An Abbreviated Guide to Pictorial Rugs

Pictorial tiger rug
An ode to the pictorial tiger rug from the Homage Collection by Rug & Kilim.

This week, our showroom floor was lined nearly head to toe in a rainbow of tigers.  

The most recent additions from Josh’s passionate search for the most diverse, sought-after tiger rug designs this last year has yielded the most interesting fruit — the exciting beginnings to a new line of pictorial rugs long anticipated by our team. From the drama in their varied designs to the meaningful subtext of each cultural take on the style, all of these things have begun to come together as one of Josh’s next glimpses into handmade rug trends. The beauty and cultural significance of Tiger rugs in history easily merit their own discussion, but in the many gifts they’ve given us of late they have turned our attention to the under-appreciation of pictorial rugs in our industry. 

Rugs have always offered limitless potential for conversation, but pictorial rugs and tapestries are arguably among the most bold, decorative and culturally significant creations in each handmade rug tradition for the sheer intricacy of their craft alone. French tapestries with lavish human depictions, Persian rugs with regal hunting scenes, Chinese Peking rugs with sophisticated mythology — these are only a few among the most venerated ancestries of the style.

What Defines a Pictorial Rug?

Pictorial Art Deco rug
Entering its tenure as a vintage piece, an Art Deco pictorial rug from the earliest of Josh’s works.

A pictorial rug, sometimes called a portrait rug or tableau rug, is any kind of rug or carpet that depicts elements of scenery, life, or living beings. At a glance, some of the most popular styles depict human figures, animals, vivid settings, and levels of detail and civilization beyond inanimate geometric or floral styles.

Beyond being incomparable feats of art and hand making, pictorial rugs hold an important role in reflecting the daily life of their origin, and especially reflecting a more elaborate conveyance of the spiritual attitudes and customs of the weaver—ranging from the bold, primitivist tribal allusions of Moroccan rugs to the grandiose aristocratic scenes brought to life in French tapestries just to mention some of the noteworthy handmade pictorial rug traditions.

Among the Oldest Rugs and Kilims

Essential to understanding the rich role of pictorial rugs in history is that the oldest handmade rug in history is, in fact, a pictorial rug. 

The 5th-century pictorial rug known as the Pazyryk rug is believed to be the oldest carpet in existence — estimated to be from 400 BC — currently located at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia since it was discovered in Kazakhstan in 1949. Among the many ancestral techniques used in handmade rugs — including but not limited to hand weaving, flat weaving, hand knotting, hand hooking, hand tufting and more — this rug remains the oldest-known example of hand-knotted rugs in human history. 

Pazyryk carpet
The Pazyryk carpet, a pictorial rug believed to be the oldest rug in existence.

Of all the design elements of the Pazyryk rug that helped archaeologists understand more on the tribes of the period and region than ever before, the specific pictorial allusions to varied mythical creatures and horseback riders offered a glimpse into both the capabilities of the tribes as artists and the tradition of storytelling among the oldest tenets of rug making. Pictorials are certainly over the top in their varied realism and the sheer intricacy of diverse yarns needed to man such an immersive portrait — no matter the culture of origin — but they are nothing else if not the purest expression of a rug’s power to tell a story. 

Spanning all varieties of handmade rugs, Kilims and tapestries, classic Persian rugs are often regarded among the most abundant and world-renowned popularizations of pictorial styles. Given their history and wide-spanning influence in countless other styles of rug making, some of the other most famous lineages in classic rugs have a tether to the various traditions and tribal attitudes in Persian carpets. 

Human Figures and Scenery

Pictorial Bessarabian rug
PictoriaA mid-century Bessarabian pictorial rug, depicting a woman surrounded by stylistically gorgeous flowers and animals against a rich colorway background.

Depictions of people and human figures in antique and vintage rugs and tapestries are arguably the most quintessential to the history, and often the appeal, of lineages embracing this style. Varied cultures practiced equally varied styles of human pictorial representation to suit both cultural and decorative needs. 

