I still remember, twenty five years ago, walking into the great hall of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to view the Ardabil, the most famous Persian carpet of all time. It is huge, and covers most of the high wall from ceiling to floor.
The Ardabil has been copied more than any other rug. There is one in 10 Downing Street, the official residence of British Prime Ministers, and Hitler is reputed to have had a copy in his office in Berlin.
I had seen many finely woven copies of the Ardebil. Some are even made entirely of silk in an effort to strive for the glory of the original, which is made of excellent quality wool. All the copies are chemically washed to make them look old or to soften harsh colors.
In fact, I had seen so many copies of the Ardebil, and the design had become such a cliché, I felt I knew what I was about to see.
I was unprepared for what happened that day. As I walked closer to this magnificent carpet, I was swept up in a whirl of pattern and colors just as if I was on magical ride. I feel the same movement today, as I write this account.
If magic does not exist, what had produced this enchantment?
Have you seen the Taj Mahal at the break of dawn or on under a full moon? Chartres atop the hill while driving into the medieval town, or walked the Ponte Vecchio at sunset? What about the Grand Canal seen from a vaporetto?
Why are these experiences so alive, while others, such as last night’s TV program are hard to recall?
Where does the staying power of an experience come from?
Here are some thoughts:
- We experience great works of art, rugs included, through all our senses, the intellect and the emotions, all at once.
- Their power is lost if one tries to copy then, no matter how skilled the copyist.
- Regardless of whether it is great architecture or a great rug, what is common to all great art is that it we experience it at many levels through multiple senses. This is why we remember it so clearly.
- Great rugs can be even more powerful than paintings, because they are able to engage our sense of touch as well.
- Where does the life in a great rug come from?
- I believe great rugs come alive by virtue of the quality of the artist’s painting and how well the weaver understands the artist’s composition and “plays” it on the loom, accompanied by the dyer improvising with colors. All of them need to play the same music. They should never go off in different directions, and never compromise the choice of materials whether it be pigments for the artist, dyes for the dyer or wool and silk for the weaver.
- The artistic aliveness of a great rug can not be achieved by using costly materials, such as replacing good wool with silk, or silk with gold thread.
- Good art does not rely on techniques such as “distressing”, or chemical washing, the aim of both is to alter or “improve” the surface appearance of a rug.
- Great rugs are made with honest methods and the only ingredients required are: harmony among the players, very hard work, and the best materials.
Read a fuller description of how a new rug is created in About Asmara.