Volume IV Number 5
September 1986

Research Report already has used Henri-Rene d'Allemagne for certain concrete particulars concerning rugs from Mashad, Kabala stones, and prayer cloths. The title of this 1907 work is misleading, for Du Khorassan au Pays des Backhtiaris (1) does not merely recount a Persian journey. While in part a trip report, the book also is an exposition of Persian life in the tradition of the great 17th century Persia descriptions by French authors, also travel based and also encyclopedic.

There is a general presentation on rugs, as well, which is of special interest, albeit in a peculiar way -- a treatment of rugs on a par with the Persian rug chapters of the early 20th century rug books. It is especially so with respect to the one written by Mary Churchill Ripley (2) as d'Allemagne has cribbed extensively from it, taking all of her categories and some of her details. He does, however, add material of his own, including economic and commercial data. Thus, the result is a travel based annotation of the Ripley chapter, and the reader gets two early 20th century Persian rug chapters for, so to speak, one money. The gist of the two accounts follows.

The Ispahan school is simply noted and illustrated by an example of a classical Persian carpet. The "modern" Kerman school similarly is merely noted, but with some technical data on the weave: (a) 3-4000 "points" per square decimeter, and (b) cotton weft and warp. An interpretation of "points" as knots yields a Kerman product of 425 knots per square inch.

What is termed the Khorassan school is more generously described. The typical field pattern is given as all-over, realistic flowers, and border motifs are given as frequently palmettes or a floral design. The dominant rug color is a brilliant blue-red. There is a particular about design, and another about construction. When the field of the rug has "bandes" they contain floral designs, palmettes, and motifs which look like grasshoppers. The weave is specified as four or five rows of knots followed by three or four weft shoots, giving a distinctive characteristic to the back of the rug and to its handle.

Another category combines two rather distant place names into the school of Herat and Ferahan, embodying the assertion that Ferahan weaving is a development of the Herat school. The Herat design is given as "flowers closely surrounded with leaves which are in the form of arches. The oldest products, with "oldest" undefined, are described as bearing "long oval leaves", light on one side and dark (shaded) on the other. The principal border motif is cited as "outlines of butterflies" (stylized scrolls), and a principal field motif as boteh all pointed in the same direction. The ground color is designated as "generally" a dark blue, but sometimes as of a rich red, or even ivory. The most frequent border color is green.

Ferahan rugs are presented as an extension of Herat characteristics: Herati field, plain borders with either a rosette or palmetto motif along with a vine, with a ground which is often a "beautiful" green, or rose. If the field has a central medallion, the rug's colors are alleged likely to be cream, red, or "young green".

The Sennah and Kurdistan school is similarly divided into two parts, the one, Sennah, the other, nomadic. Sennah rugs can have either cotton or silk warps and for ornamental detail either floral motifs or the Herati pattern. The field is white or ivory, but also can be blue-red, or a "very gentle" violet. Yellow is frequently in the border, accompanied by "angular motifs". The nomadic weaving of Kurdistan is said to be characterized by a richness of color, and by a weaving fineness akin to carefully shaved velvet. One design is that of a right-angled trellis with each compartment filled with flowers of various colors; another is a central medallion; another is a central lozenge with little botehs. Colors are deep rose, red, blue, and yellow, and there is a metallic blue ground.

The rugs of the Hamadan school are not well described. A predominant blue-yellow is cited as a characteristic, as is a field ground made from white wool. A typical motif is an elongated diamond. Natural camel hair is used; warps were previously of wool, but changed to cotton.

The Shiraz school is rather sketchily treated. Specific notations are: a pure wool giving a brilliant color, scattered animals, "essentially full-blossomed roses", a beautiful blue color, medallions and botehs, and distinctive end kilims.

Remarks about production points are less extensive, but are informative, and do not derive from Ripley. D'Allemagne lists the provincial cities which weave traditional products as Tabriz, Sultanabad, Teheran, Kashan, Meshed, Ardebil, Kermanshah, and Veramin. Such particulars as there are involve Tabriz and Sultanabad. For Tabriz these are: (a) 100 rug workshops employing 1200 (b) an additional 10,000 workers in other weaving, with more in the outlying villages; and, (c) a special product of prayer rugs bearing a tree of life design, or a pattern "inscribed with the emblem of a dervish order." For Sultanabad the details are: use of Central Persia designs, 20-25,000 individuals employed in rug weaving, predominantly European designs, uninteresting colors, and high pile.

The principal market cities are listed as Tabriz, Hamadan, and Meshed, with a large fraction of exports going to Constantinopole. Kermanshah is a collection point for silk rugs exported to Baghdad and Egypt. The Persia export market valuation is put at 6.3 million francs for 1902, and 12 million for 1906. These, again, are d'Allemagne contributions.

Just what to make of the d'Allemagne embellishment of the Ripley chapter is not obvious. One resolve is the H. D. Dwight observation that all rug books are laughable plagiarisms. But, the scruples of the author do not necessarily make the substance wrong. In fact some of the Ripley/d'Allemagne specifics ring true enough -- Khorassan weave, Ferahan green, Herati pattern, cotton and silk warps in Sennah, wool to cotton warp shift in Hamadan. It may be that these and other details have merit, for example, the putting of the rose (gul-i-frank) pattern within the "Shiraz school" at this time. This design was fairly widespread in Persia, was used by Afshars south of Kerman and appears on some South Persian rugs.

Other details, such as a striped (shawl pattern) design in Khorassan, may be of interest, for they are d'Allemagne's contributions and he visited these places. Some of his material, a steady recitation of color, however, leads only to frustration. The problem is that there just isn't a way to take a verbal description of a color and apply it to rugs in hand. The terms seek to convey the impression of particular hues, but what, exactly does a "young green" or a "very gentle purple" look like? The book's photos are black and white.

Another of d'Allauagne's possibly useful additions is his listing of provincial cities as production points for "traditional" rugs, particularly Kermanshah, Ardebil, and Veramin. Rug books contemporary with d'Allemagne do not appear to have much to say, for example, about Veramin, now an increasingly popular attribution, typically given as nomadic product. But, per d'Allemagne, there may have been a little more going on there than the pastoral.

Finally, there is the enigma of the Herat/Ferahan association. Perhaps a simple-minded extension based on the one design, perhaps a more perceptive linkage, for while the pattern is ubiquitous in Persia, it is especially prevalent in the West Persia product. A related matter is the "Sennah and Kurdistan school" which indeed correctly reflects the small city with surrounding hinterland reality of the area.

The best way to view all this, seemingly, is not to dismiss Du Khorassan, but rather to take it as an interesting and possibly useful adaptation by someone with field experience. Mary Ripley's book resides in a relative obscurity it does not deserve, it is blowsy in style, and lengthy, with chapters on such ancillary matters as legends, symbols, and calligraphy. The author claims to have used expert opinion, but there is no specification of sources. Her work is in effect an excellent representative of the turn-of-the-century rug book, with full measure of that genre's strengths and weaknesses. The upshot may be that Ripley on the rugs of Persia as used by the traveller d'Allemagne contains a number of type and location leads.


  1. d'Allemagne, Henri-Rene, Du Khorassan au Pays des Backhtiaris, four volumes, Paris, 1911. All quotes come from Volume I, pp. 90--108. Research Report translations.
  2. Ripley, Mary Churchill, The Oriental Rug Book, F. A. Stokes, New York, 1904.
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