Home > Turkmen Rugs >Whither Kejebe
Sun, Mar 1st, 2015 03:06:16 PM
Topic: Whither Kejebe

Whither Kejebe?

Like other icon, amulet and symbol found on historic and old Turkmen rugs the kejebe’s meaning is unknown.

Below are the two type of torba Turkmen collectors, dealers and researchers associate with kejebe.

We will use the acronym KJB instead of the word kejebe from now on, so please take note.

A number of suggestions have been put forward to define the KJB, which is the somewhat anthropomorphic figure encased in a niche both type of torba always exhibit.

These two KJB torba are “S” group but other Turkmen group, particularly the Kizil Ayak, made them as well.

However the KJB torba that are the focus of this exercise, those with the large medallion(s) shown in the upper one above, so far have only been identified as being “S” group. No other early ones are known from any other Turkmen weaving group.

One cannot help but notice the similarity the figure in the niche and the ones enclosed in the medallion have, and it seems highly unlikely they are not intended to be one and the same.

Rather than rehash speculation as to what the KJB represents, or add some more, let’s concentrate on the medallion, which in earlier non-degenerated examples basically always appears as it does above and in another somewhat earlier torba shown below.

The niched figure we illustrate is a detail from that fragmented torba, which recently was sold at public auction.

While purported by some, as well as the buyer, to be the “oldest” and “best” example, RK believes this is a moot point, and one we would not bother to argue because as far as we are concerned it is not that much older or better than some of the others we can cite.

We need mention here once again our belief there are a very, very few Turkmen weavings that are significantly earlier than others of their type, but there are some.

And while we concur the KJB torba might appear to some to be “better” and “earlier” we defy them to demonstrate their belief.

By older and better we mean displaying elements that can be shown to be prototypical or archetypal, characteristics this torba lacks.

For quite sometime now we are on record stating certain few, ultra-rare examples of Turkmen weaving are archetypal/prototypical, and it is these few that we date as 300-600 years old to which we refer.

The torba above is not one of these and although we prove our position this is not the time or place to lay out such an argument.

Nor it is germane to where this discussion is intended to go, and will.

We are interested in the KJB medallions, not disproving certain Turkmen fanciers and Liebhaber’s wishful feelings and opinions.

Pre-mid-19th century torba with these medallions are, unlike torba with only KJB, far more rarely seen; and when they are, as we wrote above, only in “S” group and pseudo-“S” group(those also with warp on two levels and asymmetric knots but open right rather than left) weaves.

On first glance they have always appeared to us as representing some type of arcane but degenerate form of a cosmological/astrological wheel or ‘calendar’

left: ancient long stitch embroidery, RK Collection; right: detail of the “S” group KJB torba shown above; rippon-boswell, lot 1; May 29, 2010

Nota bene: We are not implying any relationship, other than a possible rendering of an astrological ‘calendar’, between the two weavings illustrated above. And from all appearances the embroidery’s version is the earlier one, much earlier.

Regardless of its meaning the iconographic history of the medallion found on KJB torba, to the best of our knowledge, has never been examined by any other researcher and this is our intent.

To accomplish this our theorizing needs to include two seemingly unrelated types of carpet, the para-Mamluk and chessboard, and we need to first stake out our concept as to how they, and their rug-nephew the ‘Mamluk” rug, developed.

Sometime ago RK had the opportunity to visit the Berlin Islamic Art Museum and make the following photo and others of the Musketta façade exhibited there.

detail Mscatta façade

Readers might wonder why we have illustrated a detail of this relief found in present day Jordan in this analysis of the KJB medallion, a Turkmen design?

central medallion of a Mamluk carpet with a striking similarity to the Mscatta façade, V&A Museum Collection, London

RK posits the Mscatta’s iconic multi-segmented medallion provided the iconographic form for those on the Mamluk, and to a lesser degree on the para-Mamluk and chessboard carpets.

The naturalistic tracery surrounding the medallions on the facade would then also appear to have played an influential role in the development of the Mamluk carpet, a theory not unlikely if the Mamluk rugs were made in Syria as we stated.

Many other authors have tried to draw parallel between architectural decoration and carpet patterns and we feel it is quite possible the Mscatta façade, its designers drawings, or other works based on them, provided a model for the unusual and rather unique drawing these carpet display.

This detail and the larger one above are part of the intricately carved brick façade or wall-frieze from Mscatta, a large palace structure, dating to the Umayyad period circa 740-750AD, discovered and excavated in the mid-19th century.

