Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >RK examines Anatolian kelim
Part VIII
Author:jc
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Sat, Jan 2nd, 2010 02:22:23 PM
Topic: RK examines Anatolian kelim
Part VIII

RK has previously mentioned two words, proscribed and prescribed, given their dictionary definitions, and the necessity to consider them when discussing Anatolian kelim.

We have now placed enough background in the previous 8 parts of this examination to begin explaining where we are coming from in all this.

There is, however, a conundrum in our analysis we have yet been able to prove as convincingly as we are able to prove the rest of our argument.

It is the Anatolian kelim seed for these archetype, so to speak, and as hard and as long as we have looked for the seed’s exact source, it has so far eluded detection.

Like a plant that can be scientifically studied to the most infinite degree, our ability to trace every known Anatolian kelim to one of the 11 archetypes is easily proven, as you will see.

However like that plant, which had to grow from a seed, that seed cannot be studied because it no longer exists -- having become the plant itself.

Likewise, we have no proof where the archetype kelim came from, or how they developed into the form we now can see.

So please realize what will be said needs to have an operational definition, ie a starting point that must be accepted a priori -- and that is the fact there are these archetype.

RK can prove within a courtroom’s standard of beyond a reasonable doubt
1. all other Anatolian kelim are based on them
2. each of the 11 archetype are the templates for all the others of their specific types
3. or a combination of 2 or more archetype are the source of what we call pastiche type kelim

So, all you critics out there, realize we know we cannot prove the starting point but we can, as you will see, prove everything else comes from that point, ie the archetype.

The concept of proscription, as it pertains to weaving tradition, in inherent in our archetype formula.

A good analogy might be Catholic Church art and the proscribed manner Jesus Christ is depicted.

We see Jesus on the cross, his arms outstretched, his legs crossed, and his crown of thorns -- this picture does not change, it is always the same – it is proscribed.

Throughout hundreds of years, in innumerable countries all over the earth, Jesus is shown in exactly the same manner.

This is the best description of proscribed -- and we believe in the archaic period the same concept of proscription held true for the weavers of Anatolian kelim.

They did not dare to change the proscribed form, and even if they wished to they could not.

Like the artists and craftsmen who fashioned art for the Church, the weavers of archetype kelim were bound within strong societal, and political, convention.

The idea of freedom is inherent for artists in the modern western world.

Any artist can express an individual statement of art; while in the ancient east this is completely different. For these artist, like a weaver of an Anatolian kelim, were required to express the art of their society, and not their own interpretation or idea of that art.

RK can’t prove this was the case in Anatolia, but on the other side no one can disprove it.

Plus, this concept of proscription is mentioned by many other scholars, who have studied eastern Mediterranean weaving traditions, particularly complex patterned Anatolian kelim and Turkmen pile rugs.

In the first museum presentation of eastern kelim, held in 1965 at the Textile Museum in Washington D.C., Charles Grant Ellis wrote in the small informal catalog:

The true value of the kilim lies in its consistency.

From RK vantage point today, 45 years later, we can only remark how true and prescient Ellis’s comment was.

So we will ask readers accept this as a fact, ie in the Archaic period the Anatolian kelim was proscribed.

We wrote in one of our books the weavers of the archetype kelim we collect wove to live, they did not live to weave.

There is an extremely subtle difference here and RK would like readers to stop and ponder this difference before continuing.

Before foreign control and commerce from the west(Europe and Russia) irreparably changed the entire fabric of life in the most remote outlying regions of Anatolia, the previous waves of eastern(central Asian) conquests were hardly felt in religious or spiritual realms, and in this regard the customs, traditions and habits of the inhabitants remained basically unchanged.

History substantiates this but, from the beginning in the 17th/18th century, change took root, change instigated from the west broke down and eventually destroyed these ancient religio-spiritual customs and observances.

These changes were technology based, and for that reason they succeeded whereas the political or socio-religious ones that characterized those of earlier periods had failed. The ‘modern’ world is a powerful bulldozer capable of flattening belief,even ones that had withstood the push of time and the impositions the flood of conquerors placed on the conquered.

Capturing a man’s body is far easier than capturing his mind, this truism well describes what happened throughout Anatolia and why the weaving of kelim remained for centuries true to its original intent and purpose.

Little is known about the indigenous peoples of Anatolia, and although the Ottomans and the earlier groups from the east conquered various parts of Anatolia from the 11th century onwards, this conquests did not affect, as we just mentioned, the non-material aspects of most indigenous inhabitants lives.

