Detail Beshir engsi illustrated below
By now it is quite obvious the how old is it question is probably just a slight second to the what is it question in Turkmen carpet collecting.
RK has written much about Turkmen weaving and we, more than anyone, are aware of the pitfalls trying to pin a donkey’s tail on a date or provenance entails. But based on the voluminous number of published and known examples, and their careful inspection and analysis, it is possible to tentatively answer such questions.
RK, like everyone else uses names like Tekke, Yomud, Saryk, Ersari and Beshir, etc when referring to weavings which are commonly so-called. That said we often cringe when viewing examples some pundits think belong to these groups.
And, of course, we have continually stated all bets are off when it comes to the accuracy such monikers imply when describing pre-1850 examples.
Lately a new term MAD, Middle Amu Darya, has entered the Turkmen lexicon but regrettably it is no more or less accurate than Beshir or Ersari (the two names it aims to replace).
Both Beshir and Ersari, like Yomud, are extremely non-specific with weavings so classed having decidedly different structures and constituent materials; whereas Tekke, Saryk or “S”group refer to weavings with unitary structural characteristics and extremely similar materials.
However, when it comes to color, again all bets are off as Tekke, Saryk, “S”group plus all Beshir, Ersari, MAD, etc examples easily subdivide into clusters exhibiting very different coloration.
These differences are 100 percent due to the various ingredients ( plants, water and other substances used in the dye processes), which were indigenous to the places where the widespread geographic diffusion of these Turkmen sub-groups deposited them.
Perhaps someday when the database of forensic information RK has been championing for two decades will finally be compiled these differences will become securely linked to specific locations.
For now these ideas are guesswork backed with little to no documentary evidence.
Sorry to reiterate what we have written before but we felt it necessary to stress where we sit concerning the Turkmen name game as it might pertain to the following engsi.
Recently we saw on the internet a group of at best semi-knowledgeable ruggie websters struggling to figure out just what this engsi is all about.
MAD, engsi, mid-traditional period, private collection, published on turk0tek.com November 2012
At first glance it might look “special” and “early” to untrained eyes but a careful inspection of its iconography reveals nothing but a conglomeration of icon, amulet, symbol and designs lifted from earlier engsi.
Because of its lack of real pedigree, calling it MAD might be most accurate in this case.
It has a decidedly two dimensional quality other ‘near-miss’, almost ‘special’ and ‘believed to be early’, Turkmen weavings can be shown to demonstrate.
But our intent here is not to demean or praise this engsi, rather we wish to place it into context.
To start this process we illustrate the engsi below.
Beshir engsi, mid-Classic period, RK collection
We are sure a number of readers will question a Beshir provenance but after reading the following this might not be an issue.
Beshir weaving, like Kizil Ayak, is very closely interconnected with the Ersari though both are places, as well as Turkmen people while Ersari is just a name for a certain group of Turkmen.
Therefore a Kizil Ayak weaving could be one made in Kizil Ayak or one made by a Kizil Ayak weaver someplace else. Same with Beshir and this somewhat complicates identification.
Ersari weavers have the same situation, as Ersari people inhabited a number of places at different times in history.
Thanks to the presence of certain color palette, and specific iconographic elements, it is possible to separate, but surely not accurately identify as we mentioned above, the weavings made by these three Turkmen groups.
We ascribe this engsi as Beshir primarily because of its brilliant warm purple red, rich glowing indigo blue and an interesting former green that on account of its now age faded, missing, yellow component has turned to a bluish-green – three color-types Ersari and Kizil Ayak weavings do not notably exhibit.
The engsi’s center panel with large white chevron and small stepped-polygon interior are also distinct enough, might we say proprietary Beshir design conventions, to support this provenance.
But the outer minor border’s alternating white and rich pumpkin orange “butterfly” icon is far more associated with Kizil Ayak weavings than Beshir, and the inner minor border of paired-leaf and undulating vine is usually, almost always actually, found in weavings of the Ersari.
The appearance of this minor border, especially it being used twice, and the outer “butterfly” one implies this engsi is not any older than mid-Classic period (if you like calendar date circa 1750), a period when a great comingling of formerly proprietary iconography seems to have become the norm.
Likewise, the paired-leaf and vine border is also not one we associate with any Turkmen weavings from an earlier period, doubled or not.
The extremely well-articulated major border, one often found in the earliest Saryk weavings, is another design factor that needs mention. It is also one of the main reasons we date this engsi pre-1800, as we do not know of any post-1800 Turkmen examples that can as faithfully compare.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this engsi is the question: Did it have a second, now missing, elem?
Let’s leave conjecture aside, sticking to what we can see and know to be true.
Before we spend some words comparing these two engsi, illustrating another will provide additional perspective to our thoughts.
