Nazmiyal Antique Rugs
JBOC's Notes on Oriental Rugs

Antique Mahal Rugs & Carpets Guide
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See my other Arak Rugs: Sarouk/Sarough Rugs Guide

In the US we think of Arak as the area Sarouk Persian carpets come from. Rug weaving was traditional in Arak. To try and set a beginning date for rugs from Arak is nearly impossible. It is likely that it dates back easily hundreds and more likely thousands of years. However there is a very distinct commercial era that we can track. Circa 1875 Persian carpet merchants from Tabriz began to organize commercial production for the export market. It is the shift from traditional Persian handicrafts to carpets specifically designed for the European market that is significant here.

Note long after the Tabriz merchants began doing business European companies such as Hotz and Son and Ginskey and Reichart the precursor to Ziegler and Co. set up shop. By 1883 Ziegler bought out Ginskey and Reichart and revolutionized the business.

As I look though Mahal Persian carpets I see three separate design trends. There is a clear European/Ziegler influence. These typically have a non-traditional interpretation of a traditional Persian design. There there is the Tabriz influence, carpets that seem close to Tabriz carpets of the era. The final group is the more traditional Central Persian designs such as we see immediately to the right. keep in mind that many of the women who worked in Ziegler's factory went home at night to weave on their own.  

Sotheby's Mahal prayer rug C. 1900 lot 419

Sotheby's Mahal prayer rug C. 1900 lot 419

Sotheby's Camel and Lion Mahal carpet C. 1890 lot 122

Sotheby's Camel and Lion Mahal carpet C. 1890 lot 122

The 1870s and 1880s were a time of upheaval in Persia. The Qajar Shahs were granting all sorts of franchises to operate businesses in Persia to European companies. At the same time the Europeans were seeking to buy the art and religious treasures of Persia on which the Persians placed relatively little value. The looting was so bad that what is now England's Victoria & Albert museum contracted with men to loot Persian art and Islamic religious items. Men who would be aghast at someone stealing from an English church were paying people to loot treasures from Islamic mosques.

As the treasures of Persia passed through the hands of the European merchants they were used as models for the carpet designs. Immediately to the left we see a carpet that uses camels drawn in the style of 15th century Persian masters such as Bihzad.

See: Elephants, Rhinoceroses, and Camels

This is typical of the European designers. They take a Safavid camel and put it in with other art. The lions head is typical of Persian village rugs. The floral forms are derivative of Persian but different.

Ziegler Rugs of Arak - In 1883, Ziegler and Co., of Manchester, England, established a Persian carpet manufacture in Sultanabad (now Arak), Iran, employing designers from major Western department stores, like B. Altman and Liberty of London, to modify fanciful 16th- and 17th-century Eastern designs for the more restrained Western taste. Using highly developed dying techniques (which Ziegler futilely attempted to copyright) and the best artisans from the region, Ziegler created rugs with bold, allover patterns and with softer palettes than their vibrant Persian counterparts. Ziegler rugs developed an almost immediate following, especially among newly monied Western industrialists; early collectors included the Guinness family, the owners of the stout-beer manufacture, who laid them in Elveden Hall, their Suffolk, England, estate. http://www.farsinet.com/arak/

The key to understanding Ziegler Mahal carpet is that Ziegler organized production on their own looms with their own designs. Ziegler designers started with the standard Persian designs such as forked tendrils, palmettes, and rosettes and then adapted them for the European market. .

Mosque of the Imam Reza Collection Mahal Rug

Mosque of the Imam Reza Collection Mahal

Mahal Carpet

From the collection of the Mosque of the Imam Reza:

This is a  Mahal Carpet. Mahal is a grade of Sarouk that is thinner than an American Sarouk. This is one of the rugs deaccessioned from the collection of the Mosque of the Imam Reza when the Mosque sold off pieces of it's collection to raise funds.

Sarouk Rug, Arak Area, Persia/Iran.

Size: All sizes made. carpet sizes are more common.

Structure: Asymmetrical knot open to the left.  Ranges from 60 to 150 knots per square inch.

Yarn Spin: Z.

Warp: Cotton

Weft: 2 shots cotton. First shot is thicker and straight and the second is thinner and sinuous. Deeply depressed knots with a warp offset of 85 to 90 degrees.

Pile: 2 wool singles.

Ends: Overhand knots with warp fringe.

Selvages: 1 cord plain wool.

Handle: Medium. American Sarouk rugs have a heavier handle while Feraghan Sarouk and Mahals have a thinner suppler handle.

Further Notes:

Similar Rugs

  • Hard to pin down just exactly makes a Mahal different from some Ferraghans or Mushkabads. Generally Mushkabads. are coarser but the difference between a Mushkabad and a Mahal seems to depend on whether you are buying or selling. Many of the antique Herati pattern Feraghan rugs would be classified as a Mahal today.

Related examples:

Mahal carpets sorted by approximate age:

Sotheby's Doris Leslie Blau Mahal Carpet C. 1895 lot 161

Sotheby's Mahal Carpet early 20th C. lot 142

Mahal carpets sorted by approximate age:

Books & Articles - Sources on Sarouk Rugs:

Copyright Barry O'Connell 2004 - 2006.
Last revised: April 04, 2010.

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For Further Reading:

Thanks and best wishes,

J. Barry O'Connell Jr.

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