Persian rugs made with extra high pile and very simple, graphic designs focused on the use of color, which can be vibrant or soft and earthy. As pieces made for domestic use rather than commercial value in the marketplace, Gabbeh rugs have a cultural authenticity that renders them highly desirable to collectors. Nevertheless, with their lustrous soft wool and emphasis on color over design detail, they are extremely usable today as decorative rugs, especially in informal modern settings.
A Gabbeh is a type of traditional tribal carpet originally made by the Qashqai tribe in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. The word can be translated as uncut or unfinished, and refers to the fact that Gabbeh rugs have a rough, primitive look. Gabbeh designs are characterized by broad fields of color with playful geometric forms and animal or human figures.
The Qashqai have always been renowned weavers, and even today the weaving of Gabbeh rugs and other wool items form a significant part of their culture and economy. They are an ancient people who arrived in Iran in a wave of nomadic migration roughly coinciding with the invasion of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Traditionally, weaving of these rugs is done by the women on portable looms that are easily assembled, in keeping with a nomadic lifestyle.
A well-made vintage rug from Gabbeh has a deep pile, often an inch thick, and a relatively low knot density. Since Gabbehs have traditionally been made for informal home use, their designs usually are not stylized and the full creativity of the maker can be expressed. Designs sometimes tell a story, depict a certain place or show an everyday situation. Colors are not subtle; there is no attempt to be subdued!
Those who are shopping for Gabbehs should beware of mass-produced knock-offs from India, called “Indo-Gabbehs.” These are often made from inferior wool and do not have the softness and comfort of traditional Gabbehs. Beware of Gabbehs with white fringe, as this is a sign of non-traditional origin.
Different from other antique carpets old Persian Gabbeh rugs were not influenced by commercial demand. These works of art were not created to order, but to fulfill the weaver’s own artistic endeavors, and for their own personal use.
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