Home > Turkmen Rugs >Breakthrough Turkmen Studies
Chapter One
Fri, Mar 23rd, 2012 07:11:31 AM
Topic: Breakthrough Turkmen Studies
Chapter One

RK has been intensively researching and collecting Turkmen weavings since 1978 and during this time period we have uncovered, and discovered, some extremely early examples. Our research has made public a goodly number of innovative concepts to help explain what this genre of oriental rug studies is all about. And many of our ideas have influenced the current crop of advanced collectors and dealers.

Actually we consider ourself to be a flat-weave specialist and researcher (Anatolian and other Near Eastern Kelim, as well as Soumak khorjin) and believe we have the world's best collection, but surely not the largest, of these formerly under appreciated weavings.

We also believe our published research, in both book and digital format, not only provides proof but also substantiates our belief we are the leading researcher in these areas.

We surely do not consider our small Turkmen knotted-pile collection in the same light.

However, were it not for the fact we have publicly sold off some of the most important pieces now known, see the Tent Band Tent Bag publication, as well as other Turkmen pieces by private sale, we do believe this would not be the case, and the collection we could have had might today be the best in private hands.

We also believe our published research can likewise be considered among the leading, if not the leader, in Turkmen studies.

Before we go further maybe we need to qualify what the sobriquet “best collection” means to us.

Quite simply it means a collection that contains the greatest number of archetypal examples.

RK has written many times our collecting interests do not revolve around beauty, nor have we ever gone after “beautiful” weavings per se.

Beauty, as we have often written, is in the eye of the beholder and this, for us, is the main reason why we never were influenced to collect such weavings.

We have also said history, ie archetypal quality, is not in the eye of the beholder; nor will it ever be among true experts and connoisseurs.

There is a substantial ouvre of now known and published examples which, in the right hands, is sufficient to prove what is archetypal and what is derivative.

This axiom has been the modus operandi of our collecting interests and our research.

But we did not start this to blow or own horn, so let's get to the subject at hand.

Many years ago, in fact in 1981, we visited a German collector named peter hoffmeister and saw his collection, which included a Tekke torba that not only made us envious, and drool, but also provided for us the first look at a Tekke torba from a decidedly earlier period, one we believed was the earliest known example.

Detail, very early Tekke torba; hoffmeister collection; Coburg, Germany

Over the ensuing years, as our understanding of Turkmen weaving advanced, we began to suspect there was, in fact, an earlier period of example(s) the hoffmeister piece had copied.

In the following discussion we will explain why this thought occurred but for now we will illustrate details from that piece we imagined and, many years later, did actually find and purchase.

Main and Minor gol details from the archetypal large format torba; RK Collection; New York, USA

Arguing to prove which torba is the earlier is not our intent, nor is there really any question.

Rather, we intend to tackle a far larger and more complicated issue: To prove the minor gol on our torba provides the original iconography the few rarely seen similar, but later Tekke torba like the hoffmeister example, have copied.

It is also our contention it is the source for a number of other minor gol, particularly those found on numerous early Tekke, and some also rarely seen Arabatchi and Eagle group torba.

Likewise, we will endeavor to demonstrate our torba's minor gol is likely the archetype for the major gol found on most torba, those known as “torba gol”, although this relationship is not as easily delineated.

Our archetype torba is a quite large fragment missing perhaps 20-25 percent of the field and all the borders on both sides. However it does retain the complete border structures, as well as the undecorated knotted-pile elem, at the top and bottom; so its appearance, though fragmented, is basically complete.

We will not gush over it further, though we will say when we first laid eyes on it we almost could not believe we had finally located the Turkmen weaving capable of proving our suspicions about the hoffmeister torba.

Leave it to say our archetype torba is an amazing survivor representing what we see as the rarest of the rare, an example from earliest period of Turkmen knotted-pile weaving.

Some long months ago, RK published an archetypal Saryk Timurchin gol main carpet (MC) from our collection.

archaic Saryk Timurchin gol MC detail; RK Collection; New York, USA

The accompanying text mentioned our belief the interior of the large octagonal main gol, and not the drawing between that area and the gol outline, nor its 'outer shape', was, during the archaic period, the far most indicative and significant feature. And it was this iconography that could very well have identified tribal affiliation, as some other authors like Moskova hypothesized, and perhaps even the mysterious hidden purposes and meaning such a weaving carried.

