabbehs, insinsts Opie, originated in Luristan taking root later further north among the Kurdish tribes as far as Sanandaj, Nehavand, Bijar and south among the Qashqai (also Tanavoli, Amanolahi)

An interesting element common to gabbeh are the various representations of anthropo- and zoomorphic motifs. A gabbeh that stand out in this respect is the so-called gabbeh-ye siri, the lion gabbeh.

The technical structure of the lion gabbehs –  a higher knot-count, lower pile – may suggest their greater relevance among the nomads alluding perhaps to some very distant shamanic past.
‘Lion guards the tent’ (Opie); a tent represents a family.

Lions represented in the earliest style of gabbeh-ye siri, do not however feature a lion as we know it. The African lion, it is believed, begins to appear in much later works. It was introduced to Iran through images on imported objects during the Kajar period.

Image result for gabbeh lion rug

Lions featured in the pre-Kajar gabbehs (circulating in much later replicas and only known to us as such) are representations of a mythical creature symbolizing majesty and masculine power rather than a long extinct Asiatic lion as it is often suggested.

Bazaars in Iran are inundated with commercial replicas of lion gabbeh;  they are extremely popular with visitors from abroad.  

This is in part at least owed to the extraordinary success of the Iranian artist and avid rug collector Parvez Tanavoli, who views those ‘primitive’ works as a genuine expression of artistic traditions rooted in mankind’s long-forgotten mythologies.

Tanavoli,’s art remains profoundly inspired by the gabbeh imagery, colour and obscure symbolism.

Tanavoli,’s art gained the artist his world-fame and recognition while bringing the spotlight onto that very ancient and genuine artform.


Read more about Pavez Tanavoli in our next newsletter

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

Investing in Rugs

Buying a rug may constitutes an opportunity to beat the inflation in many counties. In Iran, for instance, it is a common practice.

In the West, few people can be now convinced that rugs are a sound albeit long term investment.

A guide to buying antique Oriental rugs | House & Garden

Knowledge is the key; that little should be obvious.

For the purpose of this research, we will focus on the US market trends stretching from the early 1900s till today with respect to Caucasian rugs, both popular and economical home décor fixtures of the period.

We will rely on the following sources:   Libraries – University of Missouri and     Dr. G. Griffin Lewis The Mystery of the Oriental Rug J.B Lippincott Company, published in 1914

The early 1900s in the US witnessed and an unprecedented rise in imports of Oriental carpets.

Anatolian Antique Rug - 8'1 x 5'1

It is believed that the cost of a Caucasian rug at that time was lower than that of a machine-made one.

Rugs from the Caucasus were shaggy; (long nap was the term commonly used in that period) and not very elegant.

Over a period of less than a century however they began to show their true colours.

The natural process of wool corrosion (gradual flaking away of rich in iron and other metal wool ) and the contraction of the foundations brought out the beautifully harmonious tones characteristic to the antique rugs from the Caucasus and created embossed patterns of high and low pile across their surface.

At the beginning of the 19th century, an average salary in the US was about $200 while the cost of a Caucasian rug ranged from $1.5-$3.00 per square foot. Even a family of modest means could then afford a $15-$20 rug for their home.

Handmade Carpet Antique Rugs Tribal Living Room Rug, Traditional Red Wool  Rug For Sale at 1stDibs

With hardwood floors becoming a common feature in modern home décor of the early 20th century, wool rugs became popular if not in fashion.

A $20 dollar purchase of a Caucasian rug constituted no more than a tenth (10%) of the average salary of the period in question.

A handful of these rugs survived till today; many are sold in rare rug shops and at auctions.

It is a conservative assumption that a late 19th and early 20th century Caucasian rugs can be sold/bought in the US for no less than $1500-$3000.

Thus, the average cost of an antique Kazak, Shirvan or Kuba is $2250.

Therefore, it is also a conservative assumption to suggest that an average Caucasian rug from the turn of the past century increased in value more +/- tenfold in market value approaching the cost of an average full one month salary in the US.

The number of these rugs is diminishing (at least certainly not growing); the question is whether the value of these rugs will increase at the same pace.

Hypothetically, we can assume that the cost of a Caucasian rug purchased in e.g. in New York in 1910 for $20 (a tenth of a monthly salary) may reach the value of a nearly one full annual salary in the US in 2100.


Please follow and like us:
Posted on

Anatolian Rug

‘Anatolian rugs represent an essential part of the regional culture, which is officially understood as the Culture of Turkey today, and derives from the ethnic, religious and cultural pluralism of one of the most ancient centres of human civilisation.’

Bergama rug, west Anatolia, first half of 18th century

Please read this very informative article on the origins of the art and the term Anatolian rug.

Please follow and like us: