Bessarabian carpets are flat-woven tapestry rugs that were hand woven on a wooden loom similar to the loom used to make Aubusson rugs. The very finest Bessarabian rugs were produced in the 18th century in the Russian Imperial Tapestry Factory. This factory was founded by Peter the Great after he returned from England and France where he was impressed by the magnificent Savonnerie, Aubusson and Axminister carpets he saw in the palaces of his hosts. These French and English carpets had already become the height of fashion at the Russian court and with the nobility and their importation was causing a drain on the Russian treasury. So the Russian Imperial Tapestry factory was set up to copy French and English carpets and remove the need for importing them. Soon the demand for these rugs grew and more factories were set up in villages controlled by the Russian landed gentry. The name Bessarabian derives from the historical region where these rugs were made. This region is now split between the present day Republic of Moldova and Romania. What makes Bessarabian rugs so desirable today is due to a fortunate accident – the weavers of Bessarabia were country folk with a country aesthetic. They copied the ornate French and English patterns in a more folksy manner giving these rugs a more comfortable feeling which has made them highly attractive to modern tastes.
1. An 18th Century Bessarabian Carpet in the Neoclassical style. Image courtesy Fred Moheban Gallery, New York.
The neoclassical style had became popular in 18th century Europe and was also revered by the court of Catherine the Great (1729-1796). The designs of some Bessarabian carpets attributed to the Imperial Tapestry Factory show neoclassical influences.
1A. Bessarabian artists drew motifs loosely thereby imparting an informality and charm to what would otherwise have been a formal architectural design. Detail of a medallion in the 18th Century Bessarabian Carpet pictured above. Image courtesy Fred Moheban Gallery, New York.
The provincial Bessarabian carpet workshops were also aware of the fashion for neoclassicism at the Russian Imperial Court, but they preferred to draw the designs in an even more informal manner than the Imperial Carpet Factory. The provincially made Bessarabian carpets show a liberal mix of neoclassical and folk elements.
2. In time the informal versions of English and French carpets became so popular, Bessarabian artists began to intentionally changed the drawing of motifs so they would resemble folk tapestries. For example, design curvilinear motifs were drawn with stepped outlines to resemble the way curvilinear forms appear in Russian folk tapestries. Even though these Bessarabian rugs are very finely woven and could have easily accommodated curvilinear shapes, the Bessarabian artists intentionally gave these rugs a charming informality. Image courtesy 1stdibbs.
Today this combination of French and English designs and Russian folk naiveté is what makes Bessarabian so sought after and so appealing to modern sensibilities. Bessarabian rugs have transcended their period and have become timeless in their appeal.
3. AD100 Interior designer Bunny Williams designed this timeless English living room on a fabulous Bessarabian rug. The Bessarabian rug’s color palette is a complex balance of cool and warm colors- reds, yellow, gold, green, blue, and brown which resonate with the floral fabrics, wall color, porcelain and impressionist paintings. Image courtesy House and Garden magazine..
4. The Moldova Bessarabian Savonnerie oriental rug resembles the Bessarabian carpet in the Bunny Williams living room in image 3. Moldova combines neoclassical and folk elements which have been drawn with stepped outlines in the tradition of 19th century Bessarabian carpets. The vibrant color palette contains yellows, golds, reds, greens, blues and purple and makes it easy to create many different color palettes for a room. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
5. A design scheme for a modern bedroom that pulls yellow, red and green from the Moldova Bessarabian Savonnerie carpet. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
6. Brunschwig & Fils new ad featuring Albert Hadley’s library for Brooke Astor, which The New York Times called “one of the most admired interiors of the 20th century.” The Bessarabian rug on the floor is an all time classic. Image courtesy Brunschwig & Fils.
7. The Hermitage Bessarabian pile rug was inspired by an antique Bessarabian rug and resembles the Bessarabian carpet in Brooke Astor’s library in image 6. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
8. Jackie Kennedy’s sister Lee Radziwill’s apartment in New York was recently featured in Elle Decor. The Bessarabian rug in black, cream, blue and gold adds warmth to this clean and airy room with white upholstery and walls. The mirror above the fireplace and the Bessarabian rug have been used in several previous Radziwill residences with very different furniture styles which is a testimony to the lasting appeal of Bessarabian carpets. Image courtesy Elle Decor.
The American owners of this Paris apartment on the fashionable Faubourg Saint-Germain told French interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot they wanted “Something that felt truly French but that was of today.” The apartment has 15-foot-high ceilings and is in an 18th-century building. The owners selected a 19th-century Bessarabian carpet with fanciful foliate motifs which also inspired the room’s color palette from the Bessarabian rug. The charm of this Bessarabian rug and the room is due in great part to the naive interpretation of a French or English Neoclassic carpet design. Image courtesy Architectural-digest.
Some examples of Bessarabian carpets with naive interpretations of classical and folk motifs.
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