Early sumak khorjin face, RK collection
For most of RK’s rug collecting career we have concentrated on Kelim and Sumak, and therefore our interest in pile weavings was always quite limited.
But as limited as that interest was we were just as keen on finding, studying and collecting historic Turkmen knotted-pile, as well as certain non-urban, small-scale society Anatolian pile weavings.
All these weavings -- the Kelim, the Soumak, the Turkmen and the Anatolian -- have for all intents and purposes geometric iconography, nary a one could anyone call floral.
We also for many reasons never found much interest in Classical Safavid and Ottoman weaving, and while we find some of them truly beautiful we do not find them evocative or ‘spiritual’.
And since we have been at this rug collecting for more than forty years our disinterest was not motivated by price, as some might think and speculate.
During our career we were, at times, in the position -- the right place at the right time with money in pocket -- to have purchased a classical carpet or two.
However we didn’t ever feel the urge, desire or need; and, regardless of the poor “business” decisions these were – Classical rugs are now selling for many multiples of their former prices – , we have no regrets.
But we do recognize how it could have benefited our bankbook had we bought and stashed a few of them away.
But das was, as the Germans say, and no going back now.
Anyway, we felt it necessary to state the above to preface this discussion, and where it will go.
You might say what follows is synched with our having recently finished reading the dr. jon thompson “Milestones of Carpet” text where only weavings with floral iconography, and not geometric, are featured and discussed.
We will at some point get around to publishing a “review” of what thompson has written but this is not where this particular effort is aimed.
Rather we would like to flesh out a bit further our thoughts about that “iconic” design in the Rothberg and Russian collection asmalyk we published and discussed recently.
Unique triple niche-like, or kejebe, found in the peak of the Rothberg(above) and the Russian collections(below) Arabatchi asmalyk
RK found it to be rather quizzical and for that reason we have been trying to understand what it might be all about.
That search led us to what we see, and have already pictured here on RugKazbah.com, as a more than coincidently similar ‘composite’ pattern that is displayed on an Anatolian/Turkish carpets that is centuries older
Detail showing what quite probably is the archetypal icon of the asmalyk’s triple niche(above), fig 132 and the so-called international style Turkish rug where it appears(below); both from the “Milestones of Carpet” publication
We found this connection soon after we saw Rothberg’s article, as we were reading the thompson text, and since then we have found several other related ones.
In fact we believe, and this will be the centerpiece of the argument we are presenting, fig 132 is an early representation of an icon that was the archetype for a broad continuum, which by the end of the continuum have a strong overlay of floral iconography that well disguises their recognition.
Fig. 132 can also provide an inkling to how the archetype for the icon on the asmalyk might have appeared, and we will refrain from speculation preferring a wait and see attitude until one shows up.
However, before we present some evidence we need to admit the connection between the Rothberg and Russian collection’s niche-like, kejebe, icon and fig 132 are far more tenuous than those with connections to fig 132 we will present below.
Undoubtedly were the asmalyk earlier this icon’s connection with fig 132 would be far more apparent.
For the record RK believes there surely was/were earlier example(s) of this type of asmalyk and, while they may or may not have been Arabatchi, we (hopefully) expect at some point to see or find one.
While this is not the time or place to discuss the metaphysics of historic carpet collecting, it has been proven to us over and over that such a metaphysic exists.
We intend to discuss this in that -- who knows when we will publish it but be sure we will – autobiography of our rug collecting career we have hinted at before.
But now back to this discussion.
Classical, post–Seljuk and Timurid period (Safavid and Ottoman) carpets are as exclusively floral in design as the Turkmen and Anatolian are non-floral.
One of the unsolved, or might we say probably unsolvable, questions in oriental carpet studies is: Were those designs originally floral or did they evolve from earlier geometric patterns?
When the vast amount of early, ie pre-Seljuk and Timurid period, weavings are studied the percentage of floral versus geometric patterns is quite low, way under a few percent.
Of course, most of these weavings are not pile but rather flat-weave but this technical difference is surely not responsible.
It is basically not until the mid-15th to the early 16th century that floral designs become the focus of Classical carpet, read large-scale society production and it is RK belief those floral designs were, often times, grafted upon pre-existing iconic geometric patterns.
To demonstrate this process we have chosen several details, which are closely related and, in fact according to our perception, derived from fig 132.
Clockwise starting top left an early version from the so-called Wind Carpet, circa 16th century; a “flaming” palmette with a transitional version, circa 1650; pendant shaped palmette with further floralization of the elements; and a full-blown floral version circa 1700
There are others, many of them, we could illustrate and here are a few more
Medallion from the large-pattern Holbein carpet, circa late 15th century, plate 1 “Milestones of Carpet”; with a detail below showing what RK believes is another early non-floral version of the asmalyk icon
16th century medallion Ushak with a detail below demonstrating another interpretation of the icon
We must reiterate carpet design development and degeneration did not happen in any linear sense, and the progressive changes this icon underwent are a perfect example of this erratic process.
Here is an architectural tile decorated with what RK believes is another version of the icon
Blue and white ceramic tile, circa 1420, fig 89, “Milestones of Carpet”
And another 15th century example from a silver mosque lantern
Again, the ubiquitous nature of this icon is hard to deny once it is suspected to have been the source for patterns like this “fleur-de-lys” type design on the silver mosque lantern and the others we illustrated.
Detail, star Ushak carpet, circa 1600, plate 8, “Milestones of Carpet”
While on first blush the interior iconography of the star Ushak detail above, or perhaps any of the others we illustrate, might not seem to have the relationship to the asmalyk icon even the most doubtful observer should be mollified after some further effort and analysis.
There is a very particular set of elements the asmalyk icon displays
Fig. 132 left, detail Rothberg asmalyk icon, right, with elements nos 1-4
1. The double ‘bird head’ which sits atop the icon
2. The multiple hook surround
3. A vortex or double-helix center
4. A strongly demarcated base or gorund line which supports the icon(compared to fig 132 this feature is more implied than demarcated in the asmalyk)
The reproduction of these four elements are key to the connection(s) we are offering and regardless of the increasingly floral character of the iconography they can still be identified in the examples we present above.
There is little doubt, even among those like dr jon thompson who champion the importance of classical carpets to the detriment of Anatolian and Turkmen small-scale society weaving traditions, the migrations of groups of Turkmen into Anatolia and Iran with their artistic traditions were influential in the development of the iconographies those carpets display.
And the exclusively geometric character of the Turkmen weaving tradition was most probably the source for the designs on those classical carpets.
How and why they were floralized is the 64,000 dollar question and one those like dr. jon thompson and others avoid like the plague.
As RK’s studies of historic Turkmen weavings advance we have become more and more convinced the answers to some of the most pertinent questions can possibly be solved by careful study of, and comparisons with, the earliest Ottoman and Safavid weavings.
The isolation of the Turkmen groups who remained in Turkmenistan allowed their weaving traditions to remain for quite some time untouched by extraneous influence while this was surely not the case with those other groups who migrated.
However, the fact many of the earliest weavings made in Turkey and Persia were preserved in mosque and other religious circumstance has allowed a large body of material to survive. And because such repositories did not exist in Turkmenistan there is a correspondingly tiny amount of early Turkmen weaving available for study.
That said there are, and to be discovered, Turkmen weavings that are as old as any classical carpet and perhaps as this cadre of historic Turkmen weaving increases answers to questions like the floral one will be far more positively understood.