Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >The Doll Icon
An Art Historical Analysis
Wed, Mar 9th, 2011 03:51:45 AM
Topic: The Doll Icon
An Art Historical Analysis

Archaic period Anatolian kelim, RK collection

Recently RK was speaking with a major oriental rug buyer about the validity of C14 dating compared with art historical analysis.

As many of our readers know RK looks with a jaundiced eye on the belief C14 dating is an effective tool for most, if not all, historic and old oriental carpets, kelim and related weavings.

We do grant certain classical carpets (read Ottoman and Safavid), which have been for a long time protected from “normal” use and environmental conditions (read stored in shrine, institution or burial crypt), can be reasonably accurately dated with C14.

There are now, supposedly, some C14 anaylses that have proven true with the known historical provenance data for carpets of this type.

Regardless of the fact a few such carpets have been successfully dated, this does not validate, or even imply, C14 dating for other carpets is equally as reliable.

Far from it is the fact.

As an aside note RK is confident the C14 process is a very reliable one when used to date carefully recovered archaeological objects -- ones that have been protected from the numerous environmental contaminants that can distort results.

It is for this reason, contamination, all other objects, like carpets, must undergo a ‘decontamination’ procedure before C14 analysis can be undertaken.

In a nut shell there is no recognized procedure for this decontamination.

There are a number of different procedures, and different labs use different ones, as well as different methods of decontamination for different types of materials.

This is the weak link, and one that should make anyone who is contemplating dating carpets with C14 skeptical of the results.

During our discussion the person we refer to above voiced curiosity why we have not C14 tested our collection, particularly our Anatolian Kelim, as they are surely in the period where C14 testing is now accepted as accurate.

We explained our preference for art historical analysis(AHA) versus C14 and referenced the Anatolian Kelim paper we wrote and published, which has been online on RugKazbah.com (in the Anatolian Kelim Topic Area) for more than one year.

We readily admit AHA is not pure science, as any comparative study must contain opinion versus pure fact.

But neither is C14 dating 100 percent science; as the results are NEVER 100 percent, with a 5%-10% probability error considered very valid.

As our discussion progressed the issue of our thesis -- there are only 11 archaic period kelim (read earliest period examples) and all other kelim can be shown to come from either one, or an amalgamation of their various iconographies -- became part of the discussion.

Again RK has to admit this is opinion, but it is opinion we have proven with a detailed, referenced AHA of great certainty, surely as certain as any C14 conclusions.

So to further demonstrate the efficacy our AHA and the continuum it establishes we have selected a frequently encountered Anatolian kelim icon, one we named the doll, and will trace its use (read design degeneration) over a period we believe is at least several centuries.

This will establish a de facto continuum, or time-line, progression from the earliest use to an end of the line one.

Again, we realize our choice as to which one is the earliest is an opinion.

But it is an opinion based detailed verifiable references. Those references are as verifiable, and in our opinion more so, than any C14 date for an Anatolian kelim.

As another aside, in the art world the opinion of proven experts is accepted as fact, and in rug studies this situation exists as well.

And should any readers doubt we are expert our only advice is to re-read what we have written over the past two decades.

It is quite apparent which published doll elem kelim is the earliest (read archaic period). It is illustrated below.

detail, Plate number 7 from our IMAGE IDOL SYMBOL: Ancient Anatolian Kelim publication, as well as from the Weaving Art Museum online exhibition Archaeology and Anatolian Kelim

Here is a photo of just one of the three doll icon this kelim fragment exhibits.

We are not going to directly describe why the articulation and proportions prove it the model, preferring the following illustrations and commentary make that clear and, in addition, demonstrate the time-line chronology/continuum we use for dating.

The following doll elem kelim are copies and presented in chronological order beginning with the next oldest and ending with what we see as an end of the line example.

It is interesting to note this icon, in its complex archaic format, only appears in elem panel and is never used as a lesser field device.

It does, however, occasionally show up, in a less complex form, as a normal side-border and we will illustrate a late-Classic period example with this feature.

For quite some time we have felt this icon is actually a human effigy or idol, and this is why we refer to it as a doll, something akin to the Southwest American Indian Hopi katchina dolls, which we believe share a conceptual parallel.

The proscribed (read highly controlled and dictated) weaving environment that produced Anatolian kelim prior to the Traditional period was surely the reason for such static unchanging, but degenerative, repetition.

It is because of this our AHA gains considerable validity and high probability of certainty.

Note Bene: rather than date Anatolian kelim to centuries or quarters of centuries as other writers do, RK prefers using four periods -- Archaic, Classic, Traditional and Commercial -- to date them.

Additionally we divide each period into three sub-periods: early, middle and late.

Based on this methodology we consider the kelim above to be a mid-Archaic period example.

Here is the elem doll on next closest example, which we date to the early Classic period.

Plate IX no. 6 in the Goddess from Anatolia, formerly in the collection of udo hirsch, whereabouts presently unknown

And here the entire kelim

An interesting piece of the puzzle can be gleaned from the following story.

As the caption relates it was at one time in the collection of udo, call me Judas, hirsch, who was at one time a major ‘player’ in the Anatolian kelim find’em/sell’em game.