This theory, or thesis if you like, is ours and ours alone, as we have never read or heard anyone else voice or publish it.

For readers unfamiliar with this idea, here is the URL where it first appears:


Along with the Saryk Timurchin MC discussion we published a photo of an ancient “Anatolian” weaving which with it shares an obvious but quite enigmatic relationship.

enigmatic fragment of an ancient “Anatolian” MC; RK Collection; New York, USA

This theory has been something RK has been working on for a long time, and one in which we are continually gaining confidence.

In this vein, and before we get into publishing photo details of some very rare Turkmen weavings we feel are derived from our archaic torba, we want to push the envelope even farther open.

As far out and provocative as it will sound we are convinced the archaic torba minor gol was originally the source of the somewhat ubiquitous gol known as a “torba gol” as well.

Here is a detail with the corners blacked out to illustrate this idea.

Archaic torba minor gol with corners blacked out to show the hidden relationship with the “torba gol” and how an even more archaic version of the “torba gol” might originally have appeared

Comparing the far more intricate and defined iconography in the center of the blacked-out version of the archaic torba minor gol with a regular “torba gol” provides much more than chance comparison.

The compass like four point orientation, the nip and tuck outline surrounding the center, the color juxtaposition, and the paired animals go a long, long way to validate this relationship.

So might a weaving someday turn up with a version of the archaic torba minor gol repeated as a major gol as well?

This is really not too improbable as there are some rare examples of early Turkmen weaving, both MC and trappings, with only one gol repeated as the major and minor element.

Time will tell if this one might bubble to the surface and fall into our hands, as the archetype torba and Saryk Timurchin gol MC have done.

But we are not going to hold our breath...

We should also mention if what we describe above is/was the case then the interior, what is in reality the entire minor gol now enclosed in the respective parts of the surrounding major gol, would have been proportionally smaller and clearly not as overpoweringly large as the blacked-out version presents.

This speculative hypothesis is something novel and innovative, perhaps far more so than our equally as provocative concept the inner part of the gol, and not the outline or shape, originally carried identity and perhaps message.

We will leave the idea the “torba gol” was somehow derived from our minor gol to begin to illustrate how this archaic minor gol, like all its later similars; as well as the chemche, the kurbaghe and a variant kurbaghe found on some early Tekke torba, the minor gol found on Arabatchi and eagle-group diamond gol torba, are also derived from it.

There is little doubt, excepting our archetype torba, the hoffmeister example is the earliest of the small group of torba with this minor gol, and while it pales next to ours it is far superior to all the rest of the known examples.

Left: Tekke torba, best of the rest, hoffmeister collection; Right: Archaic minor gol, RK Collection archetype torba

RK is not interested or inclined to spoon fed the obvious reasons why our torba is far superior to hoffmeister's, nor by the same token are we interested in demonstrating why it is earlier than the others illustrated below.

But we will mention how progressively later examples, starting with the hoffmeister torba, exhibit a flattening and elongation of the major and minor gol. Comparing the far more square and chunky gol on our torba allows this to become very clear. There is also a loss of detail, which combined with the increased loss of correct proportion renders these later gol as merely two dimensional representations of what was formerly a weaving capable of displaying a veritable third dimension.

We do not want to speculate why this degeneration occurs, and quite honestly it matters not to us today. What does matter is this degeneration in the gol form allows a continuum to be constructed .

There are other, far more subtle, elements and we suggest interested readers do some elbow bending work to find them out.

Here are three of these rare Tekke torba for comparison.

This next Tekke torba's version of the archaic minor gol shows it slowly morphing into a chemche gol format, which will be discussed later

Somewhat later mid-period Tekke torba with the archaic minor gol morphing into a chemche gol

The latest example of a Tekke torba with the archaic minor gol

Late Tekke torba with archaic minor gol that is still recognizable, although it has lost in the process most of the eloquence of the original

If anyone doubts the validity of this continuum we suggest studying the last example, number 5 below, and comparing it to the hoffmeister torba, number 2 below. You will then notice the extreme amount of degeneration the minor gol has undergone. Putting the other two torba, numbers 3 and 4 below, between those two and placing ours, number 1 below, at the beginning should convince even the most doubting thomas.

