Half-Century Anniversary of the World’s First Carpet Museum
Carpet Weaving in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a country located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it is famous for its ancient and rich history. The geographic landscape of Azerbaijan is characterized by picturesque natural contrasts ‒ from the existing 11 climatic zones, there are 9. In this fertile land since ancient times, various crafts have developed. And, first of all, it is the craft of carpet weaving, which in Azerbaijan has reached the level of genuine art.
Due to the favorable natural and climatic conditions and the abundance of the vegetative component, Azerbaijan has long been considered one of the centers of semi-nomadic cattle breeding.
9 out of 13 breeds of sheep that exist in the Caucasus are cultivated in Azerbaijan. Such an abundance of raw material was one of the reasons for the development of carpet weaving in this region. Another factor in the development of carpet weaving is the abundance of natural dyes. In Azerbaijan, preference has always been given to vegetable dyes from time immemorial, but along with this, paints of mineral and animal origin were also widely used.
The carpet took a significant place in all sorts of festivities and ceremonies, and accompanied the person from birth to death, playing a key role in daily life, in shaping the aesthetic perception of the world. The Azerbaijani people could not imagine life without carpet, and some traditions associated with it have survived to the present day. On the carpet they were born, among the carpets they lived, on the carpet, they sent the man on his last journey. In mafrashes ‒ rectangular carpet bags ‒ the bedding and clothing were transported and stored. Khurjun (saddlebags), storages for spoons and salt pockets, blankets adorning horses and camels ‒ all these are carpets, an integral part of daily life.
And also carpets are a luxurious palace culture. In the 16th century, carpets were created with a gold and silver threads in the weft, with scenes from miniature paintings, garden carpets, hunting carpets… Such carpets were exported as works of high art. They were given to kings and other rulers, thus, they made them by order. Sketches for such luxurious gifts were performed by the most famous miniaturists, representatives of the Tabriz school led by the unrivaled Sultan Muhammad.
Luxurious carpets were woven in all regions of Azerbaijan. One of the oldest centers of carpet weaving was Karabakh. In Shusha, huge houses were built, and carpets for them were woven especially, according to the size of the rooms, where they completely covered the floors. The walls in these rooms were decorated with frescoes, and the ceiling painting repeated the composition of the carpet. This was how the habitat was created, where the ornamental world filling all the surfaces was fascinating, transferring the person to another dimension.
For centuries in Azerbaijan were made precious carpets, which, thanks to its high quality and variety of artistic merit appreciated worldwide. Interest in Azerbaijani carpets in the world does not fall today, the Europeans, the Americans, the people of Western aesthetic orientation for many centuries collected Azerbaijani carpets to adorn their palaces, houses, religious buildings, and later they settled in the expositions of the largest museums in the world. And today we can see best vintage samples of Azerbaijani carpets in large gatherings, like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Textile Museum in Washington, the Museum of Islamic art in Berlin, the State Hermitage and the Ethnography Museum in St. Petersburg, the State Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, the Vakiflar Khali Museum in Istanbul, the Tbilisi History Museum, etc.
Azerbaijani carpets have been exported from the country for centuries, but since the end of the 19th century, this process has become more and more massive. With the expansion of the capitalist market, carpets were bought for nothing by special middlemen-buyers, who received significant profits on this. In prerevolutionary Russia, the tsarist government was interested in the development of carpet weaving in view of its important role in the economy of the whole country. Carpets took a prominent place in exports abroad and in central regions of Russia. Organized in 1899 by the Department of Agriculture and Land Management under the Ministry of Trade and Industry ‒ the Caucasian artisan committee, whose main task was the development of the South Caucasian and Northern Caucasus fisheries, focused on carpet weaving. The handicraft committee conducted the study of technology, ornamentation, raw materials, implements of production, etc. For this purpose, the best examples of carpets were collected. At the same time, the Committee directed the carpet industries.
With the advent of the Bolsheviks in Azerbaijan began to operate Transcaucasian Export-Import Office joint stock company (since 1924), whose goal was to strengthen the activities of carpet weaving and to export carpets to world markets. The department began collecting samples of the best ancient Azerbaijani carpets. Compositions of carpets produced in Azerbaijan, whose ornaments preserved their identity, were painted with watercolors and published in special albums. Ancient carpets were not returned to the owners, they were exported from Azerbaijan and later fell into private collections, museums of the world.
