Caucasian Rug Guide

In this section:

Nomadic Masterpieces

Caucasian rugs are named for their region of origin: the area of the Caucasus Mountains which links modern-day Turkey and Iran. It was once home to nomadic people who were typically driven out of more hospitable areas. Rug production there dates back to the 17th century, when the carpets were woven for daily use in the modest tribal homes of the region’s inhabitants. Consequently, Caucasian rugs rarely exceed a surface area of eight feet by five feet. Carpets of the early period are among the great masterpieces of classical rug-making.

What Makes a Caucasian Rug?

The distinguishing aspect of the Caucasian carpet is its emphasis on rich and varied color. Visual balance is achieved by contrasting wildly different colors, rather than the more traditional approach of shading similar hues. While Caucasian rugs tend to feature floral designs, their depiction is usually highly stylized, abstract, and geometric.

One can see the evolution of tribal rug weaving in the history of antique Caucasian carpets. All the expected motifs are present, including dragons, flowers, birds, crabs, and other animals. In later centuries, a Russian influence became more pronounced. Virtually every Caucasian rug is crafted using the symmetry of the Turkish knot.

The Enduring Popularity of the Style

Caucasian rugs are among the most widely collected antique rugs. It is easy to see why these last remnants of an ancient weaving tradition remain so popular, with their intriguing color choices and bold patterns. Sub-types include Akstafa, Baku, Daghestan, Karabagh, Kazak, Kuba, and Shirvan. Depending on sub-type, the rugs also have a pleasing range of styles from a luxurious thick pile to a sophisticated closely shorn.

History / Background

At one time it was assumed that all of the rugs in the Caucasus were woven by “Tribal” or “Nomadic” weavers. That if one bought a Lezgi Star Rug it was woven by a Lezgi weaver. Some even saw Schurmann’s classic Caucasian Carpets as a guide to the tribes of the Caucasus. Then a reversal came and it was suggested that virtually all Caucasian rugs were commercial and the patterns came from Russian Government (first Czarist then Communist) Kustar pattern books.

In the 1820s the Czarist Russians divided Transcaucasia. into the Russian provinces of Baku, Derbent, Sheki, Karabagh, Shirvan, Talysh, and Kuba. Riad: Caucasus. The Russians divided the region in the manner that was easiest for them to administrate and it did not necessarily follow an ethnographic approach in the division.

The Czarist Russians began to solidify their hold as early as 1805 – 1820 but they did not truly control the region for many years. With the capture of the great rebel religious leader Shamyl in 1859 and the end of the rebellion in 1864 did Czarist control truly solidify regional control. In 1865 to eliminate risk of future rebellion the Russians forced 1,2 million Caucasians to move to Turkey. I strongly suspect that areas such as Ngorno-Karabakh which were historically Moslem were depopulated and then repopulated with Armenians. As Christians the Armenians had an easier time with the Christian Russians.


Caucasian Minature Saddlebags in Sumakh Technique

Country of Origin: Caucasus

Size: 3 ft. x 11 in.

Date of Origin: 19th century

Use: Dowry Bags

Comments: Wonderful small piece.

Description: A pair of rare Caucasian miniature saddlebags in sumakh technique. The unusual plain field with leaf and calyx border relate stylistically to a rare group of Kazak prayer rugs.

Verneh rug, circa 1900

Country of Origin: Caucasus

Size: 187 cm. x 183 cm.

For this group of flat fabrics, the term “Verneh” has been used. This example is characterized by the rarity of its field pattern, by the beauty of its colors such as cyclam, carnelian, water-blue and light green, and by its subtlety.

The Hali 35 Caucasian Verneh rug, mid 19th century

Country of Origin: Caucasus

Date of Origin: Circa 1900

Use: cover

Size: 6 ft. 4 in. x 6 ft. 2 in.

Notes: The original footnote in the Philip’s catalogue for this lot states that this piece had been purchased by the then vendor’s father in Baku in 1915, and was believed at that time to be 18th century.

Baku Zili, circa 1900

Type: Caucasion Rugs, Kuba Region

East Caucasus, circa 1900

Size: 6 ft. 2 in. x 4 ft. 1 in.

Description: Comprising concentric bands of square panels, the rust-red field with four square panels containing stylized bird and geometric motifs in a blue zigzag frame, in a royal blue paneled border containing similar motifs, the broad rust-red paneled outer stripe with similar stylized birds and animals on either side and a skirt at each end with geometric motifs, all divided by narrow ivory crab-rosette stripes, localized areas of light wear and touches of repiling in places.

Caucasian Rug, dated 1959

Size: 3 ft. 4 in. x 6 ft. 11 in.

This is an old Caucasian rug, from 1959. It’s in excellent condition and has a pretty design. The main field is antique rose with pastel accents. Pile is full, and the rug looks nearly unused. This appears to be one of the rugs that the refugees brought out of Karabagh. This rug is in excellent condition. The antique rose field is attractive and this rug will stand up well to floor use for many years.