RK is equally sure the kurbaghe gol, found on early MC like the detail of the one below, also owes its iconography to the archetype torba minor gol.

Left: detail; Tekke MC with kurbaghe minor gol; Right: archetype torba minor gol

At first this relationship might seem improbable but it probably is not.


Here are our reasons, some of which will also be present in the comparisons with other types of gol we discuss below.

1. the first and perhaps most obvious is the square surrounded by a dotted line in the center of both. These elements are two thirds of the set we will mention later.

These elements can also be seen on other gol and if they, too, exhibit some of the other criteria we will mention, like the third element of the set(etc), you can bet your bottom dollar they were also likely derived from our archetype torba minor gol.

That box with its dotted line surround with the five spot, the star, the rosette, or some other unrecognizable motif as in the hoffmeister torba, in the center of the box is the key, ie a set.

2. notice the outward facing 'pincer' motif at the horizontal ends, or arms, of the kurbaghe gol. This motif is undoubtedly derived from the backward facing pincers that the hoffmeister torba places within the horizontal rectangle which forms the arm in that direction.

These pincer motif probably are a later accretion, or re-interpretation, of the broader pairs of isosceles triangle our minor gol display.

Now you might wonder why we believe the pincer is the derivative motif, and the paired isosceles triangle are the original. Good question and one we can only answer as follows.

There is little doubt, or should be, our archetype torba is eons earlier than the MC with the kurbaghe minor gol illustrated above, and also earlier than hoffmeister's torba.

Therefore it reasons the isosceles triangle on the archaic minor gol are the source of the pincer, besides the fact the pincer are actually two smaller isosceles triangle twisted around.

If you doubt this, notice the squat and heavy treatment the weaver of the hoffmeister torba gave to the minor gol's vertical and horizontal arm iconography.

3. Now then this combination of central box, dotted line surround and five spot, or other types of infill mentioned above, are what RK calls a set. The set is a very important concept, one we introduced in our Anatolian Kelim Opus where we wrote “RK knows and can demonstrate over and over the reality each of the archetype Anatolian kelim define a set of icon, amulet and emblem, and those features are more often than not reproduced in the later examples of each type.

Here the set, once again central box, dotted-line surround and five spot in the box, connect all these rare minor gol torba. Watch and see how many of the other related minor gol, like the kurbaghe on the MC above, have this set of icon, amulet and emblem. You can therefore bet this is a sure sign they are related to the original—the archaic minor gol.

4. The accreted articulation of the four extensions or arms that emanate from the center square on the kurbaghe gol also cannot compare with the simple but far more evocative geometry seen in the archaic minor gol.

This is also apparent in defining the amorphous but still recognizable 'five spot' each of the kurbaghe's arms display. These motif are definitely based on the five spot within the archaic torba's center box. And although this design has, by some people, been called a flayed animal skin, it surely is not and this is nothing but fanciful interpretation to prosaically explain design degeneration.

The archaic minor gol's arms, on the other hand, display what we see as four integral parts of some type of gyroscope. Or, perhaps, one could see them as 'sign post'.

Regardless of their original meaning, they are missing completely from the kurbaghe, which is no coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence the earlier and well articulated copies of the minor gol repeat it.

5. notice the four tiny, elegant bicolored squares placed in each quadrant of the archetype torba's major gol are displaced and are now depicted at the end of the vertical arms of the kurbaghe.

This, too, signals design degeneration, a process we often notice happening in early but succeeding generations when archetypal elements have not been omitted, ie forgotten, but rather moved and displaced from their original position.

6. lastly compare the two-dimensional, static motif at the very ends of the vertical arms of the kurbaghe with the simple, but far more animated and effective in creating movement, elements placed in the vertical arms of the archaic minor gol.

