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Antique Azerbaijani Carpets to Go On Auction in Austria

By Gunay Hajiyeva November 20, 2023

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Samples of Azerbaijani carpets / Courtesy

Ancient Azerbaijani carpets will be sold at an antique items auction in Austria next month.

The “Fine Antique Oriental Rugs XXXV & Tribal Art” auction will take place at the Austrian Auction Company’s trading house on December 2.

A total of 282 oriental carpets, antique items, and vintage handicrafts from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Anatolia, India, and China will be auctioned.

The public sale campaign will offer antique Shahsevan, Guba, Lankaran, Shirvan, Zejwa, Aghstafa, Karabakh, Talish, and other kinds of carpets, rugs, kilims, horse saddle covers, and khurjuns (two-compartment shoulder bag) woven in Azerbaijan. The starting bids for these items vary from €400 to €3,000.

Azerbaijan is considered one of the world’s most ancient centers of the carpet weaving industry. Archaeological excavations in the territory of the country have proven the first information about carpet weaving date as far as back to the 4th and 3rd millennium BC, namely the Bronze Age. Antique historians, including Herodotus, Claudius Elian, Xenophon and others mentioned in their books the existence of well-developed carpet craftsmanship in Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan, carpet weaving is the most widespread national and traditional folk art.

Azerbaijani carpets are identified as pile and pileless, according to their raw material and weaving techniques. Silk and wool have traditionally been the most preferred materials in this industry.

The pileless carpets come from the very early period of weaving art’s creation and development. As the most known and widespread types of Azerbaijani carpets, they are classified based on their weaving style, composite structure, ornament richness, and coloring. There are eight basic types of traditional Azerbaijani carpets: palas, dzhejim, lady, kilim, shedde, verni, zili, and sumakh.

Seven specific historical carpet-weaving schools — Guba, Shirvan, Baku-Absheron, Ganja, Gazakh, Karabakh, and Tabriz — have been traditionally dealing with carpet weaving. Each school has its own specific style and technique of weaving a carpet.

Ornaments of carpets in Guba-Shirvan schools contain stylized vegetative, sometimes zoomorphic motives consisting of geometrical patterns, while Baku-Absheron carpets are unique due to their greater softness, the intensity of color, originality of art elements and subtlety of patterns. Deep blue and sometimes red and yellow contain the major color palette of the largest middle segment of Baku-Absheron carpets.

Masters of the Ganja-Gazakh schools are famous for weaving carpets from silk and wool with a rich color palette created uniquely with only a few colors. Karabakh carpets have the richest color palette of all, reflecting the subtlest color shades of the local nature. The main background intermediate spaces of Karabakh carpets are dyed in red, which is extracted from various plants, as well as insects such as cochineal.

The most ancient Azerbaijani carpets have been woven in the city of Tabriz, the capital city of the East Azerbaijan province of Iran. Piled and pileless carpets of the Tabriz school are distinguished thanks to decoration techniques, the harmony of colors, and a variety of ornaments.

The world’s oldest and largest carpet, dubbed Ardabil or Sheikh Safi, is being kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The carpet contains 35 million knots and was woven in the 16th century in Tabriz city. The other version of the Sheikh Safi carpet — a modern one that was produced in 1940 — is exhibited at the Museum of Art of the District of Los Angeles.

UNESCO inscribed the Azerbaijani art of carpet-making into the Representative List of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of the World in 2010.

In 2020, UNESCO headquarters in Paris exhibited carpet samples belonging to the Sheki city of Azerbaijan, the historical center and Khan’s Palace, which were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage in 2019.