They continued to live as they had for millennia, their grazing lands and their villages far enough off the beaten track, and their beliefs srong enough to withstand corrupion.

This remoteness and the power of their ancient beliefs protected their spiritual lives from the immense changes – political, social and economic – the Ottoman instigated and installed.

That is why the earliest Anatolian village weaving, be it pile rug or kelim, is devoid of Ottoman, read central Asian, influence and iconography.

In fact, RK believes the Ottoman and the earlier Turkmen conquerors incorporated indigenous Anatolian iconography in their woven and other arts, not visa-versa.

RK doesn’t wish to turn this into a dissertation on Anatolian history, and we are sure the general terms we are speaking in can, in specific instances, be negated.

We must, once again, reiterate and remind readers we are painting with broad strokes, but there is no doubt examining archetype Anatolian village pile rugs and kelim proves this point: There is little to no trace of central Asian iconography.

These indigenous Anatolian people had a long history, as the archaeological record amply demonstrates; a record stretching back into the late palaeolithic and proto-neolithic periods, circa 10,000BC.

Therefore the icon, emblem, and amulet found on their archetype weaving is entirely different from the earliest Ottoman, read central Asian, work.

But, during what appears to be mainly in the 17th/18th century, this separation ended and the art of the Ottomans seeped into these indigenous kelim weaving vocabularies.

This seepage happened because the former sacrosanct, read proscribed, societal cohesion broke down and these iconographic changes are a very tangible result.

The technological advances from Europe and Russia, be they industrial or military, were powerful and facilitated change that finally wash up, over and into places previously impervious to outside influence.

So any starting point for discussing archaic period Anatolian kelim, and their subsequent spin-offs, must recognize these points:
1.Archaic period Anatolian kelim were made by indigenous people, whose life and lifestyle remained untouched despite the fact the geographic area they inhabited was conquered first by central Asians, and then by Europeans
2.The iconography on their kelim, and pile rugs, was likewise indigenous, proscribed, and often, it seems, proprietary to specific groups.

When their formerly untouched world began to change, the proscribed nature of their weaving ended; no longer did societal convention bind the weaver to produce a purely cultural product, and an increasing level of ‘artistic freedom’, license and the breakdown of tribal cohesion entered their consciousness and their kelim.

Now RK realizes we are making some large undocumented leaps but, as we wrote, we are painting with broad strokes here.

It was during this transitional period, initiated by encroaching control and commerce from the west in the early-middle of the 18th century, when it seems proscription changed to prescription.

The former imposed rigid restriction on the artist( weaver) while the latter, though still restrictive, did permit some change where previously no variance from the norm was allowed or wanted.

OK let’s now look at some kelim through the lense RK has ground.

We have chosen to begin with saf, as few exist and the proscribed/prescribed iconographic restrictions are easily differentiated, documented and demonstrated.

The Archaic period saf, the one in the east Berlin Museum, sets the form all other subsequent ones follow:

Archaic period saf, east Berlin Pergamon Museum

The next saf in the chronology RK has defined is the one in our collection:

early Classic period saf; Plate Six, Image Idol Symbol: Ancient Anatolian Kelim

The next, photographed in Turkey and now in a private German collection, and one another formerly in a private California collection, its virtual ‘twin’, are the next examples in our chronology

Classic period saf; published Goddess from Anatolia, pg. 91, plate 15


Classic period saf, formerly in a California Collection in the late 1980’s, whereabouts unknown presently

The next saf in our chronology is now in the deYoung and published in Anatolian Kilim: The Caroline and McCoy Jones Collection; plate 94

early Traditional period saf

And the last saf, photographed in Turkey, whereabouts unknown.

Traditional period saf

RK believes these pictures set-up a readily understandable design chronology beginning with the most pure and potent form, the east Berlin example, progressing to the least pure and most adulterated shown in the last black and white version.

For comparison we have removed three of the niche/arches from the east Berlin example to facilitate comparison

Detail, Archaic period saf; East Berlin Pergamon Museum

Compare the simple but elegant and perfectly proportioned detail of the archetype with our early Classic saf, and you will see their indelible relationship.

But more importantly, the addition of numerous ancillary design -- butterfly icon in the central niche; rhombos motif, two within each niche and 4 between each one; and several other ancillary emblem below and above – amplify but do not change the basic archetypal form.

This series of changes typifies the initial phase of the breakdown of proscription but nonetheless the proscribed forms is dutifully repeated with only small change.