Putting these photos side-by-side highlights a relationship RK is, once again to the best of our knowledge, the first to suggest.

left: Mscatta façade detail; right: Mamluk rug medallion, detail, V&A Collection

As attentive readers know RK eschews chicken-and-egg analogies, especially when objects are separated by centuries and in different media.

But in this case, we feel confident the iconography on the Mscatta facade was a primal iconographic source for what appears on Mamluk carpets, particularly ones of the type we illustrate, for the following reasons.

1. While the provenance of Mamluk rugs is unknown, and various writers have suggested Egypt, Turkey and even North Africa as their place of manufacture, RK would like to throw our $2.50 into the ring and suggest neither Egypt, Turkey or North Africa, but present day Syria was their birthplace.

2. This opinion is based on several factors, the more salient are:

a. no pile carpets are known to have been produced in Egypt, nor North Africa during the period during the Mamluk rugs are thought to have been made. And while Turkish/Anatolian pile carpets of that period do exist, none look anything like a Mamluk.
b. no other rugs with such detailed naturalistic tracery are known to have been produced in either Egypt, Turkey or North Africa.
c. no other rugs with similar coloration are known as occurring in either Egypt, Turkey or North Africa.
d. after handling several Mamluk rugs over the years we noticed their quite special wool and while we are not a wool expert, nor have we tested their wool, we might opine the pile found on Mamluk rugs has a high percentage of goat hair, or in fact might be all goat hair, something again unknown from any large scale urban produced carpet from Turkey, Egypt or North Africa.
e. during the period Mamluk rugs are conventionally dated, circa 1400-1500, and well before, Syria, particularly Damascus and the neighboring areas of northern Iraq and the Levant, produced important and intricate artifacts and was a important center of flourishing artistic production, particularly metal-work, ceramics and manuscript illustration.
f. the Mamluk rug’s predominant and distinctive red and green palette is far closer to later weaving made in Syria, like Aleppo and Rehanyli, than any of these other locations.

The Mamluk rug is a mystery, however, in our opinion the para-Mamluk and chessboard are even more ones.

These rugs, particularly the chessboard which are color-wise more closely related to the Mamluk rug, are both rarer and even less studied than the more numerous Mamluk carpets.

a chessboard carpet, Metropolitan Museum, New York; Joseph McMullan gift

For many of the same reasons given above we believe the chessboard carpets are also incorrectly provenanced, and instead of central Anatolia, specifically Konya, which is the conventional guesstimate, we’d again suggest Syria or somewhere in area between south-east Anatolia and south-west Armenia as the place they were woven.

Clearly the para-Mamluk rug is an urban, factory/atelier, produced item which also discounts they were made in central Anatolian, like in Konya which at that time had no known weaving facilities to have produced even the small number of these carpets now known, let alone more.

While you might think we digress here, we do but with a purpose -- to provide sufficient background for readers to understand the keystone of our whither KJB theory.

The details above are those keystone -- the medallions found on chessboard and para-Mamluk rugs.

The picture worth a 1000 words describes the comparison above but let RK add a few more.

A careful examination of the chessboard and para-Mamluk medallions reveals the presence of every visual item in the KJB torba medallion; many even in the same position, and believe us this is no accident or chance occurrence.

These pictures demonstrate the “S” group KJB torba medallion is indelibly related to the para-Mamluk and chessboard carpets.

If anyone needs more proof they are related, and intimately so, here are the analog:

1. the small, secondary eight-spire star medallion with a lesghi-type star in the center. The KJB reverses this and has the lesghi-type star as the outline for the small center medallion and an eight-spire star in its center.

2. four ‘corner-piece’ triangles pointing out and away from the medallion

3. scattered bi-colored rosettes

4. spike-like appendages suspended within the medallion

5. some of these appendages with kotchak, or rams-horn, at their ends

6. an “S” icon in their minor borders

7. ocatgonal medallions or the strong emphasis of an octagon in the medallion

8. last but not least, the peculiar trident shaped symbol in the top part of the torba’s KJB have been directly copied from ones in the same position in the chessboard carpet’s medallion.

Here are some additional illustration.

details showing the proto-KJB appendage/spire motif in the chessboard carpet medallion

right: close-up of the proto-KJB spike-like appendage/spire from the chessboard carpet medallion that bears striking resemblance to those on the left from the KJB torba medallion; note their unique interior trident-like spear-points and those on the middle figure on the right

So far our analysis should, at the very least, prove the KJB medallion and those on the chessboard and para-Mamluk carpets share certain key iconographic characteristic.

