The main thesis thompson’s “Milestones” text advances is the following
“It is generally not known that representations of carpets with octagons having a radially arranged interior pattern appear in Jalayrid painting from western Iran around 1400 (Figs 24 and 25). This is an extremely important piece of evidence and it should go a long way to restoring the importance of western Iran in the history of carpets. This is especially so since nothing of the kind is known in mainstream Timurid painting.(35)”
This idea -- western Iran being the source and origin of the type of medallions seen in the earliest known Turkish, Persian and Mamuluk rugs – is one thompson bases a great many of his “opinions” on and surely is the basis for Tabibnia’s controversy comment.
Here are figs 24 and 25
Left: fig 24, Right: fig 25; caption fig 24 states: “The aesthetic discovers his child is safe in the cradle from a copy of Kalila wa Dimna painted by a Jalayrid artist from Tabriz or Baghdad, 1380-1400. The carpet has a large octagon with an eight-fold radial design and a Kufesque border with mitred corners. TKS, H. 362 f. 113v.”; caption fig 25 states: “The thief is beaten in the bedroom from a copy of Kalila wa Dimna painted by a Jalayrid artist from Tabriz or Baghdad, 1380-1400. The carpet has a large octagon with an eight-fold radial design and a Kufesque border with mitred corners. TKS, H. 362 f. 24r”.
And this is footnote(35)
”The actual date of the paintings in THS, H.362 is unknown and the subject of much scholarly debate. The problem here is that the paintings have been cut from and earlier manuscript and pasted into a text copied for Baysunghur in Heart in the year 1431. Opinions as to their source (Jalayrid or a Jalayrid artist working for the Timurid court) and their date (1375-1385, O’Kane 2003; or c.1400 Grube 1991) differs, but the paintings are of high quality and were evidently valued. Either way the occurance of octagons in(presumably western) Iran is important.”
The thompson “Milestone” text then immediately states
“These representations(the two Jalayrid paintings) make it possible to propose that the style of carpet having large octagons with radial volutes, to which the Qatar silk carpet belongs, originated in Iran and that there was an important locale of carpet weavings in western Iran in the fourteenth century producing designs that were the source of what was to become an ‘international style’ in carpets”
The bold emphasis is mine to highlight the fact this is thompson’s main thesis in the “Milestone” project – ie there was an ‘international style’ of carpet design that originated in western Iran prior to 1400 and then spread west throughout the carpet making world.
And what a weak and poorly supported one it is.
First off the octagon rugs in the two Jalayrid paintings have no tags documenting they were actually made in western Iran. Perhaps they are Turkish or from somewhere else and imports rather than local production?
Second, and this is equally important, the fact the provenance and dating of the paintings is questionable provides little security for thompson’s going out on a limb declaration.
Forget about basing his thesis in the book on them, or drumming up another phony Imreli-type controversy.
At the worst this appears a repeat of the Imreli debacle and at the best nothing but thompson’s poor scholarship in floating an idea with only the flimsiest supporting documentation.
We also do not buy dr thompson’s conclusion octagon carpets with Kufesque mitred corner borders are Persian and not Turkish, another point thompson uses almost ad nauseum to substantiate his comments about some early octagon carpets.
Why do we not agree?
Simply, while this feature might have been the case in the later editions of many types of octagon carpets, when it comes to the earliest of them the paucity of examples, and the lack of secure provenance, destroys any attempt to make such a blanket statement.
Another major bone of contention concerns dr thompson missing the supreme importance, and its probable dating, of what RK agrees is, in thompson’s words, “a remarkable fragment in the Nationalmuseum Stockholm (Fig 5A), which is probably fourteenth century.(22)”
Caption in “Milestones” ”Detail of a fragment in the Nationalmuseum Stockholm, NM 39/1936; illustrated in Lamm 1985, no.4”
Here is footnote 22
“ Lamm 1985, no.4, pg. 68. Though I have not examined it personally, it is possible to see from the photo that the shedding sequence for passing the wefts is as follows: row of knots, A,B,A: row of knots B,A,B; row of knots A,B,A… ect. This rather unusual feature is typical for the so-called ‘Seljuk carpets’ from Konya and Beyshehir in the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, Istanbul, which I consider to be fourteenth-century and therefore post-Seljuk.”
