Central medallion, “Transcaucasian” large carpet, Collection Marshall and Marilyn Wolf, New York
Walter Denny is a smart man, a dedicated professor and champion of Islamic Art in America.
Professor Denny’s main field is early Ottoman Art and RK considers him a world class expert on this topic.
RK has great respect for him personally.
However all that said, we do not hold similar feeling for denny when he goes traipsing into oriental rugs made outside the ateliers of the Turkish sultans.
The expertise denny has developed for the classical art including carpets of the Ottoman Court is basically worthless when it comes to assessing and discussing rugs made in the small towns, villages and nameless hamlets of Anatolia or the Caucasus regions.
Some months ago denny wrote a piece published in that rag hali about an Anatolian kelim in the collection of Marshall and Marilyn Wolf from New York.
In our review RK took denny to task for a number of the questionable statements and, as is typical for rugDUMB, denny did not reply publicly and instead sent us a rather crying-towel email bemoaning our critique.
We say cry-towel because he accused us of name-calling and intimated we had violated some code of conduct he felt implicit in our somewhat superficial collegial and personal “relationship”.
This was rather surprising as we did not in any way disparage denny unfairly, nor did we do anything unfriendly by writing our critique.
We did of course question his statements and provided documentation to back up our points.
Rather than being the recipient of denny’s crying-towel we believe he should have publicly defended his positions and tried to counter what we said.
The fact he did not seems to us to lead to several possible conclusions:
1. He agrees with our critique and has no defense.
2. He feels he is above critique or criticism, especially from someone like RK
3. He did not wish to glorify RK and our critique and the best way to do this was to ignore it
Now, in the latest issue of that rag hali denny is again a hired gun for the Wolf’s and he writes about their “south Transcaucasian” pile carpet he apparently dates to the 18th century.
"Transcaucasian long rug, Collection Marshall and Marilyn Wolf, New York
Once again RK believes gunslinger professor denny has made a significant number of highly questionable statements and assertions about this carpet and in doing so about other weavings from the Caucasus.
Since we know no one else will do a review it falls on our shoulders to point these out publicly and this time we would like to see denny reply and not take umbrage at our, sometimes, theatrical prose.
We did not have to look far or wide to find the first of those questionable statements as the article begins with the following:
“A small but significant group of carpets from the southern Transcaucasus falls into a particular kind of limbo, a little too late to figure significantly in Charles Grant Ellis’s standard catalog Early Caucasian Rugs (Washington 1976), but too early and rare to take an important place in Ulrich Schurmann’s Caucasian Rugs (London 1965), a work that, for better or worse, has provided us with names, if not necessarily the chronology and provenance, of the later Caucasian carpets so avidly collected in Europe and the United States in the past fifty years.”
Yessshhh, where to begin critiquing denny’s erroneous implications and statements with so many stuffed into his opening lines?
First off if the Wolf’s carpet is 18th century, something RK highly doubts as we would date it second quarter 19th century but more on the dating game later, then why would it not be meat for Ellis’s study as there are, in that work, rugs of the 18th century.
Also, in Schurmann’s book there are not only later 19th century rugs but some early 19th century, a couple of 18th century and even a 17th century rug.
So again why does denny infer some special “transitional” place, as he calls it, for the Wolf’s rug, other than the fact he is their hired gun and as such needs to please his employers and feed their enlarged rug-egos.
Even more questionable is why denny does not picture, or at least cite, any of the other examples of his mythic “small but significant group of carpets from the southern Transcaucasus”.
RK has been interested in Caucasian rugs for decades and quite honestly we have no idea what other rugs denny is talking about.
This is a major flaw, one denny should know better than to make; and, after all, hali is a picture magazine and surely there is no reason for not picturing even one other weaving from this group denny claims the Wolf rug represents.
To describe the Wolf rug denny states its “…three ply warps mark it as an ancestor of the more recent ‘Kazaks’ and ‘Karabagh’s’, while white cotton wefts connect it to earlier ‘Kuba’ production.”
These structural and material characteristics, to us, mark this rug as “commercial” workshop rather than “indigenous” village production as most village rugs, new or old, have two-ply warp(as three is unnecessary) and rarely if ever cotton weft(as these weavers had little access to cotton, especially enough to use for a rug’s weft).
The other “characteristics” of the rug denny explains as all “pointing to the Karabagh region as a probable place of production” are ones that also signify “commercial” workshop production.
Fact is we have no doubt the Wolf’s rug is nothing but a workshop copy of earlier village rugs that might, but we doubt it, be based on the Caucasian embroidery model(s).
This is the thesis he tries to work up in describing and provenancing the Wolf’s rug and one which might explain the major medallion (more on this soon) but not the other iconography.
Another mark of workshop rather than indigenous village production is the quite strict “bi-lateral symmetry” it exhibits, something normally eschewed by the weavers who wove the various groups of outstanding Caucasian village rugs where we believe denny tries to say the Wolf’s rug belongs.
Finally this clue “Typically for large, loosely-woven carpets, the Wolf example is markedly narrower at the top” seals its fate.
The reason for this, which denny does not mention, again demonstrates the Wolf’s rug is a workshop/factory job as this marks it as having been produced on what RK calls a roller-loom – one that allowed each finished part of the rug to be rolled on a roller at the base of the loom so a long rug, like the Wolf’s, could be produced on a loom that did not have to be 12 feet plus high.
