The more than 2100 pieces in the carpet collection of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant constitute a real treasure, which deserves to be known and presented not only for its beauty, but also for the skill and refinement with which they were made. This collection was built up on the one hand through the efforts of Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaș (750 objects), and on the other hand as a result of extensive research campaigns organised under the leadership of Tancred Bănățeanu, when more than 1250 pieces were acquired. Another important phase of acquisitions was initiated after 1991 to complete the collection. Differing from one area to another, they represent a characteristic element of the peasant interior, representative of Oltenia, Muntenia, Vrancea, Suceava, Făgăraș, Hațeg. Orăștie, Bran, Muscel and Banat are testimonies of a craft raised to the rank of art.
The collection includes a large number of pieces from Moldavia and Oltenia thanks to funds donated a hundred years ago by famous collectors, passionate about folk art. Among the most famous donors, we can mention Prof. Dimitrie Gusti and Elena Comșa. An interesting collection of Moldovan carpets was donated to the museum by the nuns of the Agapia Monastery, an important centre where carpets were woven, now particularly valuable.
Initially used only for practical purposes, wool fabrics have over time outgrown their utilitarian role, becoming the most important element in interior architecture, giving it added beauty.
Woollen fabrics were considered to be highly valuable pieces in both peasant and boyar houses. This is why they were listed in the dowry sheets of the time and handed down from generation to generation within the same families.
The strong local background of the Romanian carpet assimilated decorative elements of oriental origin. The influence of oriental fabrics penetrated in two ways: via the Balkan world, to Oltenia and Banat, whose links with the East were directly stimulated by the great road that passed through Vidin and headed south through the Vardar Valley. On the other hand, for Moldavia and Bukovina, the penetration of the motifs was made through the Armenian colonies in the old urban settlements and monasteries around Suceava, but especially through the trade of goods, which circulated along the old trade routes that led down to Cetatea Albă and the Crimea.
The museum’s collection documents all carpet weaving and ornamentation techniques.
Most categories of weaving are executed in two or four weaves. A particular technique is used to make double-woven rugs from thicker, loosely twisted woollen yarns, which are then spun (to increase their strength by twisting).
The Oltenian carpet has a tightly woven composition consisting of a central field and one or more selvedges. It is characterised by several features, such as the preference for plant, avimorphic, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic motifs, treated as naturalistically as possible, which is also due to the technique of ornamentation. Another feature is that the entire composition runs the length of the piece. The best-known decorative motifs found in the ornament of the Oltenian carpets in the museum’s collection are: geometric (rhombus), naturalistic, such as avimorphs (stylised birds: pupa, cuckoo, hen, turkey, goose – a particularly rare example is carpet S 835,
which has parrots as decorative motifs), animals or anthropomorphic stylisations (female figures – S 972, a unique piece in the museum’s collection, whose decoration represents a woman dressed in a pink dress, tied at the waist with a green belt whose ends hang down over the wide dress, and a diadem on her head. The carpet was exhibited at the International Exhibition in Paris (1900), where it also won a prize.
The framing of the Oltenian carpet does not always take its ornamental motifs from the field. Characteristic of the Oltenian carpet is the presence of several successive stripes of different widths. The oriental decoration was gradually introduced into the ornamental composition of the Oltenian carpet, adapting to the local background.
The oldest dated carpet in the museum’s collection is the Oltenian piece S 868 (dated 1789), which, from an ornamental point of view, has a composition dominated by a plant, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic motif. In the centre of the composition is an asymmetrically composed vase with flowers. On either side, up and down, birds and animals walk among the leafy branches and flowers. At one point, a camel pulled by a figure. Above, two little girls in wide dresses.
One of the most evocative pieces in the museum’s collection is the S 109 carpet, which depicts a ball scene. In the centre of the piece, a young man is flanked by two dancers. Two other couples, placed at the top and bottom of the rug, give a strong perspective effect in a vast ballroom.
Few inscriptions are found on the Oltenian carpets in the museum’s collection, and these are limited to names and dates. The dated pieces come from the years 1789, 1830, 1859, 1861, 1867, 1875. The rug dated 1861 is inscribed with Cyrillic and Latin letters (the name Smaranda appears). Another undated piece is inscribed on the centre with the name GHIȚĂ A.
Quite rare as a fabric motif in our folk art, the hand motif appears in the collection on four of the Oltenian carpets (S 174; S 910; S 932; S 945). On two of these rugs, the hand is depicted with an open palm and an open thumb. On the other two pieces, the hand is stylised as a comb. The stylisation of the hand is an ancient motif, linked in the popular conception to work and harvest. Over time, the motif of the hand has had multiple meanings, linked to the historical and social content of the era, as well as to the many artistic forms, which are in line with the continuity of the native element.
The carpets from Wallachia, generally made up of two sheets, are distinguished by the use of pastel colours, specific to vegetable paints, and by the weaving in the Karamani technique. The large, stepped or crenellated outlines are enhanced by the hemstitchs of the fabric. In Wallachia, geometric decoration evolved in particular. The carpets with vegetal, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic decoration are very rare, and in some cases these motifs are very close to the stylisation of the Oltenian rug motifs.