7. one more point: there are many, many Turkmen weavings with kurbaghe but very, very few with the archaic minor gol from the torba. This is no coincidence, it always means the more reproduced gol are the later, derivatives. And while it might to some be a long shot to state the kurbaghe and the torba minor gol are related and the other reasons besides number 1 above can be viewed as circumstantial, as a group these points are hard to discount.

Fortunately, at least for our position on the kurbaghe, there is a very rare group of Tekke torba with a kurbaghe variant.

One of these, which is the upper illustrated below, is for all intents and purposes the earliest kurbaghe-type gol we know.

The Tekke torba it appears on is surely not as old as our torba, or even the hoffmeister example, but it does pre-date any other we have seen and illustrate herein.

Early Tekke torba with rare kurbaghe minor gol variant

It is a very early Tekke torba, and its kurbaghe variant lends some significant support for our argument above.

Notice the far more elegant rendering of the pincers, an actual five-spot that looks nothing like a flayed animal skin, and particularly the far less accreted ends of the arms.

We would like to have been able to illustrate the entire torba but in deference to the owner we are limiting our use to these two small details.

Once again the kurbaghe variant's set of central square, with a star inside, surrounded by a dotted line, is for us the lynch-pin a torba like this one is related to our archetype. That star, which replaces the five spot, might be a reinterpretation of the flaccid, unrecognizable motif within the central square of the earlier hoffmeister torba.

It is also interesting to note the transition the central square five spot undergoes in the group of torba we have illustrated so far. First it is forgotten in the hoffmeister torba, then it becomes a well-defined star, in the kurbaghe variant, and finally a spinning rosette in the MC kurbaghe minor gol. This is a good illustration of the degenerative transmission the iconography in Turkmen weaving underwent. And please remember all the examples pictured above, besides the last and latest Tekke torba with the rare minor gol, can be dated to the early 19th century, and most well before.

The influence of our archaic minor gol is not limited to Tekke weavings as the following analysis of two Arabatchi and eagle-group torba demonstrate.

The first Arabatchi is the earliest and best example of the type, far earlier and better than any other we know.

The earliest Arabatchi Chuval, one of a pair; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY City, Gift James Ballard

It is an outstanding weaving no other of the type can touch with a high ladder.

We have seen it in person several times and handled it, and the picture here does not do it any justice.

Those accolades and others we could add, particularly its coloration and outstanding wool quality, aside, we do not believe it is a truly ancient weaving.

By truly ancient we mean more than 400 years old.

Just for the record we are not shy in saying we believe some very, very rare Turkmen woven products we know are 500 and more years old.

We would not hesitate one minute to place our archetype Tekke torba, our Saryk MC, several chuval and engsi we also own, and a small number of MC, trapping and tentband from other collections we know in such a time period.

But the dating game is one we do not wish to discuss further, and for those of you who think we are cracked let us remind you not so long ago no one believed there were 18th century Turkmen weavings.

They were wrong then and you will be wrong now to doubt our early dating parameter.

The archaic minor gol, and not its age, is the item of interest, so let's spend some words on it and forgo any further discussion of age.

The Arabatchi chuval above, which originally belonged to James Ballard and was gifted by him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, has very unusual minor gol iconography that has always interested us.

The central octagon has 'stars and bars' iconography which it shares with several group of early “classical carpets”. We know of no other type of Turkmen weaving where this appears.

This should not be unimaginable, as the weaving groups who produced those classical carpets, and Turkmen, like the Arabatchi, all migrated from Central Asia to Anatolia and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean region. At one time it is believed they all had been neighbors.

Exactly who first used the stars and bars design, or how the Arabatchi gol developed, is lost in history, and so far few Turkmen rugs that can be dated as contemporaries with the earliest classical carpets have been discovered and recognized.

However, it is more than likely someday a truly archaic Turkmen weaving with a stars and bars octagonal medallion will show up, and RK hopes we will be at the right time and in the right place to bag it.

So let's all leave sleeping dogs lie and not continue to debate which came first – Classical or Turkmen carpets.

Another seemingly 'early' feature of the Arabatchi minor gol is the four 'effigy' motif, one at each cardinal point of the central octagon.

Reading the rectangle with the two white dots as a head, and the two pairs of hooks below it as arms and legs, the effigy should be easily recognized.

