Fine 19th century antique Serapi carpets include some of the most rare and desirable large size decorative Persian carpets. Woven in the rugged mountains of Northwest Persia, Serapi rugs are a distinct Heriz region style, with finer knotting and more large-scale, spaciously placed designs than other rugs from this area. Antique Serapis have historically been the carpet of choice in early American state and federal buildings, including the White House. Today, our clients use graphic, casually elegant Serapi carpets in decors ranging from traditional to contemporary, Arts and Crafts, eclectic and postmodern.
Although it was the grandest of the antique Heriz rug styles, the Serapi rug format is seldom seen after 1910, because of the remoteness of the mountains in Northwest Persia presented. Persian carpets had to be taken by their weavers to Serab, 30 miles distant, to be marketed. “Serapi” is not a place or tribal name; rather it is a market term derived from “Serab-i,” meaning “of Serab”.
Serapi antique carpets combine design elements borrowed from many traditions. The bold geometric designs are probably connected to the tribal Caucasian traditions across the Aras River to the north. The elegant court carpets of Tabriz to the west certainly would have influenced the Serapi carpet weavers’ understanding of balance and the central medallion format. The great majority of 19th century Serapi rugs are ennobled by a commanding, multi-lobed center medallion flanked by four corner pieces and a nature-inspired palette of breathtaking colors. Occasionally, Serapi rugs employ large-scale all-over patterns.
Antique Serapi carpets were woven on the level of a family or small workshop with multiple weavers working several years to complete each Persian rug. The weaving was done almost exclusively by women. Highly skilled artisans, they continually reinterpreted the design as they wove, creating highly spontaneous and inventive artistry. In general, the antique Serapi rugs made in small workshops are more finely woven and formal, and Serapi carpets woven on a family level are more rustic and symbolic in design.
The women of this area were master dyers able to deeply dye the superb, silky, local wool with a great range of soft-shaded or “abrashed” color. The wide palette of hues came from many carefully brewed plants and minerals, colors for which the recipes are now lost. Watermelon to terra cotta tones came from madder root. The blue tones, from sky and aqua to periwinkle and deep navy, came from the indigo plant. Gold and yellow tones are from chamomile and a variety of other plants. The Serapi carpet weavers also frequently used large areas of undyed and unbleached wool, whose ivory and camel tones provided contrast to the wide range of vegetable color.
Until they began rising in value in the 1980’s, Serapi antique Persian rugs were an inexpensive alternative to classical floral carpets that were often used in heavily trafficked areas of the home. This use helped to soften the color, giving the Serapi rugs the muted tonalities they are renowned for by collectors and interior designers around the world.