Turkish and Moroccan rugs and Kilims, for example, were believed in many interpretations to embrace primitivist geometric figures to relay spiritual aspirations, especially in Moroccan tribal rugs where these figures often represented the protection of families, healthy marriages, healthy children and a whole range of subjective enchantments. European rugs and tapestries were — among many differing motivations for human pictorial creations than that — often commissions for aristocracy or the work of specific workshops both pioneering and meeting the trends of 18th century high fashion. 

Pictorial French tapestry
An antique French pictorial tapestry among the finest of our collection.

The same variety can be said for rugs, especially tapestries, depicting scenery like beautiful murals of nature or country life, but in our experience some of the most rare rugs, Kilims and tapestries have honed in on setting pictorials without allusions to humans within.

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Among our vintage pictorial Kilim rugs, depicting an idyllic scene in nature.

Shared Origins, Techniques, Materials

Access and emphasis on varied materials, like silk and mohair, throughout history plays a key role in the evolution of all pictorial rug and tapestry styles, just as travel and cultural diffusion affect the preferences of the market in a certain period and the creations that ensue. Many antique agra rugs depicting humans alongside animals in grand hunting pictorials, for example, drew heavily on the Persian hunting pictorials like those in Tabriz rugs, Kerman Lavar rugs, Kashan rugs and other styles in that family to the same extent as they and other Indian rug traditions developed their own distinctive styles over time. 

Similarly, Bessarabian rug and Kilim weavers drew abundant influence from Turkish weavers in their rich yarns and distinguished takes on European, often French, styles of humans, as well as floral and animal pictorials in their creations throughout the late-18th and complete-19th centuries. Some of the vintage Bessarabian Kilim rugs we’ve added to our own collection exemplify the luxurious creations born of this diversity, but we’ll always have a special home in our hearts for Josh’s favorite French tapestries for the sheer luxurious quality and refinement they enjoy. 

Each historic attempt in the vast multitude of those depicting humans in pictorials can be best appreciated in the context of that lineage. With or without settings and scenery in those depictions, allusions to people in rugs are among the best examples in capturing the soul of a people when we look at the master weavers from culture to culture. 

Animal Pictorials

Pictorial lion rug
A mid-century Karabagh pictorial Kilim with bold red lion depictions.

Animal depictions in varied classic rug styles have equal merit when understanding the culture of a rug-making society through a pictorial lens. Some of the most striking, fabulous works of art were born of both the most casual and the most sacred homages to earthly and mythical creatures alike in the history of handmade rugs. 

Beyond pelt and hide rugs — which can be argued to be a form of pictorial rug depending on the level of recognition from the original animal — animal rugs enjoy a veritable kingdom of varied styles, from subtle allusions in geometric figures to the unmistakable, jaw-dropping beauty of realist depictions like those seen to no small extent in Persian and Chinese rugs, to name a few. 

While no style of pictorial rug is any less a labor of love than another, the sheer range of animal styles also connotes the range of casual and sacred meanings in their depictions. We’ve seen an interesting variety of animal depictions among mid-century Turkish rugs, for example, likely remarking the trend of rustic charm and levity in visualizing roosters and horses, whereas antique Chinese rugs depicting dragons are a consistent nod to the beast as a symbol of power, divinity and fortune among many important cultural themes of antiquity. 

Pictorial tiger rug
POA 3×6 our favorite vintage pictorial tiger rugs.

Cultural Significance in Animal Rugs

True to the inspiration for this blog, tiger rugs are another fabulous example of the variety of cultural interpretations and styles in classic pictorial rugs that have made it to the market today. The ode to tiger rugs recently added to our Homage Collection, for example, draws on a notable inspiration from India, where the tiger is the national animal with a history of representing authority and cunning. Tibetan tiger rugs like those that inspired a few of our other creations, however, have a similarly profound cultural significance sometimes used for meditation mats in monasteries, other times as symbols of warding and nobility. 

