Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >Timbuktu to Tibet
Part II
Author:jc
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Mon, Jun 27th, 2011 01:11:36 AM
Topic: Timbuktu to Tibet
Part II

This, our last go-round commenting on the hajji “gala” catalog, will start off by confirming the rumor every piece belonging to a member of the “club” is in the catalog only because the owner agreed to pay $600.oo for its inclusion.


early Caucasian embroidery; Victoria and Albert Museum, discussed below

The ostensible reason for this was to defray the costs of photography.

However, since pre-press work on the book was undoubtedly done in digital format, such a high premium is nothing but a charade used to raise all the money necessary to pay for the book’s publication.

Clearly that money also paid jonny-boy thompson’s fee for the hired-gun writing job, as well as his expenses to survey the hajji members various collections.

Remarkably on the hajji baba’s website a photo essay, written and photographed by his young female “assistant” memorializes thompson’s so-called “Odyssey” in that effort.

RK has also learned all the photography was done by Don Tuttle and while we have not bothered to ask Mr. Tuttle how much he charges to make a quality digital image suitable for off-set printing, we are sure it is far less than $600.oo and, considering there were probably about 200 pieces photographed for the book, we imagine Tuttle gave the hajji’s a substantial discount off his usual list price.

Another point is no one was allowed to have the photograph(s) of their rugs done by anyone else, or to submit photos they may have already have had in their possession.

So it is clear the $100,000 plus raised for “photography” must have paid for the entire publication budget of “Timbuku To Tibet” (“TtT”)

This was exactly the “scam” thompson used to make the “Carpet Magic” book.

Regardless of who spent what, where the money went or ended up, “TtT” is a highly flawed publication because the thompson text is basically fluff, and not even very entertaining fluff at that.

This should be unmistakable to anyone who has read the first part of RK’s review.

Should that not be already evident, RK is positive what follows will make it even more so.

Anyone who has read RugKazbah knows RK is primarily interested in only several types of historic Near Eastern weavings – Turkmen and Turkish Village, as well as early Caucasian Village rugs.

We likewise collect and research historic Anatolian Kelim and historic Soumak khorjin(saddlebag).

Plus we have a long held passion for collecting historic “embroidery” from the greater Caucasus region.

Since these are our interests, and have been for 30 plus years, we are going to limit our critique of thompson’s text to them so we can speak authoritatively.

We have already surveyed the Turkmen section and, before we discuss the others, we should mention another quite different genre of weaving we also collect, albeit in a far more minor manner, pre-1700 Ottoman Court brocade and velvet.

Yes, we know these are ‘classical’ and ‘urban’, but who could not fall under the spell of such sumptuous, amazingly conceived and constructed, textiles?

This part of our collection is quite small, but we do have a couple of real corkers.

So before we continue to discuss the other areas of our interest that show up in “TtT”, let’s picture the second star-quality weaving we mentioned earlier.


Plate 99, Festa Collection

After surveying the reaction of a number of attendees to the exhibition, one thing was clear – they all chose this small but choice lampas fragment as one of their favorite, if not the favorite; and right they were.

Described by thompson:

This beautiful and extremely rare fragment of Ottoman silk is a piece of history”, we could not agree more.

However, we date it considerably earlier than his 16th century guess because we know it well, having owned a piece of the same for decades. We also believe it interesting to this review to relate how we acquired it.

But before we do let’s continue with some additional comments written in the catalog:

“That a rose is being depicted can hardly be doubted, and this can be considered as the source motif for a host of derivatives, some so stylized that without the intermediate forms it would be impossible to know what was intended. The dark shapes sprinkled with florets and edged in light blue at both the top and bottom one the left once gleamed with gilded silver thread, but the gilding has lost its effect and we are left with the blackened appearance of tarnished silver. This is a fragment of an early silk of high artistic quality that probably dates from the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent himself, who died in 1566.”

We never said thompson was a dolt but that glibness and lack of scholar’s sweat, his text oft times evinces, reduces him to that level more often than not.

RK makes this assertion not from personal animosity but rather from fact -- the ridiculousness of his Luddite dating being but one example, and there some notable others.

Another, which follows and also centers on dating, should thus be considered in that vein.

But first let us picture the fragment in our collection and tell its story, and our belief about it true provenance:


JC Collection; New York

During the period from 1974-1986 we spent most of our time in London, England and we believe it was around 1979/80 when we were visiting with Yanni and Charlotte Petsopolis in their home on Pembridge Villas the story begins.