This interpretation is one no one else has mentioned, well at least in our memory.

Are the four squiggles floating between these 'effigy' cloudbands?

Actually we are being a bit sacrastic here, and while we do believe the stars and bars central medallion has been derived from the same source as those that appear in the early classical carpets, we are less likely to believe the 'effigy', or even more so the cloud bands, were known to the weaver.

And because the stars and bar medallion's depiction is so two-dimensional and proportionally incorrect when compared to the versions on the classical carpets, the star in the center being far too large as well as the absence of other stars which should also appear, we really cannot believe a Turkmen rug of equal age to those Classical carpets would articulate this medallion so poorly. A good reason why we believe someday one will appear.

And was depicting an effigy the actual intention of the weaver? Frankly we cannot believe this either, and it is for these reason we cannot place this great Arabatchi chuval in the very small group of truly ancient Turkmen weavings, those that are of equal age to the earliest classical carpets.

So what does this all have to do with the present archaic minor gol discussion? We have to admit little, but for some time now we have been looking for an opportunity to memorialize in print our ideas about the Ballard chuval we felt this was, although not the perfect one, a nonetheless good opportunity.

Of course there are some elements, the central box, star in center, and dotted-line surround plus the arms at cardinal points, that tie this Arabatchi minor gol to our archetype torba's minor gol. However, these are too general to bother trying to build a more specific case.

What is not is comparing the level of 'archaic quality' these two minor gol display, a comparison that undoubtedly shows the archetype torba is far and away the earlier.

There is, however, another minor gol found on Arabatchi torba directly related to the archetype torba one. It can easily be considered an amalagam of features from the Ballard Arabatchi Chuval and our archetype torba gol.

later Arabatchi torba with a minor gol derived from those on the archetype torba; RK Collection

Here there are a slew of clues, including the set mentioned earlier, to prove these minor gol are related, the Arabatchi have been derived from the archetype torba minor gol. There is also little doubt this group of Arabatchi torba is not very old, surely not nearly as early as the Ballard chuval and some of the other better examples.

We will leave spotting the similarities to the weavings we illustrate above, and others that can be found in the literature, to our readers. Doing so will demonstrate all these minor gol have been synthesized from the archetype torba minor gol.

Another type of torba with gol we believe have been birthed from the archaic minor gol are these two:

Early Tekke torba with diamond main and rare octagon center minor gol with animals

The central octagon this torba, and a quite significantly earlier one illustrated below, have is very similar to the octagon in the center of the Arabatchi torba minor gol. Like it, all evidence points to their being related and probably derived from the archaic minor gol. Notice the dotted-line surround and the star pasted into the center. These are not accidents and the fact the square in the archaic minor gol has grown into an octagon fits perfectly with their degenerative status.

The earliest and best example of this type of eagle-group II torba we know

It is interesting to note these two torba were not produced by the same group of Turkmen, a fact having nothing to do with their ages.

The earlier is eagle-group and the younger Tekke. RK has handled both of them and their structural differences guarantee this assessment.

The iconography in their main gol is very, very interesting, especially for this discussion focused on the influence our archetype torba, and its minor gol, has had on a wide swath of Turkmen weavings.

Detail diamond major gol Tekke torba

Unfortunately we do not have a high resolution detail of the early eagle-group II torba major gol with a somewhat better execution of the same iconography shown in the later torba above. There are really only two elements in these diamond gol, a bicolored diamond shaped square and a rather indescribable motif we'd call a combination of an X and an I.

A far more elegant, intricate and articulated version is found in our archetype torba. Not in the minor or major gol but in the outer border.

Outer border detail, archetype Torba, RK Collection

Notice the simplification and loss of detail this icon has suffered in its migration from the border of the archetype torba to the center of the diamond gol. This is nothing out of the ordinary, as we have observed similar changes taking place when constructing continuum of related Turkmen as well as other weavings. There is no doubt as succeeding generations of weavers recreated their traditional and proprietary icon, amulet and emblem these patterns suffered various degrees of loss and omission, not to forget accretion.

By the way, this border and its sole icon is one we have not seen on any other early Turkmen woven product, which is another proof our archetype torba is what we claim.

