The Spanish Rug
THE SPANISH RUG - The result is a unique tradition of carpet-making with no direct relative elsewhere in Europe.
Spain is almost certainly home to the oldest rug-making tradition in all of Europe. Significant carpet weaving on the Iberian Peninsula dates back to at least the 8th century, and the craft flourished under Moorish rule well into the 15th century. When, in the 16th century, Spain entered its long era of war and upheaval, the textile trade declined, though its roots were never fully severed. Wealthy patrons, supporting the country’s native culture, sustained Spain’s high weaving arts until international investment revived them in the 19th century. The extraordinary story of Spanish patronage is a long one, though one example does stand out. In 1712, Charles III established the Real Fabrica de Tapices Manufactory, the sole purpose of which was to create and maintain Spanish rugs that could compete in design and scale with the grand royal workshop rugs of 18th century Europe, most notably the Savonnerie of Paris.
The colors of Spanish carpets are perhaps their most stunning and defining feature. They are, organically, the colors of the Iberian interior: soft ivories, burnished copper, oxblood, earthen gold, and sprigs of verdant life in accents of forest green and ocean blue. The palette masterfully captures the minerality of the Iberian peninsula and above all stands testament to the deep local roots of the Spanish carpet-making tradition. For though the original flourishing of Spanish carpet-making may coincide roughly with the rise and fall of Moorish rule, the form cannot not be viewed as a Moorish craft imported from established workshops in North Africa to Spain. The fact of Moorish stability, rather than Moorish cultural origin, explains the relationship between the rulers and the craft, and Spanish carpet making was always a native art, practiced by Spanish weavers working according to traditional Spanish methods.
Which is not to say we can mean anything too specific when referring to the “Spanish” natives. One of the hallmarks of Spanish design—its incredible diversity of influence—comes from the fact that for centuries under the relative peace of Moorish rule, Christian, Jewish, Berber, and Muslim-Arab populations co-existed. They traded commercially, exchanged ideas, and absorbed a diverse array of cultural and religious influence. In the finest Spanish carpets, beautifully synthesized designs masterfully combine the country’s divergent, sometimes conflicting aesthetic sensibilities.
The result is a unique tradition of carpet-making with no direct relative elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, even the weaving technique with which the Spanish carpets are made is a singular one, found nowhere else among antique European or Oriental rugs. The distinction comes not in the warp and weft, but in the pile, where in Spanish carpets we see full knots, as opposed to loops. It is a labor intensive and remarkably sturdy weave, further distinguished by the tight pile accumulating in staggered rows.
Spanish rugs are today considered pinnacle achievements of the European form. The 15th century masterpieces are housed primarily in museum collections, though do occasionally appear on the international market. Fine examples from the 18th and 19th centuries, those elegant, more internationally European works of Spain’s rug-making renaissance, remain highly desirable to collectors and investors.