Yanni had just returned from a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, and during our visit he showed us four early Ottoman silk fragments, each exactly the same size, about 5 by 5.5 inches.

Relating to us the story of his having purchased them from an old, important Istanbul family, he told us these fragments had been cut up by one of their ancestors and made into small doily to put under tea-cups saucers when entertaining guests of importance.

He had four such pieces and, from the moment we laid eyes on them, we knew we would not leave without taking them with us.

When we gently inquired if they were for sale, Petsopolis told us “Yes” but only two because he was keeping one and the other had already been promised to someone else.

Although this was almost 30 years ago, we remember it like it was yesterday, as he pointed out the two we could purchase.

One, of course, is the one we have and the other was the piece from the “TtT” catalog.

When we inquired the price, he told us 250 English pounds for each one.

Now compared to what they are worth today that was a pittance, but to put things into perspective, 250 pounds could have bought an early Turkmen piece from any dealer in London with enough change left over to have a great meal for two in a top restaurant.

Two hundred and fifty pounds was a nice piece of change and Petsopolis was no fool in offering them at that price.

Considering the circumstances, we decided to just buy the one, as it was in sparkling condition and intact – the Festa piece, as you can see, has been joined with another piece near the left margin and the metal thread was severely discolored.

When we saw it in the “TtT” catalog we had to smile in remembrance of that special day with Yanni and Charlotte.


Caucasian Embroidery, Weskler Collection

Now to thompson’s description and why we beg to differ with the rather typically inexpert line he attempts to set out.

We do, though, absolutely agree the piece is a supreme example of lampas, which is a complicated type of brocade, and that it is genuinely historic.

It is, we are sure, far more historic than lazy-boy thompson could ever imagine as you, and he, will soon learn.

One of the earliest Ottoman Sultans was Beyazit I, who ruled from 1354 – 1402 or 1403 depending on the source, and his life was, if not the most exciting of any Sultan, at least on par with any other.

We highly recommend any interested reader explore the history of this truly larger than life figure in Turkish history.

During his life, Beyazit I carried the nickname “Lightning” or the “Thunderbolt” because of the extreme bravery he displayed in battle and, likewise, for his great successes on the many battlefield he and his army engaged.

The following will more exactly explain his being called “Thunderbolt”: “In 1396 Venetian and Hungarian Crusaders besieged the Bulgarian fortress of Nicopolis, which was held by the Ottomans. Although Bayezid I was at that time attempting to take Constantinople from the Byzantines, he abandoned his campaign to hurry to Nicopolis, where he inflicted a crushing defeat upon his Christian rivals.”

Another incident relates the following:

During his sultanate a great army of Crusaders was gathered together to rout the Turks, reconquer Byzantium end seize Jerusalem. They were besieging Nighbolou fortress near the Danube and Bayezid (with his army) arrived to lift the siege. One night he battled, alone, through the enemy troops and reached the castle walls. Leaning casually against the wall he shouted up at the ramparts. Hearing his voice Doghan Bey, the Commander of the Castle, hurriedly asked what was the matter. "I have come with my army to relieve you," Bayezid replied. "Do not surrender!" He then sped back to his headquarters and continued the fight.

From these two tales it is easy to see why he carried the nickname “Thunderbolt”; for like a thunderbolt crashing unexpectedly from the sky, Beyazit’s valor and bravery came crashing unexpectedly down on his adversaries.

So those “…five serrated sepals…”, as the catalog calls them, emerging from each of the two large flower-buds, one red and one buff on the Festa piece and the single buff colored one on ours, represent, at least in our opinion, the “Thunderbolts” and “Lightning” of Beyazit’s nickname.

But there is another very significant clue to support our provenancing this piece to Beyazit I and the 14th century: The ground color is a glowing purple and this color was, in antiquity, always reserved for royalty, especially during the Greek and Roman periods – and, in addition, Beyazit’s mother was of Greek descent.

Because Beyazit I ruled in the late 14th century, and in light of the above references, the idea the purple kaftan these fragments came from could have been his, and only his, is not so far fetched.

Perhaps, when that purple dye is investigated using the Weaving Art Museum’s forensic testing protocol, we will learn enough to further prove our contention.

We should mention the small semi-circle of hem seen on the right margin of the Festa fragment appears to be original and part of the hem where the shoulder or underarm piece was joined to the body of the kaftan.

We have no doubt these fragments were from a Royal kaftan, and the owner of that kaftan was Beyazit I.