Indochinese dragon rug
An 8×10 among the most regal antique dragon rugs in our collection.

Subtextual themes of power and daring prevail across the spectrum of varied tiger rugs in history just as visual themes of bold colors and honorific symmetry persist. In that same vein, Persian rugs perhaps embody this range of casual and intense cultural animal depictions the same way antique Persian rugs draw on a wide variety of animal depictions — tigers, birds, deer, lions, snakes and even dragons have remarked the sense of flair and grandeur in Persian culture that has influence rug making from lineage to lineage. Further to their credit, some Persian pictorial rugs have boasted the most impressive diversity and quantity of colors in their weave, as well as an impressive scale like that of the rare Persian palace-size rugs embracing pictorial patterns. 

Persian dragon rug
A rare Persian dragon rug of iconic air and rich color among our pictorial lines.

Diversity through Storytelling

Variety remains crucial to understanding the many attitudes toward animal representations in rugs, especially since not every culture is bound to the religious and mythological storytelling in pictorial rugs of this nature. Some of the hooked rugs in our collection, for example, draw on equally intricate designs with more casual attitudes of folk art and farm life similar to the sensibilities in Bessarabian Kilims, to an extent. The air of these pieces might read less regal than joyful, but every bit as charming in their use of color and almost granular texture.  Hooked rugs, at least among those recently added to our collection, tend to be smaller in size as well, lending a wider array of decorative possibilities and portraiture.

Pictorial hooked rug
PiA charming, intricate pictorial from our collection of vintage and antique hooked rugs.

Possibilities and Project Ideas: Decorating with Pictorials

Once designers and decorators understand the preference of presence of the pictorial pattern in the project, the varied styles lend themselves to a more impressive array of applications than most would consider for such a collectible, yet particular, rug style. 

Wall hanging projects are among the most welcoming to both tapestries and rugs with regal and dramatic sensibilities, but farm houses, country homes and similarly rustic interiors can be made all the more beautiful with the consideration of a pictorial rug to match their levity and folksy charm. 

Needless to say, over the years we’ve hosted a notable variety of collectors who come to us seeking rugs based entirely on country of origin, cultural subtext and family ties. The experience is always one of kindred spirits, given that these clients share a profound connection to the styles and motifs, but the potential admiration for the fabulous, iconic aesthetic of pictorial rugs has risen in our other colleagues as well of late. 

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Scandinavian

The Scandinavian Collection presents geometric designs delineated with varying pile heights for tactile emphasis, with numerous fresh, refined patterns woven in a unique variety of yarns and classic colorways. Often referred to by Josh Nazmiyal as “a new language in design” the modernist collection celebrates our unprecedented textural diversity, a formidable Kilim line never seen in these spacious sizes, and an exciting departure from traditional geometry that simultaneously embodies the original design.

Some of the most well-received patterns have drawn inspiration from mid-century pioneers of the aesthetic, reimagined with Josh’s deep reverence of the style and his drive to present the vintage style with the utmost quality and possibility. To that end essential functional concerns were innovated, especially in the flat weaves where the original pieces were fewer, smaller and more vulnerable to folding underfoot and we’ve achieved a durable body resistant to buckling or shifting like traditional flat weaves. A number of our Scandinavian Kilim pieces likewise enjoy a subtle, intriguing colorway variation created through the aforementioned blend of undyed, natural yarns, lending to a unique, tasteful sense of movement complementing the classic geometry.

Our goal was to ensure that the soul of Scandinavian design aesthetic in both functionality and minimalism was observed, while durability, beauty and restraint were addressed in kind.
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Antique & Vintage

Antique rugs have been in Josh’s resume since he began in the industry almost 40 years ago when he was already recognized for one of the largest oriental rug collections in the United States. Each piece in the internationally recognized volume was hand picked for rarity, and of course aesthetic and beauty, now complementing one of the widest varieties of Persian rug and Turkish rug collections with the utmost attention to individuality and care. Because of Josh’s position in the wholesale rug industry he’s been responsible for promoting a number of collections throughout history, from breathtaking signature Tabriz, Sultanabad, Kerman Lavar, Agra, and Oushak classics to the more unsung jewels of the luxury industry.