The story of why RK monikers hirsch with the Judas epithet is a great one, but one we will not relate here and now.

All you kelimji will have to wait for that promised autobiography, so for now just accept the story has 100 percent certainty.

Anyway RK was, as those of you who have read our RugKazbah.com Anatolian Kelim study, at one time more than friendly with hirsch and through that acquaintance hirsch knew of our collection and our Plate 7 archaic period fragment.

One day while speaking with hirsch he told us “I have found the other half to your Plate 7.”

We could not wait to see it, as ours is quite fragmentary.

Well, lo and behold, when we did see it some weeks later we were not as convinced as hirsch.

In fact, we immediately doubted his was the other half.

After some long and careful study we came to the conclusion, and are even more sure of this today, hirsch had found the other half to the other part of Plate 7, which we never believed actually belonged to it.

Here is that small fragment

When we originally made the 4x5 color transparencies the IMAGE IDOL SYMBOL book’s separations were created from we thought it interesting, and a bit of poetic license, to make it appear to be part of the larger fragment. Actually it is not, and if you look carefully at the picture this becomes apparent. From the time we purchased it we seriously questioned its relationship to the larger fragment, but once hirch’s ‘half’ appeared our initial suspicion turned to conviction.

As we explained pictures are worth 1ooo’s of words and here are Plate 7 and the Goddess from Anatolia’s elem-dolls side by side for you to decide if they are from the same kelim, and also which is the earlier.

‘Doll’ icons; Plate 7 on the left and the Goddess from Anatolia (hirsch) on the right

These photos are proportionally correct ensuring their differences in articulation and size are not due to distortion.

Plate 7 is in reality larger, more animated and has less ancillary motif, all of which are tell-tale signs of it being the earlier.

These differences become more apparent when comparing the entire elem.

The most obvious difference is the use of slightly different in-fill embedded the bodies of each doll. This might appear to be a rather insignificant one.

However, in a detailed and highly invasive analysis nothing should be seen as insignificant as the following explanation suggests.

There are only two motif embedded within each the doll bodies.

Plate 7’s are a sideways ‘H’ and an equilateral triangle and the Goddess from Anatolia’s the same sideways ‘H’ and the same equilateral triangle, but all of these triagles have an added horizontal bar at the pointed end making them appear to be a type of vessel or cup.

This is, we believe, an important icon found in several of the archaic period pieces and one that is in fact a representation of a ceremonial vessel or cup.

It also appears in Plate 7 but not embedded in the doll bodies.

There it is used in the field, as this detail shows.

Detail Plate 7 showing two vessel or cup icons

Before we draw any conclusion from this icon’s different placement we must first continue our to put these kelim, and our chronology for them, into proper perspective.

Another easily overlooked and seemingly minor difference is the red-capped tips each of the dolls on Plate 7 have at the end of their horizontal radial arms, on which their mirrored bird heads are perched.

This feature is not present on the Goddess from Anatolia kelim.


A good question, and one for which we can only suggest this answer.

The fact its weaver omitted such a minor element can be read two ways: either this kelim and not Plate 7 is the original, and Plate 7 added this ‘touch’ to the iconic and complex image.

Or the opposite, the weaver did not know the proper form and omitted it.

Again like the difference in the placement of the vessel/cup icon, we need to continue our comparison before drawing any conclusion.

Both kelim have two elem, the first being the doll and the second, which we will now examine, is an extremely rare one – a hexagon within a hexagon at the center with mirrored bird heads extending horizontally from the center and a ‘V’ or skeletal ‘wing’ on its vertical axis.

Below are details of the two versions, Plate 7’s on the left and the Goddess from Anatolia’s on the right.

While the dolls were practically indistinguishable, here the two different versions have visual differences that are unmistakable.

Plate 7’s sinuous, curvilinear articulation of this complex icon is the result of an extensive use of eccentric-weft, a feature that is not nearly as present in the Goddess from Anatolia kelim. ùin fact, it is not present at all in its version ofthis elem panel.

Eccentric weft weaving is a very ancient technique RK believes can be traced back to the earliest looms, called warp-weighted, used to create the first slit-tapestry weavings.

It is only logical the earliest extant kelim, those from the archaic period, will have far more eccentric-weft than those from the Classic and later periods.

And this is the case, as all 11 archaic period kelim have this technical feature.

The Goddess from Anatolia kelim has little eccentric wefting, while Plate 7 has a lot, and this is a significant factor supporting our position Plate 7 is the archetype and the other an early, but still later, copy.

The far more three dimensional appearance Plate 7 exhibits in comparison to the Goddess from Anatolia example is the result of that eccentric-weft, which allowed the weaver to make round and not linear lines.

This might be hard to see when comparing only one of these elem icon but, as the following two sets of photos show, this is the case.

The first shows the complete elem panels and the second larger views of each kelim.

We realize some viewer’s might not be able to distinguish the difference, even after seeing the three sets of photos above. For them we suggest a trip to the optometrist for some new glasses.

And others might believe these differences are the result of one weaver being a better weaver than the other.