No indigenous village weavers in the Caucasus were making rugs on such apparatus, nor were they making rugs of that length.
The rug clearly confuses denny, who like a duck out of water, really is not prepared to tackle such a piece and not get knocked over in the process.
“A carpet such as this” denny says “appears to be a fascinating paradox; a large carpet with bold stylized geometric designs, laden with suggestions of ancient ancestry, directly relatable to a group of finely-executed needlework patterns crafted on a very small scale.”
As we said denny is a smart, educated guy and wordsmith, but disregarding his use of the language the sentence above is poor. It patronizes the rug and says nothing about it in the process.
The only paradox here is denny’s refusal to see the Wolf’s rug for what it is – a rather degenerate workshop version of the Bidjov pattern so many other rugs articulate far better.
Two mid-later 19th century Bidjov rugs with the typical assortment of motif associated with this type of Caucasian rug
We have a theory about the Wolf’s rug we would rather present instead of continuing to question what we see as denny’s attempt to make it into “sumptin’it ain’t”.
It is obvious to any unprejudiced and knowledgeable viewer the Wolf’s rug is a workshop product. What is far less obvious is why a rug like it was it made?
Typically “runners” made in the early 19th century destined for export to European and American homes were much narrower than the 5’11” width it has.
Also we sincerely doubt it was made as a library or hall rug as it is too busy, its design too demanding for such usage.
Basically it is 6 by 12 feet, a very unusual size for a TransCaucasian rug made in any weaving environment other than some workshop or factory.
In all fairness denny does not state what type of production environment the Wolf’s rug came out of, he avoids the issue entirely.
So we are surely not dunning him for doing so, or trying to by harping on the issue that it is a workshop/factory weaving.
With this in mind our suggestion, the rug was made as a donation to a mosque as a “prayer rug”, gains traction.
We have drawn, with two black lines, where there are subtle but strong underlying mirhab present in the Wolf’s rug.
Mirhab can be also be demarcated by juxtaposing design, as well as by placing strong lines to establish it, and we suggest this is what he Wolf’s rug is all about.
These subtle, hidden, mirhab appear in two places, both where one would be expected.
And if we are correct we believe the Wolf’s rug should be shown, not as it is illustrated in the article (picture A), but up-side down (Picture B) where those mirhab we outlined are perfectly positioned.
Left: picture A; Middle: picture B; Left: picture C with mirhabs outlined in black
Presumably it is illustrated in the article with the bottom, ie part where the weaver began the rug, down.
This is another fact that points to our interpretation being correct, as we all know most prayer rugs were woven upside down so the weaver can get the mirhab done and properly placed early in the weaving process.
And as far as denny trying to draw comparison between the Wolf’s rug and Caucasian embroideries goes, we can only say this points up how degenerate and amorphous the expression of those Caucasian embroidery design elements in their rug are.
The more one begins to examine and dissect the large white ground medallion in the Wolf rug, which is again the only element comparable to anything in a Caucasian embroidery, the more it looks late, flaccid and actually hardly recognizable.
Illustrated below is a fragment RK believes is the archetype for these medallions, and one that is centuries earlier than the one woven into the Wolf rug.
Detail, “Caucasian” long stitch embroidery, RK Collection, 17th century or earlier
And guess what: See any resemblance with the border and the one in the Wolf’s rug?
This is no accident but the Wolf rug’s stiff and rote rendition of the embroidery borders, and the medallion as well, is nothing but a two-dimensional version of its sinuous and alive version.
As for the border, the Wolf rug repeats, not in the same doubled form present on the embroidery, the paired "bird head" hooks and also omits the archaic form of the 'star center' "S" icon it so articulately renders.
Regardless of these simplifications we doubt any observer would not agree the Wolf rug's border is a copy of the embroidery, and a not very elegant or faithful one.
While denny is right in seeing a relationship between the Wolf’s rug and Caucasian embroideries he does little to prove it with his text and failing to illustrate even one embroidery does little to help substantiate his thesis.
But, and here in lies the rub as the Bard from Oxford quipped, only the white ground medallion on the Wolf rug bears any relationship to Caucasian embroideries, the rest of the hodge-podge assortment of funky medallionesque shapes of all size are nothing but rather degenerate versions of those found on any typical Bidjov rug of the mid-19th century.
The cherry on top of denny’s half-baked cake is his two final sentences.
“Motifs taken from embroidery, such as small broken crosses, when transferred to large colourful ‘Swastika Kazak’ carpets, represents a tradition of tightly conceived embroidery motifs boldly amplified into lustrous and colourful wool pile. While this process became a major well-spring of designs for later Transcaucasian carpet weaving, its first, largest, and most influential manifestations seem to have occurred in the 18th century in carpets such as the Wolf’s brown-ground example.”
We see no problem in accepting the first part of denny’s well-spring conclusion but we don’t agree in the least with the second and see it in a completely different light, since we have no clue where these 18th century carpets are or how to locate them.
And since that is the professed thesis he is trying to prove, the relationship between those carpets and Caucasian embroideries, is it any wonder we have been able to roast him in his own juices?