BLTC Press Titles

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Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Oriental rugs

by John Kimberly Mumford


In Eastern life this is not so. The carpetings, in strictly Oriental furnishing, have always constituted well nigh the whole equipment and adornment of the apartment. They cover the floor, they cover the divans, which, save for small inlaid octagonal tables, are about the only furniture; they take the place of ceiling and wall paper, and their picturings have always been employed to do what paintings, placques and etchings do upon our Western walls.

The reason for the last-named utilization of the carpet may be found, in part at least, in the embargo which the Mohammedan canons lay upon the use of pigments, and further, in the even more stringent rules of the orthodox portion of Islam, which forbid, as well, all depiction in art of the human figure, or even of birds and beasts. Thus the art of the East has been mainly confined to textile fabrics, and except in Persia and parts of Central Asia, where the rigorous Sunnite doctrine does not maintain, its expression has not gone outside the realm of conventional and cabalistic designs. The Persians, belonging to the Shiite sect of Mohammedans—the " loose constructionists"—accepted with readiness the grotesque animal figures of the Chinese—many of them, like the deer, leopard1 and dragon, having their own religious significance, and even carried to an advanced degree of perfection the representation of human figures and the sprites of their mythology.* But for the most part the Mussulman populations have heeded the prohibition, and restricted themselves to such results in depiction as are vouchsafed by wool and silk. It is small wonder, then, that the fabrics are rich and varied. They embody, perforce, all that the Oriental knows of color, form, symmetry, the exaltation of faith and the delight of living.

1 The figures of the lion and deer, or leopard and deer, seen so often in conjunction in the central fields of Persian rugs, are of very ancient origin. Scholars' opinions vary as to their precise derivation; while they are believed to have been brought from China, in the ancient religion of which similar portrayals had a definite significance, kindred shapes are, nevertheless, found in gigantic relief upon stone porticos in the ruins of Persepolis, so that their importation from China, if that be indeed their birth-place, and their inweaving into the symbolism of the old Persians, must have been accomplished at a very remote period. Aside from all doubts as to their origin, it is generally agreed among Orientalists that the feline shape represents daylight, and that of the deer, or antelope, or whatever species of the family it may be, darkness. Invariably, the lion preys upon the deer, and, by a figurative interpretation, has come to be regarded in this connection as symbolic of victory or glory. It is perhaps imaginative, but, for all that, not wholly without reason, to believe that here, in some sort, is the foundation of the story that—

11 The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown.
The lion chased the unicorn all about the town."

This derivation is not unlikely, since in some of the ancient depictions the vanquished animal is plainly seen to have the single horn growing from its forehead.

'" The religion of the Prophet forbade any representation of the human figure. This prohibition does not appear to have been long observed, for we find that the walls of palaces and of the houses of the rich were covered with paintings. There was a school of painting at Basra [Bassorah, on the Shat-el-Arab], and a historian gives us the names of two painters of high celebrity in their art."—Professor Stanislas Guyard.

The custom, prevalent in the Orient, of removing the shoes before entering the doorway of a mosque or the habitation of a fellowbeing, warrants the construction of fine carpets, in delicate tints and of dainty texture, for domestic use as well as for places of worship. But it is by no means certain that the first use of these was to be trod upon. It would seem, rather, that they were, in the beginning, employed as hangings.

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