It should also be mentioned our fragment is framed under glass and the photo we reproduce here is a quite old digital scan made without removal from the frame.

Therefore it is slightly out of focus, and doesn’t not appear to sparkle and glow as it does in real life.

Lastly, because the metal thread has never been tested for content, and is not at all tarnished in ours like the Festa fragment is, we are not so sure it is “gilded silver thread” as thompson opines.

Before we wrap this review up it is very germane to mention the brevity with which thompson deals with his ‘round the rug-world' tour of weaving types and genres. But what else to expect from an author who not only doesn’t sweat the small stuff but treats the large stuff equally as flippantly.

In doing so thompson made our job quite easy; as his omissions, gaffs, lazy-boy treatments of subjects far more deserving of more effort, and Luddism are easily critiqued and rebutted.

The fact there is not one Anatolian Kelim illustrated is an unthinkable omission, especially considering the private kilim exhibition hajjis Marsall and Marilyn Wolf organized from their collection held the same weekend as the hajji “gala” opening the catalog memorializes.


Archaic Anatolian slit-tapestry, detail; JC Collection, New York, on loan to the Weaving Art Museum

RK knows something about historic Anatolian slit-tapestry (the technical name for Kelim) and would have enjoyed the opportunity to assess the collection the Wolf’s have amassed.

We’d opine they did not contribute them to this exhibition and catalog, as they are probably planning to publish their own effort sometime in the future.

Guess we will have to wait until then to congratulate or dun them accordingly.

As for the early Caucasian Village rugs, we also know a bit about them but there is, in our opinion, not one we would waste our time discussing.

Nor are we interested in critiquing the fluff and worthless patter thompson scribbled in their “honor”.

The pick of the litter is Plate 75, a so-called East Caucasian long rug that is not a Village rug but rather a late, commercial production harshang patterned spin-off.

It is one of the best of the type, but historic it ain’t and that’s why we have not bothered to picture it here.

The others in this category are way less memorable but they are pretty things and now, at auction, would surely provide a nice return for their owners. However, again, they are not the stuff great exhibitions, or catalogs, are made of.

The Turkish Village pieces are equally as unimportant and unworthy of mention or admiration unless the viewer is an abject beginner and novice.

We will single out plate 84 solely for its nonsensical dating – this rug is not 17th/18th century as it is dated on the hajji website, and at least in the catalog that date is revised to 18th/19th which is far more reasonable.

However, RK would date it early 19th but, regardless of its dating, the rug is a nothing compared to the great and truly remarkable Turkish Village rugs that are illustrated in many other books and catalogs.

It is easy for anyone in the know about Yastik; Soumak khorjin, reverse or regular countered soumak stitch; or Belouch rugs to pass over those examples, and thompson’s say nothing descriptions, as one would a warm glass of beer and accordingly, RK will not bother picturing any of those examples either.


Two Historic Soumak Khorjin Fronts; JC Collection, on loan to the Weaving Art Museum

In fact, we are going to avoid even mentioning them as, again, the rare, historic examples we know about dust these as bad as a go-kart would be dusted by a Ferrari on a Formula I circuit straight-away.

We will, though, readily admit some are pretty things when compared to average examples but not at all admirable when compared to the best of these types.

The Suzani are, likewise, second-rate and instantly forgettable but here the “TtT” catalog rises to a level it doesn’t anywhere else by illustrating a remarkable, C14 dated 14th century, “Timurid” embroidery fragment courtesy of London dealer Sam Fogg.

However, thompson’s 2 line citation would not even qualify as a good footnote, let alone justify inclusion it in his description of the Suzani.

One could buy the “TtT” catalog just for that picture but hiding it in a chapter entitled “domestic embroidery” is but another huge and prejudiced, not to mention foolish, act on thompson’s part.

But it is the only golden goose sequestered in a run-down chicken-coop, as the Festa Ottoman kaftan fragment is also housed under the same ludicrous “domestic embroidery” chapter heading.

This is the end of the line for us; too bad it wasn’t for thompson as well, for whoever was tasked with the job of editing thompson’s smorgasbord of cheap luncheon meat comments must have been asleep at the wheel, or is it that they were lulled into a trance by his guru reputation and rug world adulation?

On account of our passionate interest and long time study of historic Caucasian “embroidery” we can not close without picturing the two examples included in the catalog and, of course, mentioning thompson’s simplistic take on them.

The first one illustrated, but definitely not the better, belongs to the textile museum’s head-honcho bruce baganz, who is a collector of these, still little researched and previous to this explanation totally misunderstood, needleworks.


