What’s On The Rugs: Their Designs!
Here we are; another week, another article. Last time we covered the heavy stuff, including the early history of oriental rugs and some common terms to familiarize yourself with. This week we’re talking about what’s on the rugs: their designs!
I tend to be kind of an art geek. What can I say? I’m drawn to interesting images, and art has some of the most intriguing images to offer. Art galleries, museums, art blogs; all of it! What I love most about art is the meaning behind the shapes and colors chosen. Granted, not all art has a deeper meaning beyond whatever the artist splattered onto a blank canvas. In that case, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Oriental rugs feel like art to me, and I like to collect art which is why buying an oriental rug was a natural next step for me. One thing I learned very quickly was that just like two paintings are never the same, two rugs are never truly alike. They make the look the same, share the same color palette, and generally have the same concept. But they are oh so different.
The key to understanding rug designs is understanding what certain animals, plants, colors, and even in which general direction the rug is traveling means. Not only will these things tell you what message the rug is sending, but it will also help you learn more about what area the rug is indigenous to. Before you can become master of rug designs, you have to learn how to “read the rug.” Sounds a bit strange at first, but once you learn the basics, Oriental rug design will be your second language.
Patterns, Symbols, Shapes…What does it all mean?
Instead of simply listing out the different shapes and colors and what they mean, we’re going to start with some basic word association. Most of the colors’ meanings stem from what our modern-day society naturally associates with them. To show you some examples, I’ve listed what I think of when I see a certain color and compared that to what it actually represents in a rug design.
Let’s start with red. Red makes me think of hearts, which make me think joy, happiness, and love. Red also makes me think intense or powerful. It can also symbolize beauty, wealth, courage, luck, and faith.
Blue makes me think of peacefulness and purity; it almost seems holy to me in certain contexts. It often represents solitude, truth and is also an allusion to the after-life.
Obviously when we think of white, we think of purity, like a woman in her white wedding dress or a baby in its white christening gown. It is associated with purity, peace, cleanliness, and grief.
When I think of brown, I think of the soil and that makes me think of fruitfulness, bounty, and fertility. Sure enough, brown symbolizes fertility.
To me black is the absence of something or everything, it’s like a bottomless pit. In a design, it’s normally only used on the borders in small doses. It represents destruction and mourning.
Green makes me think of new life and richness, but not necessarily in monetary value. In an Oriental design, it carries a bit more weight. It’s seen as the sacred, holy color of the Prophet Mohammed and it’s used sparingly in places less likely to be walked on. It represents paradise, hope, renewal, life and spring.
Yellow and orange seemed like the odd ones out to me. I tend to think of happiness and lemons when I see yellow, but it represents power and glory. In some cases, it also symbolizes the sun and “joy of life.” Orange is a hard color for me to pin down because I automatically think of the fruit and I start to smell citrus. But it represents humility, piety, and devotion. You learn something new every day, folks.
Lions and Tigers and Bears; OH MY!
Now that we’ve covered colors, let’s move on to something a bit more complex: animals! To keep it from looking like a zoo around here, I’ve simply included the list of the most commonly used animals and what they mean.
Ram Horns – male fertility
Deer – well being
Bats – happiness
Dogs – protector of noble places
Stag – long life
Duck – faithful marriage
Camel – wealth
Crab – invincible knowledge
Elephant – power
Butterfly – happiness
Lion – victory
Crane – longevity
Fish – abundance & prosperity
Phoenix – Empress
Dragon – Emperor
Dove – peace
Tarantula – prevents bad luck
Horse – speed
Peacock – divine protection
Parrot – escaping from danger, protection
While most of those make sense, I can’t understand how bats represent happiness and tarantulas prevent bad luck. Who knows? Maybe some of you are really into bats and tarantulas because they represent happiness and prevent bad luck. Good on you, friend(s). We’ll have to agree to disagree, I suppose.
Garden of Paradise
Like we learned in freshman biology, you can’t have a functioning ecosystem without any foliage. And let’s face it, no design is every truly complete without some flowers or vine to wrap it all up. (I really cannot resist with all these puns, so you all will have to forgive me.)
Bamboo – wealth & honor
Chrysanthemum – long life
Pomegranate – fertility
Iris – liberty
Cyprus Tree – immortality
Lily – purity
Weeping Willow – meditation
Carnation – wisdom
Tree of Life – heaven or eternal paradise
Lotus – purity
Peony – rank & wealth, power
Blossom – youth, spring, newly wed
Tulip – prosperity
Hyacinth – regeneration
None of the plants’ meanings stand out to me as strange, so understanding what they mean in a design will probably be easier to the naked eye than the animals or colors tend to be. I hope you feel a little better prepared on how to “read a rug.” If you don’t quite feel confident in your “reading abilities” just yet, never fear, there’s always more to learn! In the next article we’ll finish looking at symbols and their meanings and then we’ll begin to discuss how these works of art are made. Stay tuned!