This argument is one RK has often encountered and repeatedly debunked, especially here in light of other factors like eccentric weft, the presence of which has nothing to do with a weaver’s ability but rather connection to older weaving traditions and culture.

Also the stiffer, far less defined treatment the Goddess from Anatolia kelim exhibits is not the result of accident or chance, it is due to the weavers lack of connection to tradition.

It is precisely characteristics like these that separate archaic weavings from Classic period ones and go far to prove Plate 7 is the archetype and the Goddess from Anatolia kelim its descendant.

Therefore, we must then conclude the missing red-capped tips on the radial arms, the missing white caps on the perched bird heads and misplaced vessel/cup icon are further evidence the Goddess from Anatolia kelim is, as we have suggested, the subsequent Classic period version and Plate 7 the archetype.

But our discussion here is set-up to be far larger than just a comparison of these two kelim, so let’s get back to tracing the progressive degeneration the doll icon has undergone in the progressive and repeated copying in succeeding generations of related kelim.

There are many we could chose to illustrate and here are just a few.

This late classic fragment displays the next and somewhat more degenerate version of the doll icon.

Late Classic version of the doll icon, RK collection, unpublished

And here, for easy comparison, we have placed it between the two earlier versions we have already discussed.

It is very interesting and germane to our chronology to note the placement of the ‘H’ icon now appears only outside the doll bodies, and they also lack of any single equilateral triangles, or any of the later vessel/cup icon.

Rather the triangle has now become accreted; it has been doubled, the bar moved from the pointed end to the other and the bar now attached to the triangles with a post. These changes reduce this design to an almost undistinguishable representation of the vessel/cup icon.

Missing, too, are the red-capped tips of the horizontal radial arms, as well as the mirrored perched bird heads.

But the most significant difference, and one which we are sure most readers have not noticed, is the change in the articulation of the doll bodies.

Look carefully at the two older versions and you will see how the late Classic weaver reinterpreted the form.

Far more noticeable is the squat and now almost lifeless two-dimensional representation these later doll display.

Here is the entire fragment these doll grace.

This is a righteously old kelim and the earliest one where a well articulated doll icon is used as a side border. But compared with the archetype it has little magic or mystery to offer.

In short, the field pattern is a late Classic period invention/reinterpretation based on the horizontal radial arms and their mirrored perched bird head icon from the archetype.

This icon is now missing from the simplistic version of the type of doll weavers of this and later generations knew.

Interestingly enough, the dolls in the side border, although also incorrect, do a far better job of articulating the archetypical version than those in the single elem panel.

We could go on explaining how a field design like this was formulated but since that is not the issue we will have to leave it for some other time.

Here are the last three kelim with doll elem we will picture and discuss.

They are Traditional period ones and regardless of the fact they are chronologically dated after the fragment above, their versions of the doll icon are closer to the archetype.

The first in no particular order is this one, which if we were forced to pick one of the three to look at for eternity would be our choice.

Early Traditional period doll elem kelim; Plate 39, Vakiflar Kelim Book

Surprisingly, it has the weakest version of the doll icon of the three.

Here the dolls have become static symbols rather than animated idols worthy of contemplation and respect.

But the field pattern and its cohesive use of patterns from the older Anatolian weaving culture make it, in the final analysis, the best of the three.

Notice the inclusion of many +, which were introduced into this iconic pattern by the Goddess from Anatolia kelim but are completely nonexistent in the earlier Plate 7 archetype. Another sign we see pointing to it being later than Plate 7.

Also notice the completely revised and highly codified version of the second elem panel we discussed on the archaic and Classic period kelim.

The hexagon is still there but gone are the horizontal axis mirrored perched bird heads and simple wings on the vertical.

The next doll elem kelim has doll that are much closer to the archetype but a second elem that is hardly recognizable. Note also the late version of a very rare Anatolian kelim field pattern.

Early Traditional period doll elem kelim; Plate 75; Anatolian Kelim, DeYoung Museum publication

Notice the repetition of the archetypal equilateral triangle icons in the doll bodies, as well as the absence of any ‘H’ icon or any others.

And the third introduces a highly accreted version of the doll elem, where many three-spot dot, known also as Chintami, symbols and others now fill a horror vacui role.

Mid-traditional period doll elem kelim; Plate 40; Anatolian Kelim, DeYoung Museum publication

Missing is the second elem panel, which we would explain by noting its re-appearance as the major design in the field.

We could write pages about these three kelim and how their iconographies are reinterpretations of several from the11 archaic period kelim we have compiled.

But that is not today’s discussion, one centered on demonstrating how the progressive changes an icon like the doll underwent prove our AHA and the chronology it establishes

It would be highly interesting to C14 test the kelim in this discussion and perhaps someday someone will step up and fund such an investigation.

Until then an art historical analysis and comparison like this one will have to suffice.

Were time not so short and our desire to write equally as challenged we could amplify many of the comments here to provide further proof of our contentions.

But that is not the case, and quite frankly we believe what is written here does more than enough to prove our thesis Plate 7 is the archetype and the others follow in a chronological order establishing a time-line continuum as reliable and useful as any C14 analysis could provide.

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