Again please be aware we are not claiming the chessboard or para-Mamluk are the source, only that these seemingly disparate weaving share those characteristic.

But let’s take this one step farther and show our best guess for that source.

But before we do let us digress again.

RK has also long been on record debunking the idea “S” group weavings are the oldest or the ‘best’ of Turkmen production.

We do grant they have incredibly saturated color, great wool that is beautifully carded and spun and extremely fine weave.

However, and this is a big however, they are in every respect far too homogenous as a group; plus they have survived in too large numbers to have been produced in/under the circumstances RK contends generated those ultra-early archetypal/prototypical Turkmen weavings we mentioned earlier.

Or for that matter can any of them be even remotely proven to be the weavings of the historically ancient and venerable “Salor” group, another false feather in their cap.

RK has owned a number of the earliest “S” group pieces, from torba and chuval to main carpet, and we have seen and handled even more so our position is based on broad hands-on experience.

We can honestly say only one chuval out of all those “S” group pieces we have owned, handled or seen pictures of displayed what we would consider to be any archetypal iconography.

And that chuval had only in one archaic iconographic element, the rest were surely well articulated but in no way iconic.

Here is a detail of that chuval

early “S” group chuval formerly RK collection, now in a NY collection

That element is in the elem panel where the archetypal form all the other ubiquitous “small tree” elem motif can be seen.

But because this is the only archetypal element we do not consider the chuval to be archaic – it’s very old and early, for sure, but not archaic, nor an archetype.

It is the earliest “S” group chuval we know and this is also for sure: It is significantly earlier than the KJB torba above, proof of which is the latter’s lack of even one archetypal element.

We are not interested in turning the conclusion of this exercise into a Turkmen lesson on how to identify archaic examples so let’s end by showing details of those two archaic Turkmen weavings with archetypal KJG.

The first is a recently unearthed example we feel no shame in dating to the 16th century, maybe even earlier.

It is a jaw-dropping piece of the Turkmen puzzle, and perhaps we will, at some time in the future, publish in its entirety but be happy to see even this small detail.

Next to it we also are publishing a detail of another archetypal form of the KJB. These two details present important evidence for how the original, pre-chessboard and para-Mamluk KJB icon looked.

Again we offer these detail not to present a chicken/egg paradigm but to suggest the KJB torba, the chessboard and para-Mamluk medallions had a common ancestor and that ancestor looked something like the two detail below.

So feast your eyes, and do it again as that's it for our discussion of whither KJB.

Author: Barry OConnell
email: jboc@spongobongo.com
Sun, Mar 1st, 2015 03:06:16 PM

RK Replies:

Glad you liked it.

As for it being RK's best? Well, we could argue that point.

Post your findings on the Salor/Salghurid connection whenever you feel they might be pertinent. I am sure our readers will be most interested.


Hello Jack, This may be your best work, well thought out, provocative and insightful. I am looking for a link between the Salor/Salghurid and the Para-Mamluk rugs. You make a strong point for a Syrian attribution. Thanks, Barry

Author: jc
Sat, May 19th, 2012 03:31:18 PM

When we wrote:

However the KJB torba that are the focus of this exercise, those with the large medallion(s) shown in the upper one above, so far have only been identified as being “S” group. No other early ones are known from any other Turkmen weaving group/"

we should have qualified and included reference to this torba we formerly owned.

We did not mention it at that time for several reasons but feel it is now opportune.

Archaic Saryk Torba with KJB, formerly RK collection, published Tent Band Tent Bag: Classic Turkmen Weaving, 1989

This torba, which was purchased in Los Angeles in 1983, pre-dates any and all the "S" group examples we have seen in person or publication.

Study the elements and details within the medallion--notice the four recumbent animal images shown below.

This should convince even the most doubting observer our opinion is correct.

Detail Saryk Torba showing recumbent animal

As early an example of the KJB format this Saryk torba is it does not allow us to understand exactly what this medallion is all about or how it developed.

It does, however, demonstrate animal imagery was originally present in the medallion.

Carefully study of the KJB within the niches also reveals another important detail, one we cannot but help believe represents a brazier or fire pit icon.

Detail Saryk torba showing brazier, or fire pit, icon

The fact no other KJB weaving displays these iconic images goes a long way to support of contention this example is an archetype.

The mysteries that surround Turkmen weaving are intriguing ground to traverse, and RK has and will continue to make public our findings.

stay tuned...

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