There was an urgent need to create a carpet museum, with the aim of preserving unique carpets, the cultural values of the Azerbaijani people, the quintessence of which is a carpet that has concentrated the memory of many generations, epochs, cultural, mental codes. This was a strategically important decision for our country.
Latif Karimov – Founder of Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
It was brewing for many years, but it became possible in the era of the so-called Khrushchev’s thaw when the processes of gradual thawing and relaxation of totalitarian power began, some freedom of speech was given and relative liberalization of public and political life was observed.
The founder of the museum was Latif Karimov ‒ an outstanding scientist, researcher whose merits in the field of preservation and development of traditions of carpet weaving, the creation of carpet science cannot be overestimated.
He was a talented artist and an inquisitive researcher, a man who knew the laws of art very well and recognized the soul of the carpet. He was the world’s leading expert in the oriental carpet. Karimov was also a patriot, a man who knew the national literature, poetry, culture in general, for which he was on the verge of being shot in the 1930s. He managed to miraculously avoid Stalin’s repression in 1937 thanks to the carpet, which he weaved at the time when the Chekists came for him. It was a carpet with the image of Lenin in full growth, the figure of which was framed by a border with ornate oriental ornament. The next time Latif Karimov managed to avoid exile and shooting due to the fact that he was sent to Moscow to decorate the National Pavilion of Azerbaijan for All-Union Agricultural Exhibition.
Latif Karimov owns a fundamental work ‒ the three-volume Azerbaijani carpet. It is an encyclopedia of the Azerbaijani carpet, where the classification, disclosure of compositions and meanings of ornaments, their place and importance on the carpet surface, technical and artistic characteristics that distinguish the carpets of different carpet-weaving regions are given for the first time.
Collecting material for his fundamental work on the Azerbaijani carpet, Latif Karimov visited all regions of the country. He knew the true situation in the carpet business and initiated the opening of the museum, the main profile of which would be the collection, storage, study and demonstration of carpets and carpet products.
This year the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary. On March 13 1967, this unique museum was established under Decree No. 130 of the Council of Ministers of the Azerbaijan SSR. Being the world’s first specialized institution in the field of carpet weaving, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum was created in our republic to celebrate carpet-weaving art’s significant role in the everyday life of Azerbaijanis.
Over the years, the museum has been called by different names. Between 1967-1993, it was called the State Museum of Azerbaijan Carpet and Applied Arts; between 1993-2014, the State Museum of Azerbaijan Carpet and Applied Arts named after Latif Karimov; and since 2014, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum.
Throughout its 50 years, the museum’s exposition operated in various buildings. The first exposition in 1972 took place in the 19th-century monument Juma Mosque in Icherisheher; in the Museum Center (the former Lenin Museum) in Neftchiler Avenue during the years of independence; and now in a magnificent modern-style building, which was built in a beautiful part of the Seaside National Park. By being displayed in buildings of different styles, the carpets and decorative-applied art items added extra beauty to the museum’s exposition. However, the exhibits, especially fascinating carpets from seven of our collections (Flat-woven carpets; Pile carpets; Carpet Products; Artistic Metalworks; Ceramics, Glass, Wood, Paper; Fabric, Costume, Embroidery; and Jewelry) are displayed to great effect at the exposition in the museum’s new building.
Most of the collections were accurately and wonderfully amassed in the 1970s and 1980s. For the purpose of replenishing the collection, the country’s leadership allocated a budget. During those years, leading carpet-scientists, art critics, and ethnographers undertook expeditions in different regions of our republic and, as a result, found valuable decorative-applied art items. And now, the items that Latif Karimov and the museum’s experts collected are considered to be precious examples of the world’s treasury of art. Today, the museum’s repository stores a unique collection of more than 10.000 objects. The largest portion consists of pile and flat-woven carpets and carpet products. A most comprehensive and rich collection, it demonstrates all types and groups of Azerbaijani carpets.
