Editor P.A.Azizbekova, Member of the Academy of Sciences of the Azerbaijan Republic
Over the century-old history the Azerbaijan people have created a rich and distinctive culture, a major part of which is decorative and applied art. This form of art rooted in hoary antiquity is represented by a wide range of handicrafts, such as chasing, jewellery, engraving in metal, carving in wood, stone and bone, carpet making, lacing, pattern weaving and printing, knitting and embroidery. Each of these types of decorative art, evidence of the wealth of the spiritual world and endowments of the Azerbaijan nation, is very much in favour here.
The present catalogue “Azerbaijan Embroideries” is compiled on the basis of the collection of embroideries in the ethnographic section of the Museum of Azerbaijan History under the Academy of Sciences of the Azerbaijan SSR. Embroideries of various kinds are carefully preserved in this invaluable depository of relics of Azerbaijan material and intellectual culture. Their beauty and elegance, diversity of decorative motifs and superb workmanship make these pieces of needlework truly unique.
Originating in hoary antiquity, the techniques and compositions of Azerbaijan embroideries have reached us through the centuries, thus proving the continuity of national culture.
The time when the art of embroidery began to spread in Azerbaijan can be established on the basis of archaeological findings. The simplest ornamental elements similar to those used in embroidery — straight and broken lines, zigzags, dots, circles, triangles and lozenges — are found on pottery of the early Bronze Age (dated in Azerbaijan as 3,000 B. C).
Many interesting facts pertaining to the development of arts and crafts in Azerbaijan were reported by numerous merchants, travellers and diplomats who had visited these places at different times. The Italian traveller Marco Polo (13th century) noted the beauty of silk wares from Shemakha and Barda. The English merchant and traveller Anthony Jen-kinson (16th century) who had visited the local ruler in his summer residence marvelled at its splendour. “The king was sitting in a rich tent embroidered in silk and gold”, he wrote, adding that the ruler’s garments were decorated with pearls and gems.
Embroideries in the 19th-early 20th centuries were made on locally produced canaus, darai or velvet. The art prospered in Shemakha, Baskal, Gyandzha, Sheki, Shusha and other Azerbaijan towns.
The embroiderers used silk and woolen threads and also stamped plaques—all locally produced. The threads were dyed with colours of plant origin.
The embroideries were distinguished for the richness and diversity of decorative motifs.
Among the favourite floral motifs were roses, daffodils, carnations, poppies, lilies, the blossoms of fruit trees — pomegranate, quince and wild plum, as well as spikes and leaves of various shapes.
Geometrical ornament consisted of straight and broken lines, zigzags, triangles, rectangles, hexagonal and octagonal resettes, lozenges, stars and figures symbolizing the sun.
Birds were among the favourite motifs of Azerbaijan embroiders— nightingales, peacocks, doves, parrots, hoopoes, sparrows, pheasants, quails, partridges and others.
The frequently occurring presentation of pairs of birds is the oldest and most favoured motif in applied decorative art. Birds are usually shown either loving each other or angry with each other. These two motifs, people say, symbolize love and parting.
As to other representatives of the animal kingdom, dzeren. turtles.
dragon-snakes and horses are most common.
One may frequently come across embroidered household articles like rose water bottles, comb cases, cosmetic vials, jugs, etc.
The more popular and widespread types of embroidery in Azerbaijan were gold stitch, satin-stitch, chain-stitch, “bird’s eye” technique, the use of spangles, glass beads and stamped plaques, quilting, applique, spiral and fillet work.
Gold stitch on a very tight fabric is the oldest type. The best base was red, purplish-red, violet and green velvet. Fine broadcloth of various colours, brocade, tirma, satin and morocco leather were also embroidered. The embroiderers used factory-made gold or silver threads. This type of embroidery was called gyulyabatyn.
Most of the time gold stitch decorated ladies’ outer garments, headdress, household articles, horse gear and smaller objects. According to custom, the bride received gold-embroidered household wares as part of her trousseau.
As to embroidery in colour silk threads, the chain-stitch technique was especially popular. In the 19th century the town of Sheki was the main producer of chain-stitch embroideries.
The base of chain stitch was locally manufactured or imported fine velvet or broadcloth of red, black and dark blue colours. An intricate design was picked out in bright silk threads over a dark ground. Chain-stitching was not an exclusively woman’s occupation. Many men demonstrated an extraordinary skill in this type of needlework.
First of all, the embroiderer brought out the contours of the design on a piece of cloth stretched on a tambour and then proceeded to fill the inner space. The needle for chain-stitching was called gar-mach.
Chain-stitch embellished female garments, large pillow cases, mu-taki, bath rugs and counterpanes.
Satin-stitch was also in favour. For this technique silk or woolen threads of soft pastel shades were commonly used, often in combination with gold threads. There were two types of satin-stitch — bilateral and unilateral. Satin-stitch embellished garments, wall trappings, ru-byands (face covers), curtains, etc.
Another widespread technique was “bird’s eye” — embroidery in white or colour silk.
Quilting decorated arakhchyn (skull-cap), shabkulakh (night cap), prayer rugs and woolen garments. A thin layer of wool or cotton was placed between the top and the lining and quilting was done in plain or herringbone stitches.
Of major interest is pearling and beading, an old manner of decorating garments, household articles, etc.
Spangling consists in attaching spangles to the cloth, following the pattern brought out in colour silk threads.
Applique and spiral arc relatively new techniques.
Fillet and openwork occur once in a while. Having originated much later this type of needlework found but a limited area of application, i. e. decoration of napkins, towels and yashmaks.
The old art of embroidery lives on in many Azerbaijan cities and the works of Azerbaijan embroiderers arc on display at international exhibitions and in museums.
Text by M. Jebrailova Photos by G. Huseinzade