Ersari “bird” asmalyk, Rothberg collection
RK read with interest Michael Rothberg’s article in the latest issue of that rag hali.
The article draws parallels between two similar Arabatchi asmalyk, one from the Bogolyubov collection in Russia and the other from his. It also tries to explain the iconography and its meaning.
Prior to the appearance of Rothberg’s, the one from Bogoluybov was unique with no other example, or even a similar one, extant.
RK has known Rothberg for at least 25 years, who can remember exactly at this point, and we give him much credit for passionately and successfully wading the muddy waters of Turkmen rug collecting to form an excellent, high quality, collection.
We believe it also necessary to mention the fact we have recently finished a careful reading of the “Milestones of Carpet” book, published in 2006 by the Moshe Tabibnia Gallery and written by dr. jon thompson.
Sometime in the near future we are planning to publish a review of thompson’s text here on RugKazbah.com but our mention of the “Milestones” book now concerns this Turkish rug which appears therein.
Fig 132, so-called international style Turkish rug dated by thompson to the 15th century, something RK finds highly questionable
There should be little doubt a relationship exists between certain groups of early Turkish/Anatolian rugs and those made in Turkmenistan by the various groups of Turkmen people.
There is also little doubt a tiny number of those Turkmen weavings are probably as old or perhaps even older than any of the Turkish/Anatolian ones.
However few rug scholars, writers, collectors or pundits would agree with this statement.
Those folks, including dr jon thompson, are classical rug snobs who, for a variety of reasons RK has not the time or patience to enumerate, believe Turkmen rugs are nothing but “rustic”, thompson’s word from the “Milestones” book not ours, later copies allegedly based on earlier “classical” Ottoman, Safavid, Spanish and Mamuluk court carpets.
This message and belief are riddled through the text thompson wrote for the “Milestones” book, as well as in other writing he has done since his metamorphisis from a devoted Turkmen rug collector in the 1960’s and 70’s to today’s heralded classical rug “scholar”.
This is not the time or place for RK to continue discussing thompson’s predilection to put down all things Turkmen and raise to high heaven anything related to classical court carpets.
We will, you can be sure, do so later when our review of the “Milestones” book gets published.
So for now let’s ponder the possible connections this detail from that Turkish rug, figure132, has with the two asmalyk in Rothberg’s article.
Here is a detail from Rothberg’s
Detail showing the unusual “triple niche” iconography which appears in the apex of the Rothberg and Bogolyubov asmalyk
And here is the relevant detail from the Turkish rug, figure 132
Detail showing what quite probably is the archetypal icon of the asmalyk’s triple niche
While RK could easily argue thompson’s calling figure 132 “15th century” is over-dating , we nonetheless believe it is at least several centuries older than either of the two asmalyk.
We also have no trouble seeing Rothberg’s example as an earlier version of Bogoluybov’s.
But we do not agree with Rothberg’s idea his asmalyk is “ very old ”, regardless of the fact it is older than the other.
Stating our opinion how old they are might be pertinent to this discussion.
We’d date Bogoluybov’s as mid-19th and the Rothberg example late 18th/early 19th century.
It is surely old enough but not in our chronology “very old”.
But let’s get back to the comparison we setup between the Turkish rug, figure 132, and the two asmalyk.
While it has no niche, which perhaps might in this context better be called a kejebe, let alone three of them as the asmalyk do, the figure 132 detail nevertheless bears far more than a coincidental comparison.
Not the least of which is its positioning in the Turkish rug -- exactly as in the asmalyk --- immediately under an apex.
Granted, in the Turkish rug, the outlines of that apex are doubled, ie the upper and lower parts of the octagon.
However that difference, as well as the far more complex imagery the rug’s version displays, is undoubtedly due to the time separation the asmalyk suffers.
Though, there is a recognizable implied niche if one considers the one formed by the outlines of the blue hooks surrounding the ¾ 45 degree slanted white figure with the four red squares within it.
The purple and yellow table or pedestal they stand on has an unmistakable “kufic”, or rumi, quality to its drawing – both are missing in the later interpretation the asmalyk show.
Here is another analog, this one from a Mamuluk style rug also illustrated in the “Milestones” book, fig. 129.
RK finds it hard to conceive these two earlier iconic designs are not related to the asmalyk triple niche ones. And by the way dr. jon thompson calls this icon the “triple hook”.
All this said we have no idea what this iconography is all about, and just to add some further mystery we’d like to throw this detail from an unpublished Tekke bird asmalyk into the mix.
Detail, bird asmalyk, present where abouts unknown
Once again, here we see another niche-like image placed in the apex of the asmalyk. It, too, seems to have little overt relationship to the Rothberg/Bogoluybov examples but that niche, its placement and the vestigial two small “Tauk Naska” animals make a comparison more than wild speculation.
There should be little to no doubt the bird asmalyk is far earlier than either of the two in Rothberg’s article and RK would call it, and not Rothberg’s, “very old”.
Another outstanding feature of the Rothberg and Bogoluybov asmalyk is their “animal-train” elem.
Detail, “animal-train” elem, Rothberg asmalyk
The style of drawing these quadraped animals in the Rothberg asmalyk have, in comparison with those below from an archaic period Arabatchi engsi, also demonstrates why RK opines Rothberg’s asmalyk is not really a “very old” Turkmen weaving.
Elem detail from an archaic period Arabatchi engsi, illustrated Weaving Art Museum Turkmen Trappings exhibition, Plate One
The Rothberg “camels” hardly look like camels and are actually for more similar to the “horses/dogs” often depicted in trans-Caucasian rugs, sumak and verneh weavings, as the illustration below demonstrates.
Detail from an early 19th century trans-Caucasian rug showing several different styles of “horses/dogs” similar to those in the elem of the Rothberg asmalyk
By highlighting such aspects RK is surely not trying to demean or diss Rothberg’s asmalyk. Rather we do so only to put into perspective our opinion of its age, and support that opinion with some documentation.
We also have trouble swallowing Rothberg’s ideas of what the “symbolism” of those three niche express. We sincerely doubt Rothberg’s rather simplistic idea they are “three yurts”, as well as the validity of quoting hoffmeister’s equally as undocumented guesswork on engsi symbolism.
Perhaps the asmalyk’s most interesting iconographic element is the birds and their similarity to those found on the elem of certain “S” group engsi.
As our readers know RK is not star-struck, as are many, by the alleged importance or antiquity “S” group weavings, particularly engsi, are said to possess.
And seeing the far more lyric and life-like depiction the birds on Rothberg’s asmalyk display, in comparison to those on an “S” group engsi, is one more nail in the “S” group weavings are ‘early’ coffin.
Left: detail showing the typical bird form found on “S” group engsi; Right: detail of bird from Rothberg's asmalyk
Rothberg’s discovery and publication of his asmalyk is a notable addition to the lexicon of Turkmen iconography and like many others it raises far more questions than it can possible answer at this point in time.
Likewise, the relationships we have discussed here are like many others Turkmen rug scholarship needs to tackle.
Also, RK cannot but help to think how much better Turkmen studies could/would be if an equal amount of the time and energy focused on classical carpet was spent trying to explain and solve the questions inherent in Turkmen rug studies, and in a larger sense their place in the panoply of how oriental rug imagery developed and what is/was its original meaning.