Plate 87, Baganz Collection

RK has not seen this example in the flesh but from the photograph we’d imagine much of the brown silk ground has been restored, as almost always the brown silk thread used for these examples has a highly corrosive nature.

That is surely not a detraction but rather a red-badge of courage proving its authenticity.

Some long years ago, at Christies London, RK purchased a similar, but probably 100 year later, example and passed it on to a client, as it was not a star.

Compared to that one Plate 87 is one; but compared to the archetype of this group, a fragment which is illustrated in the Weaving Art Museum exhibition titled “Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth” it has that workshop pastiche appearance RK has discussed many times before:


JC Collection, New York, on loan to the Weaving Art Museum

We agree with the catalog’s 18th century dating but do not believe, as the catalog forwards, it might be earlier because we date the Weaving Art Museum example at the latest to the early 17th century; and, even though it is a fragment with a design that can only be guessed at, just for starters the border undoubtedly substantiates it being the archetype for what is seen in Plate 87.

In his description of Plates 87 and Plate 88:


Plate 88 Weskler Collection

thompson once more lazy-boys out and almost totally relies on the questionable conclusions Jennifer Wearden reached in an article published 17 years ago.

Her classification of these embroideries into three main groups, based on their completely different structural techniques, is unassailable.

Her insistence they are all descendant of the various factory produced types of Caucasian rugs, Dragon, Blossom, Palmette, and rare 17th and 18th century Persian Court embroideries, like the three examples illustrated in the extremely rare Ala Oglu monograph on the weavings in the Najaf Shrine in Iraq is incorrect and highly questionable in light of the evidence the two examples from the Weaving Art Museum present.

To his credit thompson dutifully cites the Ala Olgu reference, which escaped Wearden’s notice, and illustrates only Plate 27, the latest and most uninteresting of the three illustrated:


Collection of the Imam Ali Shrine, Najaf, Iraq; “Plate 27 embroidered in silk (darning stitch on cotton ground)”

But thompson does this only to draw the parallel between the darning technique it shares with Plate 88 in the “TtT” catalog.

This is another example of thompson’s penchant to believe the stimuli for all design always went from Court to Clan.

This is nothing but another example of his Luddism and refusal to countenance the ample evidence already presented and to be further demonstrated in discussing these embroideries.

It is clear thompson is following, like a dog on a leash, Wearden’s erroneous and central thesis -- all these embroideries are, once again, derived from those large workshop carpets, whose motifs are pasted together into the pastiche Plate 87 so admirably and expertly copies.

Undoubtedly this is why thompson dates it “18th century or earlier”, while he mistakenly dates Plate 88 “18th century?”, implying it is later.

In our estimation, and according to the proofs we will cite, Plate 88 is the far better and earlier example.

First, Plate 88 lacks the pastiche of motif the maker of Plate 87 lifted directly from those large Caucasian workshop rugs Wearden believed were the prototypes for the cross-stitch and non-diagonal surface darning groups.

We do not believe it is considerably older than 87; but it surely is closer to one that is definitely earlier, an example in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection:


Victoria and Albert Museum Collection, T70.1909

When we first read Wearden’s presentation in 1991, we were completely surprised this example was not illustrated.

It is surprising for two reasons -- first is the fact it is the earliest and most significant example in the V&A’s collection and she was an assistant curator there when her article was written.

Second, and even though her article has examples both institutional and private from other sources besides the V&A, had it been included it would have been the earliest and most important example of the many she chose to illustrate.

We should mention there are only two known examples, one cross-stitch and one surface darned type RK considers to be historic enough to be the archetype for the carpets Wearden, and tag-along thompson, contrarily believe are every Caucasian embroidery’s ancestor.

Her third group, those with surface darning on a diagonal, which apes what is commonly known as a twill weave, are decidedly later and not unexpectedly the most common and frequently encountered type. The oldest of this group is also in the V&A Collection, number 459, 1899 but we grow weary of this exercise and do not have the patience to picture here and now.

(For no reason other than completeness we are subsequently publishing that example from the V&A)


Caucasian Embroidery; Victoria and Albert Museum, number 459.1899

Plate 87 belongs to her first group, those with a cross-stitch and Plate 88 her second, those with surface darning not on a diagonal.

The fragment we illustrate from the Weaving Art Museum Collection is, like Plate 87, done with a cross-stitch, but unlike it, the ground fabric is dyed blue and is we now believe silk and not cotton.