Vintage has also been synonymous with who we are since our beginning, particularly for our unparalleled Kilim collection, but with the rise of Mid Century collection the term vintage carpet has become very popular—especially exciting because often times many of the vintage carpets have also been treated, washed, dyed over, sheered, and modified—and has created a very successful category. We’re especially very proud of our vintage Kilims and Turkish rugs curated for our expansive collection of both area rugs and runners alike.

Rug & Kilim maintains our own facilities for cleaning and restoration exclusively for carpets we’ve sold to ensure their lasting beauty and care long after a piece leaves our collection.

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New & Modern

Since establishing our trade-only showroom in New York over 20 years ago, the interest in modern and contemporary flooring has been equal parts motivation and inspiration for Josh, who has long invested efforts innovating material and pioneering the designs we add to this aspect of our collections. To that, Josh’s passion for the history of design has inspired our growing geometric, abstract, and neo-traditional designs with exciting additions, particularly our Homage and Mid Century collections standing as pillars of the collections. 

 The Homage Collection from our Classic Style Sub Collection enjoys inspiration from Josh’s love of European rug sensibilities with a new take on distressed shabby chic. The Mid Century collection, too, draws influence from icons of the 1950s in its growing selection of patterns, both the effort of refining large-scale graph, texture, and color over three years and collaborating with classic and current designers who’ve embraced the style as a new face of modern.

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European

Equal to any pillar of our collections, our European category encompasses some of Josh’s favorite selections reflecting with time-honored and contemporary designs from as early as the 17thcentury and onward. The consistent popularity of French Aubusson pieces has always influenced our antique collection with some of the finest rarities, as well as our modern and contemporary inspirations blending the style with Josh’s signature approach. Our additional admiration for Tudor Neo-Classical, and Arts & Crafts design elements led us to an ample collection of Tudor and Art Deco inspirations with the same enthusiasm, and the response from designers and decorators alike has spoken volumes to the growing potential of these and other lines in our European Collection, including treasures from Ireland, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and more.

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kilim

The common denominator of nearly all of our lines, and the passion from which we found our name, lies in our unparalleled Kilim rug collection with selections from all over the world in both the most celebrated and unsung designs. In our antique and vintage collections our Persian, Turkish, and Moroccan Kilim collections alone enjoy rarity, versatility, and beauty with constant additions. 

 In line with Josh’s pioneering spirit, our flat weave line in Rug & Kilim’s Scandinavian collection enjoys fresh, invigorating designs and a durable body we’ve come to consider the hallmark of this collection; never buckling underfoot like traditional Kilims and blending a beautiful variety of yarns for a high-quality wool.

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Moroccan

From the antique and vintage riches of the Berber weavers to the exciting newer loom productions, our Moroccan collection enjoys a diversity of wool and fabric pieces equal to our variations of colors and pile heights. 

 The vibrant, very distinguished and intricate beauty and colorway options of the classic tribal pieces have been very well received by a variety of projects and spaces, enjoying both minimalist beauty and more eclectic, culturally fascinating options with rich symbolism and history.

 For a more modern appeal, the larger area-sized pieces in our contemporary Moroccan line enjoy bold variations of mixed pile height options complementing the very lush, inviting wool pile and the elegant contrast of cream white and black. The classically inspired field designs play beautifully off the reserved, sensible chic of these pieces and we’re excited to see the life they bring to projects.

