ANATOMY OF AN OBJECT:
5 MUST-KNOW FACTS ABOUT GEORGIAN CARPETS
by Rashada Gusein
There is an amazing present for every reader in the end of this article
Since as early as the Bronze Age, a tradition of carpet weaving on the territory of modern day Georgia was originally introduced not for aesthetic purposes but rather as a solution for everyday challenges of a simple nomadic life.
Carpets were designed to protect from cold and the wind in the mountainous areas of Georgia. The first sites of carpet weaving known to us by Neolithic archaeological findings as well as literature sources, emerged in cold areas where sheep were the main source of wool. Fragments of vertical loom and traces of wool threads were found on sites of former settlements dating back to the 1st century BC, which clearly proves that sheep breeding played a key part of life in that period and the production of wool was very common.
The long going practice of carpet making as a necessity of everyday life has in time evolved into a strong symbol of traditional Georgian folk art.
The carpets are beautifully coloured, complete and rich, similar to the country’s natural resources. Inexhaustible richness of colours, flight of artistic fantasy and vast variety of ornamental compositions characterise Georgian carpet.
The pattern of the carpet, its ornamental motifs have changed and transformed over the centuries. Modern carpet designs in Georgia substantially differ in appearance from the early examples made by tribal shepherds. Designs of the early carpets were rather uncomplicated, much simpler and did not follow a strict geometrical pattern. Over the centuries carpet weavers developed special techniques to produce beautiful patterns, which turned rug making into a form of fine art. These techniques were passed on from generation to generation, slowly advancing and progressing through time.
DECORATIVE ELEMENTS ON THE CARPETS HAVE A STRONG SYMBOLIC MEANING
Throughout centuries, the designs of the Georgian carpets reflected the high taste of creators, customs and traditions as they were mainly made as gifts for a variety of religious and national ceremonies such as weddings, christenings and burials. Georgian carpets are distinguished by a variety of decorative forms, compositions and colour interactions. The patterns and ornaments of these carpets reflect objects of the real world that have received conventional forms in folk art. The method of stylisation of images of the real life objects by ornamenting them have existed in carpet weaving art for many centuries.
Traditionally, the elements, which are used to decorate the carpets, carry somewhat symbolic meaning:Elements such as amulets, wolves and scorpions are used as symbols of protection against evil; other motifs such as camels, horses, cats and birds can be found on a variety of Georgian carpets. The tradition of depicting animals on the carpets came to Georgia from neighboring countries such as Azerbaijan, where portrayal of animals on the carpets is very popular to this day.
Another motif, which came to Georgian folk art from Azerbaijan, was ‘the eye’ which was depicted by the weavers to protect their families from the “evil eye”.‘Hands-on-hips’ female figures and diamonds are used as symbols of motherhood and fertility, which were commonly depicted on carpets made as wedding presents.Frog-shaped figure- a mythological symbol of wealth and strength as frog can “live in the water like a fish and on earth like a nightingale”.Diamond with two in-curving arms at each end, which is a very common symbol, used in Georgian kilims represents a birth symbol. It can also be seen as a symbol of fertility, but may also indicate a “birth” of new year and “awakening” of nature in spring. This motif is prevalent within the Tushetian group of flat-woven carpets, which are widely popular within Georgian artistic culture.
THE TUSHETAIN GROUP OF CARPETS, MAINLY REFERRED TO AS KILIMS OR PARDAGHI IS ONE THE MOST DISTINCTIVE EXAMPLES OF GRAPHICAL AND LINEAR EXPRESSIVENESS OF THE GEORGIAN FOLK ART
Pardaghi is a flat tapestry hand woven rug used mainly for covering the walls and beds in the house. Tusheti pardaghi is traditionally produced in the Georgian region of Tusheti where sheep breeding had been an essential part of the economy, which evidently led to establishment of carpet weaving tradition. The oldest existing examples of the Tusheti pardaghi date back to 1850’s, which represent multifaceted objects and intricate geometrical patterns typical to this day. The distinctive style of Tusheti pardaghi is based on graphical-linear designs with very distinct outlines. The Tusheti pardaghi are commonly set in black and white palette with decorative highlights of colour, while the ground employs naturally dyed coloured wool with a continuously patterned border.
Tusheti kilim circa 19th century. Private collection, Istanbul
Tusheti Mixed Technique Kilim circa 1930. Private collection
BORCHALO ARE THE MOST EXPENSIVE CARPETS MADE IN GEORGIA
The Borchalo carpets woven in the South Kartli region (Marneuli, Gardabani) and Kakheti village are known around the world for their expressive design and great use of simple geometrical patterns. Although each Borchalo carpet follows a somewhat similar scheme of patterns, one will almost never find two identical hand-woven pieces, which undoubtedly makes them very expensive and valuable especially to the art collectors around the world. Borchalo carpets are often viewed at the world famous Christie’s and Bonhams auction houses.
A large area in the Borchalo carpet is usually given to a schematic representation of geometric, plant and animal motifs; these carpets are distinguished by the frequent use of large size central medallions. The medallion is usually surrounded by straight lines and is framed within a complex pattern going around the borders of the carpet. Blue, red and white usually predominate within Borchalo carpets, The ornaments are usually set within a red ground with blue and white decorative frame around it.
Borchalo” Carpet circa 19th century. Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum
“Borjalou” Carpet 1902. Private collection
TRADITIONALLY, THE VIVID COLOURS OF THE RUGS WERE ACHIEVED THROUGH NATURAL DYES FOUND WITHIN DIFFERENT REGIONS OF GEORGIA
For example, red and burgundy dyes were made using acid and pigment retrieved from small insects and cuttlefish such as cochineal, sepia and kermes. In some regions dyers even used animal blood, however it was not as persistent and durable as other natural dyes. Yellow pigment was commonly obtained from weld, turmeric or pomegranate rinds, brown pigment from walnut or hazelnut husks and black pigment was obtained by combining plants with a tannin content with iron. Persistence and transparency of dyes, the use of various colours in combination with each other contributes to the enrichment of artistic composition. Despite the introduction of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, the most elaborate and expensive rugs are still made using natural dyes.
CARPET AS A MANIFEST TO WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT
An outstanding technique, colour and design make Georgian carpets captivating to the modern viewer, however these textiles present a much bigger significance than the obvious visual impact. Carpets are by far the only surviving, perceptible evidence of their creators’ nomadic lifestyle. This is an extraordinary legacy, given that their female makers did not know how to write or read and lived within a strict patriarchal society in which women generally did not have any external voice. It is rather ironic that even with such constraints, it is their work and no other lasting cultural manifestation that gives testament and authentication to their centuries-long way of life.
We have prepared a gift for every reader. A coloring picture of authentic Georgian carpets. You can download the picture, print it out (or upload to any coloring app on your smartphone or tablet and start painting).