Illustration 1. Luri Lion Rug, Late 19th century, 4'5"x8'5". Evidence mounts that "lion rug" traditions began with Luri weavers in the Zagros region and spread to Qashqa'i women to the south. Courtesy of Bennie Norris.
Illustration 2. "Shekarlu" (Qashqa'i/Luri), late 19th century, 4'6"x7'9". "Shekarlu" rugs come from a Luri dominated group allied with the Qashqa'i Confederacy. Courtest of Timothy and Betsy String.
Illustration 3. (Detail from Illustration 2.) Counting animals is a tempting exercise in the company of some south persian weavings. This detail contains scores of animal-heads, many one-headed animals, a two-headed creature, three peacocks, and four lions. In all, this single detail contains over 200 references to bird or animal life.
Illustration 4. Qashqa'i horse cover fragment, late 19th century, 2'2"x3'9", courtesy of an anonymous collector.
For a detail of this piece see front cover, Vol. 12, No. 2
In contrast to these royalty-related lion figures, large lions in gabbeh rugs and also smaller folk-art lions in other south Persian rugs appear to represent a much older local tradition, possibly one that has been continuous since early periods of Iranian art. Ancient lion images were produced in stone, bronze, and gold by a series of cultures in southwestern Iran (Illustration 6).6
Illustration 6. Bronze lion figure from Luristan, first millenium B.C. This piece was part of a horse-bit set, used in daily life as burial goods. One end of the bit extended through a hole in the lion's body.
Illustration 7. Detail from a Bakhtiyari weaving pictured in the Bakhtiyari chapter of Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia (page 145). Motifs which combine human and animal features have a long history in Asia, including many "animal-style" themes of the first millenium B.C.
Illustration 8. Khamseh Confederacy bird rug, late 19th century, 4'4"x7'2". Repeating bird patterns of this style appear to be native to Iranian tribes. The major border was adopted from 19th century Senneh weavings. Courtesy of George and Loretta O'Leary.
Illustration 9. Detail from a south Persian horse-cover. Animals with extra heads offer the clearest evidence of the continuation of early design legacies in the region.
Illustration 10. An eighth or seventh century B.C. bronze two-headed animal from Luristan on a 19th century south Persian rug. Courtesy of Robert and Mary Balsam.
Illustration 11. A "cheek plaque" from Luristan, first millenium B.C.
2. The last reported sighting occurred in the nid-1940s.
3. See Parviz Tanavoli, Lion Rugs: The Lion in the Art and Culture of Iran.
4. Tanavoli, Lion Rugs, pp. 36-37.
5. Bagh-e Eram ("Garden of Earthly Paradise"), the imposing Qashqa'i home, was confiscated after the last Shah gained firm control over Iran during the 1950s. It was confiscated once again by Revolutionary guards in 1979.
6. This point was stated and supported in more detail by Tanavoli in Lion Rugs.
7. A sub-group known as "Shekari" existed within the Baharlu tribe of the Khamseh Confederacy. In this case, the "i" ending corresponds with possessive forms in Persian and related dialects, including the traditional language of Lurs and Bakhtiyaris/Luri. The Shekarlu group within the Qashqa'i Confederacy bears the "lu" ending, corresponding to Turkic language forms. Several dealers in Iran who identified rugs as "Shekarlu" spoke of them as a Qashqa'i subtribe that has a strong Luri background. Henry Fields mentioned a "Shakarlu" tribe within the Qashqa'i on page 221 of Contributions to the Anthropology of Iran (Field Museum, Publication 458, 1939). Shekarlu rugs are most readily identified by their characteristic borders (Illustration 1), which often have ivory backgrounds. I have seen quite similar patterns but with red or blue borders which seemed to be Khamseh Confederacy work. Therefore, it is possible that some rugs of this type were made by people who were politically allied with the Qashqa'i, while others were made by a smaller related body within the Khamseh Confederacy, or by tribal weavers who were not a part of either confederacy. The fundamental point I wish to nake is that traditional pattems in these rugs represent the influence of native Iranian tribes.
8. These have often been called "chicken rugs" in the trade. The word for "bird" in Farsi, murgh, can also be used for "chicken." However, translations of Persian literature commonly render the word murghi as "bird," rather than "chicken." For example, the simurgh (30 birds) in Attar's mystical parable, The Conference of the Birds, would hardly be translated as "30 chickens." For other commentary on "bird rugs," see "Bird Rugs of South Persia," Oriental Rug Review VIII/1, 987.
9. See catalog number 119 in P. R. S. Moorey 's section in Ancient Bronzes, Ceramics, and Seals (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981), figure B of plate VII, Ancient Bronzes From Luristan by P.R.S. Moorey (British Mueum Publications Limited, 1974), Figure 3 in "The Moon and Fertility in Early Iran" by Phyllis Ackermann, in Bulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archeology , Vol. V, Number 4, December, 1936, and figure i, plate 227 in The Holmes Expeditions to Luristan -- PIates, by Erich Schmidt, Maurit N. Van Loon and Hans H. Curvers, (The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1989). Another piece of primary literature in this field, P. R. S. Moorey's Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, 1971) does not contain examples of this specific type but shows a two-headed animal as object number 428, plate 419.
10. The term "Luristan bronzes" is placed in quotation marks because of its status as a widely-used misnomer. As Moorey has noted on many occasions, one single name does not do justice to the complex stylistic mixtures in Zagros metalwork, spanning nearly two thouand years of activity.