Tessuti d’ArteTessuti d’Arte

Towards Restoration: the case-study of a collectible Caucasian Rug

Italiano (Italian)

Translation by Elena Redaelli 

*Featured photo: Photographic detail of some of the restorative and conservational intervention phases of the caucasian rug.. Courtesy Laboratorio di Restauro “Festina Lente Studio” 

In August 2021 the extremely precious 19th Century Caucasian Rug arrived to the Restoration Lab “Festina Lente Studio” from a private collection.

The prestigious handiwork, characterized by the typical highly expressive geometric motif is an interesting case-study for the restorers, due to its technical and conservational peculiarities which represent a true challenge!

The restoration project started thanks to the collaboration between a private entity and the Laboratorio di Restauro Materiali e Manufatti Tessili e in Pelle set as its goal the conservation of the work as to guarantee its fruition by the end of the intervention.

Photographic detail of some of the restorative and conservational intervention phases of the caucasian rug.

The origins of a collectible rug

Historical and archeological accounts allow us to theorize that the knotting technique is amongst the oldest forms of craftwork practiced by humankind to protect themselves from averse weathers, to build a comfortable bed, and to contain items and tools during travel. It’s not a coincidence that the precursors of rugs were fleeced textiles, created by humans to imitate the thick fur of animals. However, the most reliable sources recounting the usage of rugs similar to modern day ones date back to mid-1000 b.C.

The Pazyryk rug is the oldest knotted rug we have, dating back to the 5th-4th century b.C. and it’s displayed in Saint Petersburg Hermitage Museum

The art of rugs developed in a very specific geographic area spanning almost 7 million square kilometers, that is the Middle East, situated between Asia, Africa and Europe. Born in the East as an everyday item, as home decor, and praying tool, rugs arrived in the West during the Crusades, becoming a symbol of prestige and power.

Woolen rug, silk and metal thread, ca. 1600, Safavid period

Regarding the technique, its main trait is the presence of knots. The former, created with natural materials – wool or cotton for the base, wool or silk for the fleece – are made with a loom through the knotting technique, which included rows of braided knots on two strings of warp alternating with a horizontal weft.

There are two types of knots in ancient rugs:

  • The asymmetrical knot, a.k.a. Senneh or Persian knot, obtained by twisting a lone chain (warp) and partially closing one of the two ends (open knot on the right or left side).
  • The symmetrical knot, a.k.a. Ghiordes or Turkish knot. The two ends of the thread are hooked to one of two adjacent warp chains to come out in the middle.

The collection of knots forms the fleece of the rug, which can be lustrous or opaque, depending on the inclination given to the knots during shearing and combing.

The rugs assumed distinctive names and peculiarities depending on their provenance (urban or rural); their geographical area (anatolian or caucasian rug); their function (prayer rug, bedside rug, or runner rug); the theme and meaning of their motifs (medallions, vase, paisley, crabs, tortoises).

Rug “of the tigers” handmade by Ghyath ud-Din Jami, 1542-43. Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milano

In our case-study, the rug is caucasian in origin, and by this we mean the region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Moreover, its provenance seems to be suggested by the different geometrical motifs and the bright colors of the threads used for weaving, all recurring in the rugs of the area.

Knotted on a horizontal loom by nomadic peoples, almost always woven in woolen threads, the caucasian rug’s textile structure is characterized by symmetric knots. The extraordinary beauty of the handiwork and the interesting iconography, which rigorously follows the geometric medallion pattern, outshine the irregular workmanship.

It’s not easy to univocally label this textile typology, however, based on its provenance alone, it’s possible to distinguish eastern, western, and southern caucasian rugs. Let’s remember that the rug’s denomination comes from the name of the village in which it was made, which in turn can be figured out from the numerous variants of decorative motifs. The iconographic and structural analysis of the rug has led us to theorize that the subject of the restorative intervention could be of Kazak (western caucasian) or Shirvan (center-eastern caucasian) type.

Photographic detail. Caucasian rug, 19th century. Private collection.

The work’s conservation status

At first glance, the material and visual integrity of the rug appear good but at closer examination, the textile structure of the handiwork reveals its precarious conservation status. The fibers are dry and fragile to the touch due to the deposit of particles and the way it was used which presumably didn’t respect the parameters for a correct conservtion.

The material integrity of the textile structure is compromised through several mending, undertaken on unknown dates, with threads that through time have lost their original colors.

Many knots are missing or worn but all are confined to specific areas. Where there’s a total or partial lack of weft and warp, there are two types of degradation: in the first case we have a proper empty space, in the second the presence of clear cuts.

