History of the Portuguese luxury rugs, from its origins to the present dayLuxury rugs — Feb 04.2021
Rugs arrived in European countries much later than when they began to be produced in various regions of Asia. Although trade brought fine carpets from the East to the Old World, it was only thanks to the Moors that Europe began to produce its first carpets. The cradle of this production is in Portugal, where amazing carpets have been made since the Renaissance, using a very special technique.
Arab domination and the birth of Arraiolos carpets
The long Arab domination of the Iberian Peninsula is not only evidenced by beautiful monuments and enchanting cities. The Moors, who conquered a large area of Spain and Portugal, also bequeathed to us the knowledge needed to make carpets.
According to historical reconstructions, the origin of Portuguese luxury carpets dates back to the period between the 15th and 16th centuries. At that time, the Arabs were defeated by the Spanish army and some of them found refuge in southern Portugal. Here, they taught the locals how to work the fabric to make extraordinary carpets, to be used for home decoration.
Soon, the tradition began to spread throughout southern Portugal. It was mainly women who carried out this activity, both in convents and in towns and villages.
Even today, the town of Arraiolos, one of the places where the Moors who fled Spain were welcomed and which gives its name to the most famous and sought-after Portuguese carpets, is a reference point for carpet production. Strolling through the streets of the town, it is not unusual to find someone intent on embroidering a piece in the open air.
Hand-embroidered carpets for your home
While the first Portuguese luxury rugs had a clear oriental and Persian influence, as time went by the patterns and colours typical of the Asian tradition began to give way to a more European identity.
The pieces produced in Portugal differ from Asian ones not only in design, but also in the materials used and the techniques of manufacture. While Persian carpets and all those produced in the various regions of Asia have a warp made almost exclusively of wool, Portuguese carpets are woven on cloth made from hemp or linen fibres.
Rugs are not woven on a loom on which threads are knotted, but with needles to embroider the design stitch by stitch. This technique is somewhat reminiscent of cross-stitching. Typically, the fabric used for the surface of the carpet is wool, which is woven in thin threads and therefore easy to work with.
The colours used in Portuguese luxury carpets reflect the evolution of this craft product over time. The earliest carpets, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, have the intense colours of the Persian tradition: red, blue and brown are constants. In more recent carpets, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, the colours are softer and more delicate, with pink and green predominating.
Patterns have also undergone a marked change. Carpets of Arab influence have a design rich in hunting scenes, flowers and decorative motifs. When the influences of the Arab rulers faded, the imagination of local craftsmen took over. The patterns used to define the decorations to be made became freer and more and more inspiration was taken from everyday life. Geometric motifs were also introduced.
Among the elements that make up what we can call the European carpet-making tradition, nature is a major player. In Portuguese carpets, flowers bloom, trees are lush and birds fly free. Very often the background of the carpet is made of undyed wool and the pattern is distributed symmetrically. The different subjects of the pattern are neatly distributed around a central rosette.
Choosing a Portuguese luxury carpet for your home means having a unique piece that represents a condensation of European textile history. Due to their careful design and great refinement, these rugs blend perfectly with the styles, materials and colours chosen for the floor, walls and furniture of the home. The Portuguese carpet has a remarkable ability to complete the environment without imposing itself on other elements in the room. Because of this versatility, a luxury Portuguese carpet is always a good choice. This is as true in a traditionally furnished home as it is in a contemporary or shabby chic style home.
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