Structure: Symmetrical. 7 knots per horizontal inch and 8 knots per vertical inch. 56 per square inch (868 per square decimeter).

Yarn Spin: Z.

Warp: 2 ply brown wool.

Weft: 2 shots tan 2-ply wool.

Pile: 2 wool singles.

Ends: Bottom fringe, 1/4 inch plain weave with warp fringe.

Selvages: 3 cord attached interlaced selvage, wrapped in ivory wool.

Notes: This rug is in excellent condition.

Caucasian Rugs plate 5 Star Kazak Rug

Oliveira Antique Caucasian Shirvan Rug

Size: 5 ft. 3 in. x 3 ft. 8 in.

Region: West Asia, Caucasus, Northeast Caucasus, Shirvan

Item Type: Rugs and Carpets

Period: late 19th century

Technique: Knots: 45 (v) x 39 (h) = 1,755 / dm2

Condition: Very good, with quality pile all over and some small oxidized brown areas. Soft wool, cotton weft, wool warp, and natural dyes are featured. Original selvedge and edges. It has been professionally rewoven in two very small areas; it does not affect the appearance of the rug.

Description: A beautiful and collectable Shirvan rug with a central field occupied with alternate diagonal rows of two unusual motifs. One of the motifs is a kind of stupa with a flower on its open base and topped by a pair of hooks. The other motif is a pair of inverted horseshoes, boxed inside a simplified ‘floral’ frame. This extremely rare pattern has been exquisitely woven in different colors over a rich red ground surrounded by an unusual inner ‘running dog’ border. The main border is a simplified version of the traditional ‘leaf and calyx’ border design.

Caucasian Azeri Shaddah

Origin: South Caucasus, Azerbaijan, circa 1850

Size: 210 cm. x 173 cm.

Notes: A very beautiful Caucasian blanket, made of two halves on multi-colored warp. Very minor traces of wear and stains; pleasant colors. Good condition.

Caucasian Azeri Flatweave

Origin: South Caucasus, Karabagh Region

Size: 434 cm. x 200 cm.

Notes: Backed with red linen, minor damages to sides. Heavily corroded browns, traces of wear.

Antique Lesghi Star Rug

Size: 3 ft. 9 in. x 5 ft. 2 in.

Date: 19th century

Structure: Symmetrical knot. 7 knots per horizontal inch and 10 knots per vertical inch. 70 per square inch (1085 per square decimeter)

Yarn Spin: Z.

Warp: 2 ply old ivory wool.

Weft: 2 shots brown wool.

Pile: 2 wool singles.

Ends: Obliquely twined binding with .5 inch fringe.

Selvages: 2 cord interlaced light and dark brown wool.

Handle: Light, soft, pliable.

Description: This is an exceptional Antique Lesghi Star Rug. It’s in very good condition, featuring great color and a powerful design. It’s ideal for the serious collector of Caucasian rugs.

Further Notes: Very good condition, even low pile, excellent colors.

Bursa Mosque Floral Carpet

Size: 2.10 m x 3.64 m

Period: 18th century

Warp: Z2S w, brown and ivory

Weft: w, red; two shoots

Knot: sy, 32H x 30V = 960/sq. dm

Pile: w, coarse, loosely twisted and medium length

Colours: Red, purple, blue, green, yellow, brown and ivory.

Condition: Tears in the field and the border show wear. However, bright colours are abundant.

Description: Red ground pattern on three axes. The central axis has a dark green octagon surrounded by white leaves at the center. Two large white stars are pictured, containing yellow lozenge with a smaller dark blue one. A white rosette is at each side and an eight-pointed star within contains small yellow, blue and purple flowers. At the center of the green octagon, four white rosettes on stems form a cross rising from an eight-pointed star with a central red rosette. The large white leaves surrounding the green octagon curve towards the center and are decorated with a purple stem with small leaves and blue, yellow and red stylized flowers. To the side of the central green octagon are yellow palmettes, surrounded by blue serrated leaves between a dark blue leaf. All ornaments are outlined in brown.

Border: 12 cm wide. White ground. Alternating large yellow angular and small red S-shapes with dark blue cartouches and serrated leaves at the ends. The guard stripe with yellow and red dots is outlined in brown.

Caucasian Sumac Cover

Size: 4 ft. 3 in. x 4 ft. 1 in.

Description: This is a very good antique Caucasian Sumac, circa 1900. There are a few tiny holes as it to be expected in a piece of this age.

Yarn Spin: Z.

Warp: 2 ply wool tan with some brown.

Weft: Single shot of tan or brown wool in-between sumac weft wrapping which is of course ground color.

Ends: Warp fringe.

Selvages: plain.

Further Notes: In very good condition. Would be excellent except that there are a few small holes that are not readily apparent. Slight corrosion of browns.

This rug has outstanding color. The range of color is spectacular and the colors look vegetal. It takes a lab test to tell for sure but the colors have the look seen in the very best natural dye pieces. I must note that the dark brown are showing slight signs of corrosion.