Compared to other types of oriental rugs those of the Turkmen can be singled out and called highly different, and most unusual.
Their iconography is rich but limited, the pseudo-complexity characterizing all other genre of Near Eastern weaving absent.
Color-wise they are also dissimilar, and while the earliest examples surely are not monochromatic, or boring, they definitely do not dazzle the eye with bright colorations seen in weavings from other areas.
Rather than eye-popping shades of color or sexy sinuous patterns replete with all types of flowers, trees, and animals, early Turkmen rugs can dazzle, as well as soothe, the mind.
They are first-class mind-candy.
These are perhaps the best words RK can use to describe the fascination great Turkmen weavings create.
Nor is it accident, or coincidence, archetypal and prototypical examples have this power and ability – we believe it is inherent in the historic roots of their weaving culture.
Roots that are presently unfathomed, and mysterious.
But mysterious as they are, like the beginnings of the universe, we know they do exist.
It’s just we have not yet found the keys, or even all the locks, to explain the mystery.
Perhaps some readers feel we wax too poetic; be assured this is not the case, no excitable boy is RK.
Because there are so few archetype/ prototype examples, and their defining attributes are extremely subtle requiring real connoisseurship to discover, few lieber-habers have had the opportunity to recognize and then experience them.
Even fewer the opportunity to live with them.
RK can vouch this recognition process takes major time and effort, and while a good picture and cogent description can clue viewers in, nothing takes the place of first-hand experience.
We are not trying to throw up a smoke-screen here or make elitist qualifications.
No, we are just trying to place a frame on what follows.
Turkmen kejebe torba, most probably Arabatchi; published in HJ Sienknecht’s privately distributed collection ‘photo-album’ compilation
This torba, and another ostensibly similar one published in Turkmen, authored by thompson/mackie, are rare items.
Undoubtedly they are closely related to the more frequently encountered group of “S” group kejebe large format torba(LFT).
Atabatchi torba; published in “Turkmen; formerly louise woodhead collection, USA
In fact we believe they are later spinoff ‘copies’, since it is quite obvious they are not as early as the oldest “S” group ones.
early ”S” group kejebe torba, sold rippon-bowell, 2010; 18th century; early Classic Period in RK’s chronology
One subject our published Turkmen rug research has considered is the kejebe icon and the group(s) of “S” group torba it frequently appears on.
Today we intend to push the ball somewhat farther up that hill.
There is no doubt the kejebe is one part of a complex assembly of iconic elements Turkmen weavers faithfully reproduced without suggestion of major variation for at least two centuries.
As we have previously stated the earliest representation is not on an “S” group weaving. It appears on a slightly smaller sized Saryk torba RK formerly owned.
Saryk kejebe medallion torba, circa 1700; RK discovered in Los Angeles in 1983; published Tent Band Tent Bag 1989; unsold in the Tent Band Collection sale 1990; recently sold at rippon-boswell
Basically, the kejebe is an anthropomorphic figure appearing both with and without ‘hands’.
There are also several subtly different configurations of the iconography articulated in the ‘head’, and RK believes the format in the Saryk torba is the prototype.
The kejebe is always placed singly in a niche, or in a large medallion in a group with eight smaller, less articulated kejebe figures.
The Arabatchi torba, which are part of the focus of this paper, do not follow this mold. Their medallion does not contain the kejebe figures.
Instead four small animals, and two inverted kotchak icon, are substituted in their place.
We do not know if this, or the “S” group format, is the original; nor is it germane to this discussion, as neither is truly old enough to be considered an archetypal icon.
It is pertinent, though, for us to state our suspicion both developed from the earlier single kejebe figure implanted a niche.
The kejebe medallion is surely one that existed prior to the 19th century. The rippon-boswell torba and the even earlier Saryk torba are definitely 18th century weavings.
By the way, both Arabatchi torba are, in our opinion, circa first quarter of the 19th century. The former, somewhat earlier than the latter, substitutes a later amorphous element for the kejebe figure in the niche.
As an aside it is very interesting, and telling, to see thompson’s captions in the Turkmen publication dated the archaic masterpiece, best of type by miles, ex-James Ballard collection (pair of) Arabatchi chuval in the Metropolitan Museum of Art “early 19th century” and the woodhead large format torba (LFT) as “first half 19th century”.
This dystopian dating seriously called into question, like the Imreli fiasco, thompson’s expertise as well as his rigor as the supposed leading Turkmen rug scholar of the time. Obviously there far more than 50 years separating these two weaving, RK opines it is more like 300!
And in the more than thirty years since thompson has made a number of other foolish attempts to cap the dating of demonstrably much earlier Turkmen weavings at circa 1800.
OK, so much for thompson and those who deny the reality of 300-600 year old Turkmen pile woven products.
Now let’s get back to the stage we have set and introduce the protagonist to our mystery tale.
Detail, archaic Turkmen engsi; RK Collection
This detail, from the horizontal border separating the engsi four quadrant field, has been published before on RugKazbah.com. Probably some motivated readers recognize it.
That engsi, another we own, and one we know of in a private collection, are unquestionably the earliest extant and we have no qualms dating them circa 1600.
Comparison of this detail, and one from one of the Arabatchi torba above, illustrate what we believe are somewhat widely separated formative steps in the development of the Arabatachi LFT medallion. It also has implications, though more vague, for the development of the “S” group kejebe medallion.
Details Upper: from archaic engsi; Lower: from Atabatchi torba
Seeing these two side-by-side credits powerful evidence to ideas the Arabatchi medallion origins lie within the border detail from the archaic engsi.
We can document this by using our set theory.
Remember a set is a group of three or more design elements that invariably appear together and demonstrate seemingly unrelated weavings actually are related.
The first element the Arabatchi kejebe medallion and the engsi detail share is an eight-pointed star medallion.
The second is the pair of small face-en-face animals appearing within the Arabatchi medallion and flanking the border detail’s medallion.
Detail showing pair of small animals
The third is the kejebe niche which, though somewhat subdued in the engsi border detail is nonetheless present.
In fact there are two, the first an inverted implied one below the pair of small animals and the second right smack dab in the middle of the eight-pointed star.
Engsi details Left: the inverted implied niche, Right: in the center of the eight-pointed star medallion
Some additional, less obvious elements of the set.
The concentric format of the eight-pointed star (octagonal) medallions.
Dots within circles in the Arabatchi and squares in the engsi detail.
Kotchak icons, placed on north/south points, within the centers of both medallions.
OK, you might ask: How did the kejebe figure develop from the engsi iconography..com
Some long while ago we published a detail from the other archaic engsi in our collection we believe shows the archetypal kejebe form.
Don’t be surprised, it likewise appears in the engsi we have been discussing.
It, too, has already been published on RugKazbah in “Wither Kejebe”, an exercise that offered up several possibilities related to what we now call ‘the kejebe-question’.
Today one year later we still have no definitive explanation how these icon originated and then morphed into the kejebe but we are more convinced these details are its archetype.
And adding our engsi detail, plus idea it is closely related to the Arabatchi large-format torba (LFT) medallion, to the mix cannot help but suggest a relationship to the origin of the closely related “S” group kejebe medallion as well