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Burano

The Burano Collection celebrates Josh’s deep admiration for classic European sensibility and Oriental grace as they’ve transitioned into rare, unique fusions over time. Reflecting a symbiotic history of high fashion with an ostentatious, unsung traditional appeal in the cultural diffusion of these aesthetics upon each other, these very time-honored, sophisticated, beautiful melting colorway pieces marry the look of age with fabulous attention to texture, graphically and historically hoping to exhibit some of the most important patterns in the history of rug making.

What’s so groundbreaking is this collection’s ability to draw on any period— some creations including 17th-Century Kangxi to 18th-Century Aubusson pieces to 19th-Century neoclassical pieces and more in the growing collection all the time—like no one has ever offered in our trade before. With the common denominator of notoriously soft Ghazni wool and our own special blend of additional yarns, each hand-knotted piece can be crafted in the same weft and pile height with a new comfortable, rich aesthetic that is becoming recognized as a revolution in luxury rugs; a new, encompassing design language more than a collection.

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Custom Rugs

Rug & Kilim’s exclusive custom collection enjoys a culmination of all our team has learned through 40 years in the industry in a refined approach to scale, graph, color, and texture never seen in such an encompassing array of classic and modern bespoke rug patterns. Clients selecting a custom piece from this and our other custom-capable collections have access to our full sample archive for any additional inspiration, selecting any size and colorway variation working closely in constant communication with our Art Department from start to finish in realizing your vision with the utmost precision. Our designers provide an in-depth rendering once a 50% minimum deposit is placed, to be approved with your confidence and hand-made with any of our unique blend of exotic yarns and materials, the sheer variety of which has become a trademark of several collections including our celebrated Scandinavian, Mid-Century Modern, Texture of Color, Burano, and Homage collections to name a few.

Become a Member to access our full Custom archive and begin your project today.

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Padding

Rug & Kilim’s custom cut padding is available for any order, offering longevity and value to a variety of pieces by offering a keylift to the body,mitigating dust accumulation, and protecting special orders in transit for various projects. Click below to find the ideal padding for your order or email info@rugandkilim.com for more information.

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mid-century modern

The Mid-Century Modern collection by Rug & Kilim represents founder Josh Nazmiyal’s hope to honor the iconic aesthetic pioneered by designers of the 1950s in the limelight of modern design. These newly released additions represent the first major production of mid-century style fabric patterns as custom, high-quality luxury rugs in our collaboration with both established and up-and-coming artists sharing our passion for the style.


The collection is the product of several years researching and refining our approach to large-scale drawing, texture, and color in a constantly refined method of capturing the pattern. These new additions marry post-war and atomicage design sensibilities with new design elements as our team collaborates with foundations representing the pioneers of the design as well as contemporary artists sharing Josh’s passion for the historic style.


Including quality wool, a blend of exotic yarns from our collection and brilliant, luminous silk highlighting key colorways in varied pieces, the library in our Mid Century Modern Collection promises to become one of the most uniquely joyful and reliable resource for decorators sharing our passion for both offering homage and embracing something new in the world of luxury interiors.

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Homage

The Homage Collection represents Rug & Kilim’s ambitious approach to reimagining iconic Oriental patterns with fresh European influences from a range of inspirations. With more than 75 designs and numerous full-sized stock pieces and samples available with this exceptional colorway selection, Josh sees the representations of traditional, transitional, modern impressionism, abstract, and even as far as American hook rugs in the collection as some of the best of each category in his experience.

Likewise seeing the line as an encyclopedia of designs and a handbook for everyday use at very reasonable prices, our team is particularly proud of the custom service, fast delivery, and consistent production this new archive offers. Even seen as a natural complement to the aesthetic of our respected Scandinavian Collection, pieces in the Homage collection have been washed to achieve a comfortable look of distressed, chic aesthetic and texture—though clients are certainly welcome to ask for pile in custom projects. The Homage Collection is an especially ideal choice for second homes, studios, beach houses, country homes, farm houses, and young families; easy to maintain, adaptable, and lending a reserved, dignified tone to many projects

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