RK is no stranger to this fragment.
In fact we have not only seen it in person, and examined it as carefully as possible, but we have published the photo we made of it at that time on the Weaving Art Museum “A New Look at Some Ancient Carpet Fragments” exhibition with our comments.
Along with that photo, Plate Two in the Weaving Art Museum exhibition, we also illustrated another fragment from the Lamm collection (Plate Three), which we believe was originally from the same carpet.
Lamm fragment RK believes from the same carpet as the fragment above
It is interesting to note this second fragment has some of the main border visible and guess what?
It is Kufesque!
Detail Plate Three Weaving Art Museum “A New Look at Some Ancient Carpet Fragments” exhibition
We cannot give comment on dr thompson’s assertion about the shedding sequence but unless jon thompson has x-ray eyes, or far better pictures than the one published in his “Milestones” text, we would be surprised if he is correct.
Regardless of the validity of his shedding sequence conclusion, ie this fragment is post-Seljuk and 14th century, or even if that idea is correct we stick to our position this fragment is considerably earlier than the Seljuk carpets in the Ala al-Din and Beyshehir mosques and decidedly not later.
Also it is clear the Lamm fragment is Anatolian, not Persian, and it displays what is the earliest known “stars and bars” type (octagonal) medallion.
These two facts stand in direct opposition to dr thompson’s theory of a western Iranian origin for this and other types of “interlaced” medallion carpets.
They are not the only ones but let’s move on and discuss some of the other thesis thompson attempts to advance in the “Milestones” text.
“This rare and interesting example (Plate 4 “Milestones”) illustrates and important principle in the study of carpets that has already been mentioned. To put it simply: new patterns and styles originate at centers of artistic patronage and radiate ‘outwards’ towards the cultural periphery.”(pg.74)(emphasis added)
It is 100 percent clear from this quote, and others we could easily cite, thompson is a classical rug snob who foolishly believes a myth as fallacious as the emperor’s new clothes.
First, such a viewpoint ignores the strong possibility the ‘inspiration’ for those “new patterns and styles” came from what thompson refers to as the “cultural periphery, which is a 'hi-falutin’ way to describe what in the carpet world is called village and nomad land.
The fact the cities and cultural mecca, where classical carpets were designed and produced, are not nearly as old as certain villages and inhabited nomadic territories, where indigenous weaving cultures existed, presents an undeniable monkey wrench in what thompson, and others mind you, are trying to spin.
This simple fact is enough to destroy the ‘top down’ theory thompson preaches.
Frankly, RK finds it bigoted and highly prejudiced to ignore, and worse to deny, the strong probability, and indications, the historic roots most genuine icon and patterns seen on pre-1750 oriental carpets originally came from that cultural periphery.
As the following shows thompson does, grudgingly, give the village and nomad weaver a modicum of credit but this is at best nothing but backhanded appreciation.
“Nevertheless, at the village level and among nomads modified patterns and motifs may achieve a degree of ‘stability’ which results in their preservation over relatively long periods of time with very little change.
This means that the vocabulary of ornament of village and nomadic weavings, like ancient words embedded in a language, can sometimes give vivid insights into the past. The village weaver, of course, is unaware of this since she learns both her spoken language and her patterns from the people with whom she comes in contact with as a child, she has no knowledge of their history.”(pg.74)(emphasis added)
Again, this is nothing but bigotry and cultural superiority and quite frankly puts thompson in a very poor light.
And, as if to prove his feelings of cultural superiority, this is the next sentence
“The linguist and the carpet scholar, in contrast, have the advantage of being able to study earlier examples from the past that enable them to understand the processes of change.”(pg.74)(emphasis added)
What thompson spouts is so full of holes and egocentric ‘white man’ superiority it truly reeks and stinks.
To believe those “village” and nomad weaver were not able to see and appreciate earlier generations of weavings their clans, and perhaps others, produced is unthinkable.
It is also unfathomable to think thompson does not credit those “village” and nomad weavers with enough insight and intelligence to understand the process of design origination and degeneration.
RK could go on discussing the disgraceful attitude dr jon thompson obviously carries but we feel we have shined the light on it enough for now.
More to come, stay tuned…