These technical factors coupled with its far more original and astounding drawing are enough proof to support dating it least 100 years earlier, to the early17th century.

While it has unfortunately been truncated, leaving the infill of the medallion obliterated, the white ground sideways niche-like, or bullet shaped, medallion outline “border” presents the archetypal concept Plate 87 further develops.

This is the same with the gold ground main border they both display.

If our idea Wearden is off-base in her insistence the cross-stitch embroideries are dependent on carpet models appears questionable, we will now provide further proof we, and not she, are correct by analyzing an ancient example from her group two, those with non-diagonal surface darning.

We have already illustrated Plate 87 and cited the Ala Olgu example thompson illustrates but, before we go further and for completeness, here are the other two, earlier, so-called Persian Court embroideries also in the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf:


“Plate 25, Cover embroidered in silk(darning stitch on cotton ground), 17th century”


“Plate 26, Cover embroidered in silk (darning stitch on cotton ground), early 18th century”

Likewise we do not consider these Court embroideries, or the large workshop Caucasian carpets, to be the source for the two so far unique examples in the Weaving Art Museum exhibition.

Again, unlike the chronological placement “TtT” catalog gives with Plates 87 and 88, Plate Two in the Weaving Art Museum exhibition is, in fact, demonstrably earlier than late One, as the following discussion will prove.


Plate Two Weaving Art Museum “Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth”

Like Plate 87 from the “TtT” catalog and the V&A’s T70.1909, as well as the examples from the Imam Ali Shrine, Plate Two is similarly worked with colored silk on a vegtable fibre ground, just like all the others in Wearden’s group two.

However all similarities stop there; as the design iconography in our estimation presents the archetype for both groups, those with the cross stitch, like Plate 88 and those with the plain surface darning stitch, like Plate 88 and the V&A T70.1909 -- not to mention almost every Caucasian rug we have ever studied.

And although we are sure a flat-worlder and Luddite like thompson, and many others of his ilk, might erroneously call it ‘provincial’ – this is a gross error if there ever was one.

Not to be able to sense its genuine power and archaic roots might be past them, but to miss exactly how it relates to all these all these later ones should be within their ken. If that’s not the case, let’s give them another lesson.

Using the Baganz pastiche example for comparison, notice the iconography the four white ground, outstretched arm-like brackets that surround the central medallion contain is a codified, highly stylized, version of the creepy, crawley, alive and vibrant version Plate Two establishes.

By the way Plate Two’s large, red ground half medallion actually sits on an edge where the gold ground border would have then continued were it complete; and a visible thin black line remains to prove this, making it possible to reconstruct the fragment along the lines T90.1909 shows.

But this is not the time or place for us to reconstruct it and we only to mention it to facilitate anyone who is interested to do so correctly.

That said, and since a half, and not a quarter medallion, sits on that corner, it could not possibly have followed the form of quarter and half medallions T70.1909 shows.

To further demonstrate and prove our point concerning Plate 87’s high level of stylization and codification, notice how the iconography filling the white brackets in T90.1909 are closer to the ‘primitive’ form Plate Two establishes than to that codified, and assuredly later, version it displays.

That same relationship is echoed by iconography within the central medallion of T90.1909, as compared with the, again highly stylized, version in the Baganz embroidery.

In fact every icon, motif and pattern in Plate 87-- save the Dragon Rug derived palmettes stuck in the two white ground niche-like, bullet-shaped, medallions below and above the central medallion, as well as the four thin ‘cypress tree'-like stalks on the medallions left and right sides, can be found in Plate Two and, in a transitional form, that fits between them in T70.1909.

We could go on but as we said this is not the time or place to flesh out our thesis; doing so in a book devoted exclusively to these embroideries would be more appropriate.

Perhaps someday we will be given the opportunity and paid to do it but for now we only mention this to demonstrate how little thompson, Wearden and others know about the real, archaic, roots of these highly important cross-stitch and plain surface darning stitch needleworks.

And, of course, we have to mention the same goes for the old, out-dated but still widely accepted fantasies all designs found on Oriental Rugs flowed from Court to Clan.

Some surely did but the root of all of them can still be proven to have come to the Court from the Clan and not visa-versa.

Remember, all the Courts of the Near East were populated by those whose ancestral roots were Clan based and not Court.

In conclusion, RK knows we are on the right track and guru rug-god jon thompson, and the rest of the legions of his supporters are so far off the mark we are dusting them so badly that, like Ferrari and go-kart we mentioned earlier, they can’t even see their gear-shift or steering wheel, let alone the tarmac.

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