The reason for adding these icon and amulet are unknown, nor can they even be guessed at but RK would like to shoot an arrow into the dark – they are identifying marks of a group, who were closely related to the creators of the east Berlin example but not the same people, and their addition signifies this proprietary identification.

It seems plausible to us that group, the one who created the east Berlin saf, left and, though they were physically gone, their tradition remained.

While we were studying Anatolian archaeology at Mellaart’s knee he once mentioned something we have never forgotten:

In Anatolia, because of it’s ancient history of human occupation and the many times foreign groups conquered the land bringing new people and ideas, the ancient cultural traditions remained, as if fixed to the ground by glue. These ideas then, no matter who was there, were taken up, accepted, and re-used in their original form.

Mellaart’s statement has always remained with us and it explains much about the strong, seemingly permanent, cultural traditions that were repeated throughout Anatolian history.

The influence Archaic period kelim exerted on all later periods is astounding, considering the long time periods involved, the geographic movement both voluntary and forces of various weaving groups, and the numerous invasions of foreigners over an even longer time period.

It is logical then Mellaart’s little theory is a very plausible explanation, and one RK has come to appreciate.

This next saf, and its ‘twin’ return to the simple, unadorned, archaic form, only adding the two vertical bars between each side niche and the border.

But those two bars suggest the end of the proscribed form and the initiation of a new, and what RK would call, prescribed one.

Perhaps some viewers would believe these two, and not our, saf should be placed next to the archetype on our chronology, as except for those two bars they seem to present a closer match.

RK would have to disagree and we can document why.

In the description of the east Berlin archetype the following subtle but important point is mentioned, one we also noted in our hands on examination:

The saf kilim in the Museum fur Islamische Kunst in Berlin differs from others in its subgroup not only by its greater age but, more so by the colors of the niche forms which are a light red and a deep blue instead of the dark brown…While a number of very similar saf kilims have come on the market in Turkey…this example remains still the best of the known pieces of this subgroup.

Our saf has that same deep luminous blue, as well as a luminous light blue, and the light bright red seen in the east Berlin example.

None of the other, even the ‘twins’, have these colors; plus in person our saf appears to have the same animated quality the Berlin piece exudes, however, not nearly to such a dynamic degree.

We have examined most of the others we published and none come even close in this subjective but nevertheless perceptible quality.

RK believes it easy to see why we placed the other examples as we have; their repetition of the prescribed addition of the two vertical bars, rather than the proscribed lack of them, and the plethora of foreign, unrelated ornamentation signal they are no longer part of the Archaic period tradition and have become something else.

It is also noteworthy to compare the way the fine line border of the east Berlin saf progressively becomes cruder in each succeeding version in our chronology.

The archetype in the east Berlin Museum is truly an amazing weaving, far better than our early Classic.

And it, in turn, far better than the twins, and so on down the line.

There are two other groups of saf we need to mention. The first are saf and the second what we call pseudo-saf.

The cover of the Vakiflar kelim book is the first type:

late Classic period saf; Cover and Plate 16 Vakiflar Museum: Flatweaves/ Flachgewebe

Clearly this saf is directly related to the archetype in the east Berlin Museum. The seven niche mirhab, the border and sparce open style all contribute to this connection.

But the treatment of the major element, the niche, demonstrates another new prescribed format and style, as does the strong, not very subtle, coloration.

These are all signs indicating it was made far after the original precept was conceived, and even after the subsequent prescribed convention, particularly the side-bars, was instituted.

It’s a beautiful kelim but its beauty is, in RK's opinion, only skin deep, as it fails to impart the monumental and awesome piety of the original.

Nor does it have the far deeper beauty and elegance our saf displays.

One further comment: The large dark center within each niche, and the undeniable relationship of those dark area to the small motif suspended within each niche mirhab in the archetype, further show the relationship and solidify RK’s contention this saf, too, belongs on our saf continuum -- just not at the early end.

Detail showing the motif, which is the model for the dark central design element within each of the seven mirhab; east Berlin Pergamon Museum Archaic period saf

Another related type of saf is this one:

Classic period saf; Plate 17, Vakiflar Museum: Flatweaves/ Flachgewebe, Plate 17

First off Rk doesn’t believe these two half were originally placed together as they are in this photo, rather we would postulate the the bottom half should be flipped around with the left side on the right and the right on the left.

Notice the red ground trefoil border on the right of the bottom half will then line up with the upper red one.

Regardless of how it is pictured, this kelim has enough similarity to the archetype saf to warrant inclusion on our continuum of this group.