Speaking of border motif, have you noticed the other, inner border of the archetype torba has the icon found in many MC gol, like the Gulli-gol.

Before closing the book on the archetype torba minor gol we would like to illustrate two related other related, and derived, minor gol.

The first is a common iteration of the Tekke torba minor gol called the chemche.

Old Tekke torba with square major and well defined but accreted chemche minor gol

We will admit on first, and probably even second glance, there appears to be no relationship. However, after careful observation and deduction, mostly deduction, their connection can be identified.

To do this one needs to add another Tekke torba to the mix.

Tekke torba with degenerate flayed animal skin motif in major gol and unusual bicolored box in the center of minor gol

First some comments

1. notice the different iconography in the centers of the two Tekke torba major gol and how these elements have been, according to our discussion, derived from the archetype torba. These torba can both be dated circa 1800. The upper displays, except for the star in the center, a major gol with degenerate but somewhat accurate rendition of the archetype torba but the other has the flayed animal skin.

2. now compare the minor gol and while the upper has none of the iconography from the archaic minor gol, it does not show the accreted inventions the lower exhibits. The most obvious of these is the 'arrows' that 'shoot' from the horizontal arms. Also the addition of a double hook, or kotchak, attached to the central point of the thick vertical arm is likewise an unnecessary addition whose source is the far larger, and bold, kotchak from the Arabatchi minor gol.

3. notice also the animal heads in the vertical quadrants of the lower torba's major gol have double 'crests', another accretion as absolutely no early Tekke torba, or any other Turkmen weaving we know, have this feature.

4. how and why the chemche minor gol was developed is unknown and still a work in progress for us. We can see certain relationship to the archaic minor gol but at this point enumerating them would be even more circumstantial than our discussion above. That said, it does appear to us the chemche was, in fact, derived from the archaic minor and hopefully we will locate a chemche minor gol which exhibits the set of icon, amulet and emblem noted above, although we are positive they will be a degenerated version and perhaps unrecognizable.

We are going to end by illustrating another torba with the rare minor gol.

Another Tekke torba with rare minor gol

This torba retains all the elements present in the archaic version, but it adds, ie accretes, a five-spot icon in each of the vertical arms. Notice the extremely accurate repetition of each and every one, including the set we use to defining relationship.

It is equally obvious this torba is generations removed from our original, an idea that can be demonstrated not only by the proportions of the major and minor gol but more importantly the inner kotchak border and the rather strange and indescribable outer one, as well as those additional five-spot.

Another mentionable feature is the use of half, or cut, major gol, which is also present in the archetype torba. What is far more salient, and for us an undeniable link, is the iconography in the center of the major gol. Look at it very carefully and you will see instead of depicting the blue box with two vertical arms, as the archetype torba does, here there is one arm.

Why might you ask did this happen?

Our answer, though impossible to prove, we believe goes the distance and has a very high probability of accuracy. Because the weaver was directly copying from a small fragment of either our torba, or one of its generation, and that small fragment was a half gol, and not a full one, she repeated this truncation.

While this explanation can easily seem far-fetched to say the least to some readers, think about it. Why else would the weaver, who was able to perfectly and accurately weave an exact copy of the archaic minor gol down to the smallest detail, fall so terribly far when weaving the center of the major gol?

And by the way, all the full major gol which grace our torba have both upper and lower thin blue arms extending from their central blue box, only the half gol naturally show it in the abbreviated form.

There is another feature of the archaic torba major we should note, the detailed drawing in the space between the center blue box and arm and the interior octagon.

Unlike any other torba gol we know, its version is so detailed and exact it creates another octagon and not just some amorphous shape found in all the other known examples.

And the six small diagonal flashes of color, placed within and outside it, are perfectly aspected and positioned to create a sense of animation and movement so different from the static look all the other Tekke torba with these elements display.

Perhaps one day we will publish the complete picture of our archetype torba but for now we hope and trust the details included here, and the discussion we have framed around them, will satisfy our reader's curiosity, provoke some thought and debate, and lastly demonstrate why RK considers ourself to be the leading researcher and collector of early Turkmen weaving.

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