A specific model is the ‘table’ carpet, with the entire ornamental field divided into monochrome squares of equal size; in the centre of each square is a geometric, vegetal or zoomorphic ornament. The border is made up of a row of serrations. This type of rug emerged under the influence of oriental Persian carpets of Kashan or Tebriz (in the 16th-17th centuries).
The complex motifs of the old tradition of the tree and the flower vase are less common. They appear in the collection on a few rugs from the ethnographic areas of Vlașca, Prahova and Ialomița.
The rugs from Dobrogea consist of three sheets of fabric, with the decoration composed of a rhythmic alternation of polychrome stripes. The predominant colours are red combined with black, green, white, purple, yellow and orange.
The rugs from Moldova are woven in the technique of the interwoven thread picking. In the case of the rugs with plant and stylised motifs, the hole-punching technique is used, which is more feasible. The Moldovan carpet has a large format (between 3 and 5 metres), with a less developed border, often decorated with the ”vine” motif, which encloses a field decorated with stylised floral motifs.
The Moldavian rugs are characterised by an composition organised in a closed form. They may be in the traditional geometric, vegetal or figurative style.
The carpets decorated with geometric decoration in concentric lozenges or with groups of stripes and selected motifs is typical of southern Moldavia; in the Kashin Valley there are rugs with a central motif (lozenge with hooks, framed by a border).
The rugs with the “tree of life” spread over the entire surface of the piece and the “Cotnari” rugs are examples of great chromatic refinement and a rare plastic expressiveness. One of the most beautiful pieces in the collection, made at the Agapia Monastery in 1910, has as its main motif baskets with bunches of roses arranged all over the carpet, in a deep green.
On a rug from the Iasi region (S 389), there is a more special representation of the tree. The flower at the top is treated as a medallion, with a female figure in the centre, framed by two facing birds.
The anthropomorphic motif is also quite rare. Few carpets with anthropomorphic motifs appear in the museum’s collection. One of the most important specimens bears a small square medallion in the centre with a mounted figure wearing a western uniform. An initial, N., could indicate Napoleon. Among the most valuable pieces in the collection is the rug S 286, dated 1835, from Suceava, which from the inscriptions and the ornamental composition seems to have been intended for the church. In the middle of the rug, a cross covers almost the entire field. From the lower end, two branches rise laterally, each supporting a bird at the top. Two other pairs of birds are on the right and left of the cross, and the seventh bird with a cross in its beak sits at the top. An inscription in Cyrillic letters indicates the name and place of origin of the donors: Nastasia Srana, his wife Iordache W, mate of Clucer Ioan ot Suceava.
Among the most valuable pieces in the collection are the rugs from Maramureș.
On the old rugs, plant motifs were quite rare. The flower with two symmetrical leaves, the bouquet with three flowers were used both as decorative elements of the borders and as the main element in the organization of the ornamental field.
Cyrillic inscriptions often appear on the large Maramures carpets, indicating the name of the person who worked the rug and the year it was made.
The sober chromaticism, resulting from the use of natural colours (grey, white, brown) or pastel vegetal colours (yellow, blue, green, dark red) well harmonised with the ornaments covering the field of the piece, make these rugs true masterpieces.
Fondul scoarţei poate fi monocrom sau compartimentat cromatic în benzi transversale, în pătrate sau dreptunghiuri, ce încadrează motive antropomorfe. Folosirea tehnicii chilimului a făcut posibilă apariţia unei bogate game de motive ornamentale (geometrice, florale, antropomorfe şi zoomorfe). Bărbaţi în picioare sau călare, femei cu furca în mână, „cătane”, „cucoane şi bărbaţi în horă” alcătuiesc un repertoriu ornamental specific scoarţelor din Maramureş, caracterizată printr-o precizie a compoziţiei. Femeia este reprezentată în picioare sau călare. În picioare, ea apare în poziţie de dans, cu braţele ridicate, ca într-o horă. Şirul de femei înlănţuite într-o horă poate fi legat de motive străvechi locale.
Scoarţele din Banat au dimensiuni mai mari decât cele din Moldova şi Oltenia. Cele mai vechi databile la jumătatea secolului al XIX-lea se caracterizează printr-un decor geometric cu chenare succesive, delimitate între ele prin şiruri de zimţi. Câmpul central se prezintă ca un dreptunghi cu un motiv central şi cu câte unul în fiecare colţ.
The background of the rug can be monochrome or chromatically subdivided into transverse bands, in squares or rectangles, framing anthropomorphic motifs. The use of the kilim technique has made it possible to produce a rich range of ornamental motifs (geometric, floral, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic). Men standing or on horseback, women with pitchforks in their hands, soldiers, “ladies and men dancing in a hora” make up an ornamental repertoire specific to the Maramures carpet, characterised by a precision of composition. The woman is represented standing or on horseback. Standing, she appears in a dancing position, with her arms raised, as if in a hora. The string of women chained in a hora may be related to local ancient motifs.
The Banat rugs are larger than those in Moldavia and Oltenia. The oldest dating from the mid-19th century are characterised by a geometric decoration with successive bands, delimited by rows of serrations. The central field is a rectangle with a central motif and one in each corner.