Again, the proscribed form is still eminently visible, and undeniably the template.

Those reciprocal trefoil border at each side, and the new take on the upper and lower borders, show prescription at work.

What demonstrates this prescription far more conclusively is this next saf, another example of a twin.


early Classic period saf; Anatolian Kilims & Radiocarbon Dating, plate 9

Their similar coloration, use of motif, and comparative articulation of the archaic form solidify their connection.

The only difference is the border treatment, this example's top and bottom borders far more similar to the archetype, and the side borders offer up a very unusual reciprocal.

In our estimation it is an original emblem, one that might called an ‘arrow-head’ for lack of any better terminology.

This is the earliest version of this rare emblem we know, and the rare later appearances once more demonstrate our idea of prescription and the still powerful forces of cultural identity at work in the post-Archaic periods.

Another, but this one a late Classic period saf, is illustrated as Plate 10 in the same publication. It, too, based on design and color, is part of this specific group we are discussing.

RK agrees with the published description that dates it later than Plate 9.

It is interesting, but not factual in our opinion, Plate 9 had a 100 percent c14 dating as being made prior to 1635:
AD 1435-1530 (57.4%)
AD 1534-1635 (42.6%)

RK doesn’t put much, well actually we don’t put any, credence in c14 dating for Anatolian kelim, especially since the saf we believe is the only Archaic period example, the east Berlin saf, had the following c14 results:
AD 1487-1610 (27.2%)
AD 1611-1689 (37.6%)
AD 1733-1813 (25.0%)

Something is wrong here, and RK is positive it is not our ideas or our continuum for saf.

We are also sure beyond a reasonable doubt none of the c14 dates in that book are as, or even more, credible than the art historical comparison that form the basis of that continuum.

Before we look at the second type of saf, the pseudo-saf, we should mention another group we call the thin-mirhab type.


late Classic period thin mirhab type saf; Anatolian Kilim: The Caroline and McCoy Jones Collection, plate 9

RK harbors little faith these thin mirhab kelim, of which this and a couple others are the earliest but none of them earlier than the late Classic period where we have dated this example, were ever really saf.

Their ‘mirhab’ are far too narrow to have ever functioned as niche for prayer, and after all that’s the intended use of any saf.

For this reason, and the addition of a toothed rhombus within the mirhab, rather than the more proscribed/prescribed form, we believe this group, regardless of what other authors have opined, are nothing but decorative hanging and were never meant to connote any religious significance.

The last group, pseudo-saf, we include in the saf category are really, like the thin mirhab group, not saf in the truest meaning of the word.

Classic period pseudo-saf; Anatolian Kilim: The Caroline and McCoy Jones Collection, plate 6

This example and another are among the few Classic period examples, the numerous others we know date into the next period, the Traditional period.

Here is that other pseudo-saf:

late Classic period pseudo-saf; Vakiflar Museum: Flatweaves/ Flachgewebe, Plate 18

We call this group pseudo because of the double-ended mirhab, and although many authors have conjectured this form is in actuality one used for prayer, RK does not doubt this as anything, even a mirhab-less cloth, can be used for religious observance.

Nonethless, we do not agree this was the original intention they were produced for.

RK has personally examined both of these kelim and we have no doubt in our mind the former is older and far more important than the other.

Let’s shows details of both:

The Vakiflar example is a beautiful kelim, its colors are excellent with some finesse at blending them ensemble, the weave is expert and the design has considerable movement and balance.

These attributes are found in all Classic period examples and are, so to speak, the hallmarks.

The same can be said about the deYoung Museum’s example, however, it possesses a far more proscribed articulation of design elements, including within the mirhab an emblem associated with many other, early and genuine, saf.

Notice both have the “S” icon in exactly the same position, flanking the inner mirhab.

This is no accident and in a later part of this kelim examination RK will discuss the “S” icon in more detail but for now highlighting its difference in these two kelim will suffice.

Notice also the deYoung Museum’s kelim has three side borders and the other kelim has actually none, as what might be considered an end border is in fact repeated between each of the three double-ended mirhab sets.

The inner-most border of the other keim has been reproduced and placed, albeit with some variation, on each side of those mirhab sets.

For this reason, and several other design oriented ones, RK has placed it in the late classic period, as it is not as early as the other.

RK intends to broaden and further document our kelim continuum concept, as well as demonstrating additional aspects of our proscribed/prescribed theory in the succeeding parts of this examination of Anatolian kelim.

End part VIII

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