S group “Salor” gol medallions from a mid-period S group chuval
The detail above should be instantly recognizable for any Turkmen rug collector, as well as just about anyone who has ever been interested in collecting oriental carpets.
It is from an S group chuval and per square inch S group weavings are among the most valuable of all oriental carpets.
They are coveted, cherished and lauded as the most “important” Turkmen weaving group.
However, RK does not believe any of this, and while we do recognize a scant few of these weavings are most likely pre-middle 18th century, and others are definitely beautiful and made of the highest quality materials, we are on record for a long time debunking the “S” group, “Salor”, myth of supremacy in all things Turkmen.
RK has long been interested in trying to unravel the unknown and highly mysterious strands of influence that produced the iconography seen on early, ie pre-19th century, Turkmen weavings.
We have for the past 20 plus years published our thoughts and findings in both book and digital formats.
Several long months ago on RugKazbah.com we examined some possible sources for the highly unusual iconography displayed on two Ersari asmalyk, one in the Russian collections and the other in the Rothberg collection.
These asmalyk, and Rothberg’s thoughts about them, were published in an issue of that rag hali.
RK examination, we believe, added some real depth to the origin issues surrounding several of the significant icons these asmalyk possess, something which Rothberg’s rather superficial comparison avoided.
Here is the Rothberg example, surely the earlier of the two.
Ersari “bird” asmalyk, Rothberg collection
But since the focus here is not these asmalyk, let’s leave them to the side for the moment and turn attention to do some unraveling of another, and far more iconic, bit of Turkmen iconography the so-called “Salor” gol.
Detail from an S group “Salor” gol chuval
Recently the following Central Asian textile came to our attention, and the unmistakable similarities it has with the “Salor” gol are pretty remarkable.
This textile, by the way, was shown at the Turkmen symposium in Leipzig two months ago. Unfortunately, we do not know what was said about it because we were not there, nor do we know anyone who was.
Last year the symposium’s topic was “The Sogdians and their Influence on the Turkmen”, one that is quite familiar as we published a Weaving Art Museum exhibition “Animals, Pearls and Flowers: Synthesis of Turkmen weaving” three years ago.
While our thesis was quite different we cannot help but feel the organizers of the symposium were Johnny-come-lately on this material.
Regardless of their copying what RK set out to explain, there should be little doubt Turkmen iconography and that of Central Asian textiles, for which the name Sogdian has been used (and over-used), are related.
Since we did not hear what was said at that symposium we can only assume it centered on the “influence” the “Sogdians” had on Turkmen weavings.
This is an assumption far more fanciful than the focus of our presentation that centered on the possibility the Central Asian textile tradition, of which the Sogdians are only one branch, and the Turkmen have a common ancestor from which their respective iconographies developed.
The “influence” the organizers and the speakers at the symposium apparently tried to prove seems to us to be highly improbable as there are no known direct contacts between the makers of these various textiles and any Turkmen group.
In fact, who the makers of these Central Asian textiles were is as much as mystery as where their iconographies, or that of the Turkmen, originated.
But leaving aside these imponderables let’s take a look at the Central Asian textile above and compare it to the “Salor” gol.
detail, single half "gol", from the Central Asian textile
Unfortunately its extreme fragmented condition prevents knowing whether or not it had proper medallions.
But it is not hard to believe this was the case, as there are enough known Central Asian textiles, where a similar secondary icon like the one it displays also appear, to imply this was the case.
But even if it did not have medallions, the semi-circles and their interior iconography bear strong similarity to those on “Salor” gol.
While the elements arched into the semi-circle have little resemblance to the triangles surrounding the “Salor” gol, the three “turrets” attached to their peaks at north, south, east and west sides are remarkably similar to those seen in the textile.
Of course the “turrets” on the textile are not attached to the extremity, as they are in the “Salor” gol. Rather they are above/inside the semi-circle, and most probably were part of the now missing medallion centers.
While implying their sharing of the ‘turret” motif might be somewhat specious, the row of attached teeth-like (hexagonal) designs above them, which are also present in the interior of the “Salor” gol, adds some powerful reference to idea this textile and the “Salor” gol share more than a passing relation.
Additionally, when one carefully examines the textile, it becomes obvious the semi-circle has yellow serrated outlines on either side.
Regrettably the picture of the textile is lo-resolution but the serrations, or jagged edges, the yellow outlines have are unmistakable.
This is probably why the “Salor” gol has the red and blue triangles at the outermost edge of the medallion’s interior, and the blue equilateral triangles beyond.
These are a later, codified, uniform “version” of the jagged line surround the textile displays.
Such conventionalization is one with which we are very familiar, as it frequently occurs when earlier weaving iconography shows up in later related examples.
And there should be no doubt the textile is hundreds of years earlier than any extant “Salor” gol.
This also explains the migration of the “turrets” from above/inside the semi-circle, where they most probably were a significant part of the interior of now incomplete medallions, to the extreme edges of the “Salor” gol.
As an aside: We were honestly very surprised to see iconography directly relating to the “Salor” gol expressed on a weaving produced many hundreds of years before.
And, as an extra-added attraction to our idea the Central Asian textile and the “Salor” gol have a common ancestor, the presence of a secondary icon with unmistakable correspondence to a Turkmen one, the chemche, is worth noting.
Detail showing incomplete but recognizable chemche
Like our belief the semi-circles actually were complete circles that formed medallions, it is likewise our feeling the secondary motif’s single fully formed uppermost extension (and the two less complete ones left and right) had a fourth, lower, one, that together formed a predecessor-type of the well-known Turkmen chemche.
There are multiple examples of Central Asian textiles with this medallion/chemche secondary set up that should convince even the most skeptical of their relationship to Turkmen carpet and trapping stylistic patterns.
And, yet, the Central Asian textile has another icon of interest, one especially pertinent to this discussion as it helps to somewhat clear the muddy water of how the Ersari asmalyk’s most quizzical motif developed.
Of course we are talking about this:
Detail showing the unusual “triple niche” iconography which appears in the apex of the Rothberg and Bogolyubov asmalyk
Sitting between the Central Asian’s semi-circles, attached to and above the secondary chemche is, lo and behold, a gable roofed niche with strong resemblance to the one atop the asmalyk.
Detail showing Central Asian textile niche-like icon
And the hook-like appendages seen on the Ersari asmalyk niche undoubtably came from paired hooks attached to the the Central Asian textile's chemche.
Again, the textile’s purer unadorned, some might say unadulterated, form demonstrates how the codified more complex Turkmen icon probably originally looked.
Once more we need to state chances a textile like this one, or the many others we published in the Weaving Art Museum “Animals, Pearls and Flowers: Synthesis of Turkmen Iconography” exhibition, somehow found its way into the hands of an early Turkmen weaver are far less than both their weaving traditions shared a common ancestor, and the Turkmen weaving tradition of generational oral instruction of weaving iconography was the transmission vehicle.
RK is sure one day a really ancient western Asian pile weaving, one contemporary with the Central Asian textiles, will appear to prove our theory it was a common ancestor and not direct “influence” that explains these and other design similarities Turkmen rugs and certain early Central Asian textiles maintain.
Just for ease of reference here is the complete post we did on the Ersari asmalyk:
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.