So-called Kirghiz-type engsi, sold at Skinner auction in 2009
Some writers have called these rarely seen engsi “Uzbek” and perhaps some are.
However based on color palette, this one and several others we know exhibit a probable Kirghiz provenance and not an Uzbek one.
Notice the similarity of color palette the Kirghiz reed screen maintains with the engsi above.
Kirghiz reed screen, published in ‘The Kyrgyz and Their Reed Screens’,1996, plate five.
We should mention there are two distinct groups of these engsi, ones with asymmetric knot open left, the knot of the engsi above, and ones having asymmetric knot open to the right.
From the limited evidence available it would seem those open to the left are the earlier and the open right group the later.
OK let’s now look at the first engsi we illustrated while keeping the two others in mind.
First we have no qualms in calling it Ersari, as the coloration is not found in Beshir weavings or in those of the Kizil Ayak.
Also it is has an asymmetric knot open to the right, which is pretty standard for Ersari weaving.
The two blues, a light and dark shade, is perhaps the only feature that points to an earlier than mid-19th century date. However, there are just too may other factors, a few of which we will mention, to negate dating it earlier than mid-century.
Chief among those is the over-emphasis, might we say exaggerated proportion, of the six ‘four arrow’ and diagonal interior cross motif in the upper elem. The same goes for the four far too heavy and wide blue ground central vertical panels each filled to the brim with three equally too large icon seen in multitudes of Ersari engsi.
These are tell-tale signs of later, post first half of the 19th century and earlier, work as is the main border’s failure to render the far more complex and dynamic interplay of color and form earlier weavings, like the Beshir engsi, always display.
Compared to the Beshir engsi main border this becomes abundantly clear.
We also do not like the much too prominent white ground inner borders, filled again to the brim with equally too large “S” amulets.
And while this drawing might appear “special” it is, in fact, nothing but a gross, later interpretation of the graceful elegant treatment found on pre-1800 weavings, particularly “S” group chuval.
Remember: Balance of color, form and most important proportion are the keys to identifying early Turkmen work, and when these factors are improperly rendered, as they are here, there is only one conclusion – the weaver was not close enough to the traditional weaving culture.
As an addendum we should mention and illustrate an engsi that should be seen as an earlier effort.
Ersari engsi, early Traditional period, deYoung Museum collection
RK knows this engsi well, as sometime in the early 1990’s jim allen, a former owner, proudly showed it to us foolishly calling it “Saryk”.
At that time, and even today, allen’s understanding of Turkmen rug weaving was extremely limited. His beliefs, like thinking this engsi Saryk, often continue to be as misguided and extremely suspect.
We expressed interest in buying the “Saryk” engsi but allen assured us it was “not for sale”.
Then, on our next voyage over the East River to Brooklyn to visit allen, it was gone and soon thereafter we learned George Hecksher had purchased it.
While we recognize allen was surely entitled to sell it to Hecksher, or anyone else, we did not appreciate his doing so when he was continually calling us to help him learn about Turkmen rugs and identify for him ones he had found.
So much for jimbo’s ideas of payback.
Anyway, the deYoung engsi is a far more accomplished version, probably owing to it being produced at least a generation or two, maybe more, before the other.
Here is another of the type, which was offered for sale by a German dealer sometime ago. Interestingly, it has a version of the “butterfly” border seen on the Beshir engsi, as well as an elem panel seen on the earliest Kizil Ayak engsi we know.
Another early version of the Ersari engsi
Detail elem, late Archaic period Kizil Ayak engsi, RK Collection
Also the center panel has what we see as an adaptation of the iconography used in the center panel of the Kirghiz engsi.
Detail center panel Kirghiz engsi
All in all it demonstrates the comingling of design iconography we mentioned and see as hallmarks for these eastern Turkmen engsi types.
In closing we should make clear our belief engsi such as those illustrated here, any other Ersari, Beshir, Kirghiz-type, or any other eastern Turkmen engsi we know are undoubtedly based on and copied from their western Turkmen relatives, where it seems the engsi format originated and was further developed.
RK knows several western Turkmen engsi, which we have no doubt are 300-500 years old, as well as a handful of others that pre-date the 18th century.
We know of no eastern Turkmen group’s engsi that can even come close, and this is the lynch-pin of our position.
We are always ready to revise or completely discard any theory we have staked out and will do so here should any reader send us a photo of a pre-18th century engsi made in the eastern regions of Turkmenistan.
And, by the way, since RK is never shy to shoot a well-aimed arrow into the dark might we suggest the skinner auction Kirghiz-type engsi, and others like it that share an asymmetric open left knot and color palette, could in fact be Arabatchi products. These engsi might well have been made by an offshoot group of Arabatchi who, after passing thru Khiva, continued further east settling among the non-Turkmen groups living in these regions prior to the beginning of the 19th century.