Christopher Robin Andrews is an architect who has taken on a monumental, non-architectural task: the revival of high quality, true to the original, classical carpets (“classical” in the 15th – 17th century sense), those that were among the earliest imported into Europe and immortalized in paintings like Hans Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” (1533, detail above). I know just enough about carpet history to know very few of these originals – or even fragments of them – have survived. Andrew’s company Classical Carpets is dedicated to reviving these designs with new carpets produced on village looms.

A few questions:

Can the reintroduction of these carpets to the small villages that are producing them take hold in a culturally significant way? Assuming much of the meaning behind these motifs died when they stopped being handed down from one generation of weavers to the next, can new meaning be created today? Or does their reproduction just become a rarefied form of paint-by-number?

And, will there be a big enough market for them? I know there can be a bias against “reproduction” carpets in the design industry — antiques are okay, and contemporary carpets are okay, but new carpets that mimic old designs can have a harder time.

Regardless, it’s all very fascinating to think about. I don’t know of any other company doing this so if it does take hold (in any of a number of ways) Andrews will be singular in his success. In the meantime, the art historical, anthropological and economic angles are plenty.

11/3/08 ADDENDUM: For more on this topic please check out Christopher Andrew’s extensive reply to this post, found in the comment section!