The entire surface stands out with structural stiffness and chromatic alterations caused by several stains that make it harder to read and that in time have compromised the conservation of the threads. The substances that caused discolorations and stains are unknown and have penetrated the textile weaving soaking it completely and causing heavy degradation: stiffness of the compromised areas and partial depolymerization of the original material.

The perimetral area of the rug (fringe and borlotti) is extremely worn due to damage caused by handling through time; in this case we also find previous restorative attempts along the entire area.

On the back, some patchwork has been added as support, onto which the stitches of the previous restorative attempts have been anchored.

Lastly, we have found latent microorganisms.

Photographic detail of some of the restorative and conservational intervention phases of the caucasian rug.

The restoration and conservation intervention:

The restoration and conservation intervention of the caucasian rug – still ongoing at the Restoration Lab “Festina Lente” – has proven particularly interesting thanks to the technical and material peculiarities of the work.

The project foresees a careful analysis of the threads and weave, the documentation of its conservation status, and mapping of the several repairs undergone on unknown dates.

The data collected in the beginning and the results obtained from a test on the stability of the dyes allowed us to determine the best way to clean the handiwork.

The rug underwent preliminary air cleaning, to eliminate the surface particle deposit. It’s a necessary and desirable action since dust is mostly made up of hygroscopic components that foster the development of microorganisms. Dirt, mainly atmospheric dust of different origins, is stuck through static electricity and an oily film to the rug, the latter was formed after handling and previous mending attempts.

Moreover, when planning to have the work undergo washing in a watery solution, a correct vacuuming is fundamental to avoid the particles from falling off and then reattaching themselves. Dusting was done along the front and back of the rug with an adjustable strength vacuuming machine and different heads. This operation is essential because handling a dusty work will accelerate the degradation of brittle materials, even during restoration.

To prevent further degradation and prepare the work for washing, after vacuuming the holes in the work were protected by applying low-density tulle to cover up the deteriorated threads without getting in the way of the detergents.

Subsequently, the rug underwent washing by immersion in a watery solution inside a large tub, expressly made to clean large textile works, such as rugs and tapestries.

The restoration methodology used was conservational, because the work presented large areas of mimetic patchwork that in the past covered large holes.

The intervention therefore aimed towards maintaining the historical mending of the rug, while reinforcing the fragile parts, and an aesthetic assimilation of the patchwork that was irreversibly faded which will become homogenous with the original parts after cleaning.

Photographic detail of some of the restorative and conservational intervention phases of the caucasian rug.

The proper conservation of the handiwork shall be obtained, after restoration, through monitoring environmental parameters of the exhibition space, managing the spaces, and daily maintenance activity.

This small contribution doesn’t mean to be comprehensive on the matter, nor recount entirely the particulars of the conservation and restoration, rather it means to elicit more interest on the matter and pave the way for subsequent, more detailed arguments.

Photographic documentation and restoration and conservation by Festina Lente Studio, Laboratorio di Restauro Materiali e Manufatti Tessili e in Pelle, Bobbio (Piacenza)

M.L.Varvelli, I tappeti, enciclopedie pratiche Sansoni, Bologna 1969.

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tappeto_di_Pazyryk By User:Schreiber – http://pazyryk-gesellschaft.com/images/pazyryk_gross.jpg , Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3195948
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tappeto_persiano#/media/File:Ghyas_el_Din_Jami_-_Tabriz_(?)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg Di Ghyas el Din Jami – Weaver (Persian)Born in North-West Persia. Died in North-West Persia.Details of artist on Google Art Project – CgFkUW6YyFkczw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23996955
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tappeto_persiano#/media/File:17-9_3-1964-Saltingtaeppe_Photo-Pernille-Klemp-f.jpg Unknown – [1], Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26078962

Elisa Monfasani

English version Fin dai primi anni mostra una certa propensione per il campo dell’arte, diplomandosi in Arti Figurative al Liceo Artistico “Bruno Cassinari” di Piacenza. La passione per l’arte tessile antica e contemporanea derivano dalla sua formazione come Restauratore di Materiali e Manufatti Tessili e in Pelle. In parallelo all’attività del restauro, da settembre 2020, è Amministratore ed Editor Social Media del profilo “Festina Lente Studio”, dove insieme alla collega Emanuela Fistos, si occupa di divulgare la conoscenza dell’arte tessile. Di recente, è entrata a far parte della redazione del sito web “Storie Parallele”, nato nel 2019 come strumento didattico e divulgativo della storia e dell’archeologia. La sua mission in ArteMorbida è quella di portare la “matericità” degli oggetti d’arte a contatto con il lettore; l’osservazione del “micro”, degli aspetti merceologici dei manufatti tessili, sono, infatti, fondamentali per accede al “macro”, alla comprensione dell’opera d’arte nella sua totalità.