The museum’s collection provides an endless resource for scientific research. From the time of its establishment, the museum has been a scientific research and educational center, taking an active role in the cultural life of our country, and working in the fields of international relations, fund recruitment, and social works.
Museum was led by Aziz Aliyev (from 1967 to 1982) and Roya Taghiyeva (from 1983 to 2015). Over its 50 years, the museum has achieved much worldwide success and played a major role in the global promotion and recognition of Azerbaijani carpets in the territory of our country, the former Soviet Union, and worldwide. For example, in the 1970s, a part of the museum’s collection was exhibited in Germany and Italy, and appeared in some publications. As the reputation of Azerbaijani carpets continued to grow with each passing year, it became vital to organize a great scientific symposium dedicated to the topic. In 1983, the first symposium was held in Baku on the initative of the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum, with support from UNESCO. Throughout the organization of the symposium, the nation’s leader Heydar Aliyev and Latif Karimov provided essential support. Other international symposiums related to the promotion of Azerbaijani carpets were held in 1988 and in 2003 in Baku, and in 2003 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with support from both the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan and UNESCO. The last international symposium on Azerbaijani carpets was devoted to the 100th anniversary of Latif Karimov, indicating the special respect held for our carpet-master.
Latif Karimov had a significant role in the creation of the museum, carpet science, and the artistic-technical development of carpet weaving art. In 2016, a great event dedicated to the 110th anniversary of Latif Karimov took place at the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum. The museum organized a round table discussion on the Art of Carpet Weaving, supported by the Intergovernmental Foundation for Educational, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), which carpet specialists from CIS countries attended. Within the framework of the event, an exhibition dedicated to the 110th anniversary of Latif Karimov was presented with the cooperation of the All-Russian Museum of Decorative-Applied and Folk Arts (Moscow), and a book devoted to the carpet-master Latif Karimov was published.
In recent years, the museum has hosted international events. One of the memorable events of 2016 was the 1st International Symposium of Common Language of the Turkic world – Patterns. A second symposium took place in May 2017 and gathered 52 participants from twelve countries. Within symposium …
The museum actively carries out social community projects, including special educational programs for different age groups with the purpose of promoting and studying collection samples, our customs, and our traditions. The museum takes into account all the needs of our society’s members by offering entertaining programs for children and scientific-educational programs, such as scientific lectures and master classes. The project Family Day is a broad-spectrum program. We also have an interesting curatorial project entitled History of an Exhibit, lectures by prominent scientists working in different scientific areas of our country, and master classes on the forgotten techniques of carpetmaking and embroidery.
2017 is a remarkable date in the museum’s history. It will splendidly celebrate its 50th anniversary. A series of events are planned to take place throughout the year. On October 17-20, 2017, a symposium will be held, jointly organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS), and Azerkhalcha JSC, under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev’s Decree dated November 14, 2016 on Holding 5th International Symposium on Azerbaijani Carpets in Baku. Within the framework of the symposium, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum plans to present exhibitions and publish a book entitled Azerbaijan Carpet Museum – 50 years with the support of the Azerbaijani National Commission for UNESCO.
Holding an important place in the cultural life of our people, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum continues to implement activities and keep alive priceless artistic works that reflect our national spirit.
- “Ajdahali” (“Dragon”) carpet
Inv. No 9388
The 17th-century “Ajdahali” carpet is the most ancient and unique carpet in the museum’s collection. “Dragon” carpets have become a new stage in the development of professional carpet compositions. In Azerbaijani Carpet Weaving this composition is called Khatai. The basis of the Khatai composition is long-bent shaped branches. They are bent downwards from the bottom and have cracked edges. Among the branches are a large number of stylized elements called Afshangulu (“afshan” – fresh flower) of Afshan composition. In the center field of the Khatai carpets, dragons or other mythical animals were often depicted. Dragon descriptions have come to Azerbaijan with Mongols, especially with Uygurs. The classic “Dragon” carpets contain palmettes between the branches and by sides, dragons that protect them. This motif has ancient Asia roots and is widely used in Azerbaijani Art. Complex ornaments of palmettes, skillful bands, fine and elegant floral ornaments, dragon silhouettes – all of them are improved by styling and geometry. Dragon images combine palmettes with a single motive – medallion.