Home > Hot Button Issues >RK Reviews"Garden of Paradise"@Poldi Pezzoli
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Fri, May 30th, 2014 03:36:28 AM
Topic: RK Reviews"Garden of Paradise"@Poldi Pezzoli


Detail Darius of the World “Tiger” Carpet showing the “tigers” which are placed above and below the central medallion. RK cannot help thinking these tiger have a comic ‘chinese’ look and would not seem at all out of place on a new Nain or Ispahan. Sorry but nothing about them, or the florals and attendant scrolling vine tracery, does anything to inspire us to laud this carpet. It’s big, super fine and righteously old but is it great art? We’d have to say NO because visually it fails to do anything but prove our comments below.

RK has now had a good read of the catalog accompanying the Garden of Paradise carpet exhibition at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan thanks to a friend lending us a pre-publication copy.

The majority is written by michael franses, who is referred to in the introduction as follows:

Michael Franses, one of the best-qualified world authorities in the discipline and a long-standing friend of and collaborator with both Alessandro Bruschettini and John Eskenazi, volunteered. Initially, we thought to mount a ‘dossier’-exhibition. However, the new results that emerged from our study persuaded us to extend the project into a larger undertaking to contextualise the ’Tiger’ carpet (Plate 1) and the Hunting carpet (Plate 4), to introduce the time and place of their production, and to offer an iconographic interpretation of both.

RK has made many comments about franses and they surely do not need repetition here.

But we must wonder out loud about the introduction’s stated goals, as nowhere in franses’s text did we read anything beside some heavily hedged guesswork as to where those two carpets were produced. And as far as dating them, that too is surely not made any more concrete by franses than it has already been for some time.

Nor did we read anything approaching “iconographic interpretation” or even guesses besides his telling readers: Here is a tiger, here is a hunter, here is a flower and here is a palmette, etc.

This is one of the major issues RK has with royal Safavid and Ottoman carpets – basically they have no iconography, only pretty flowers, ‘cloudbands’, calligraphic verses, hunters, their prey, and various animals.

Yes, of course, an animal or a flower could be symbolic, however, nowhere in the literature of the “discipline”, as the introduction so prosaically refers to rug studies, has RK ever read any author’s idea on such subject.

And without saying franses’s contribution to this catalog likewise leaves that stone well unturned.

No, RK can only say the introduction hyperbole is completely unfulfilled by the catalog, which is typical for rugDUMB.

Besides the lack of iconography, RK is always aware of the mechanical quality most Safavid carpets display. This is the result of their being copied from an artist’s cartoons, unlike an Anatolian Village or Turkmen weaving, created by a weaver who is also the designer. LEFT: Look carefully and you will see we have placed four white arrows in this close-up detail of the Darius of the World “Tiger” carpet that point to an unsightly blank area where we believe the artist cartoon for the lower and upper parts of the field join the one for the central medallion area. This empty area entends the entire distance between the left and right borders. RIGHT: In the enlargement that blank area can be more easily identified and seen. There is another arrow here pointing to the same area. Is this great art or as RK says nothing but rote reproduction?

Make no mistake franses knows these types of rugs well; and he should, having spent the majority of his career cataloging them.

But, again, his essays in this publication basically have nothing more to say about them on any level other than tracing who might have owned them or when.

He also tries to group some of them together but, alas, franses publishes no explanation of the criteria he uses, or how certain examples share those criteria.

While trying to sound both authoritative and sure of his ideas about where and when any of these carpets, or the related ones pictured and mentioned in the catalog, were produced a careful reading shows no real documentation -- only educated guessing.

Worse, we believe is the noticeable lack of technical information or descriptions of the materials and dyes.

Their absence in a publication of this intended stature is glaring.

So is the fact none of these carpets have been subjected to intensive, or even cursory, forensic scientific analysis other than c14, which is proving more and more to be as unreliable for most carpets and textiles as RK has been warning for more than two decades.

It’s one thing to say a carpet is made in Kashan and proving it with documentation. And it’s totally another to say a carpet is made in Kashan and then providing only hearsay guesses as proof.

Regrettably almost everything franses writes, other than visual descriptions or former owner provenance, falls into that latter no proof category.

While we find nothing wrong with making educated guesses, we do find it troubling to present those guesses as facts, something franses and others who write about classical carpets invariably commit.

Carpet and textile studies has little bedrock to sink ideas into, the sole hope being in-depth forensic scientific analysis.

This will enable definitive groups to be made based on factual results of dye and fiber analysis, and not just on the less indicative and more general information design or visual technical analysis provides.

These forensics are capable to record the presence of minute but important data about the origins of the material a carpet was made from, its dyes and mordants. When properly collected such information is 100 percent reliable.

This will provide real evidence for grouping together certain weavings and excluding others. It will also provide data capable of leading to far more exact ideas of where a carpet was produced.

For example the presence of certain metals that become attached to the wool, silk or cotton during the dye and mordant processes can be correlated with similar metals found in the area’s water supply. Also pre- and post- dyeing treatments frequently utilized local ingredients specific to certain locations and it is believed discovering their presence in carpets will greatly enhance provenance possibilities.

Information like this will undoubtedly increase the reliability of carpet scholarship, something that would decidedly benefit a publication like this one.

Therefore it is quite surprising franses and his museum world rug-centric colleagues have not begun to test, and then to collate and database this type of data.

We have been championing forensic testing for more than 20 years, our ideas only falling on deaf ears. Clearly this is the only way to put some bedrock under the “discipline” and add positive documentation to replace opinions and guesses.

Let’s take a quick scamper through the rest of franses’s text and point out some of its more obvious deficiencies.

In 1501 Shah Ismail from Ardabil founded the Safavid dynasty and made his capital in Tabriz in northwest Persia. This dynasty was to last 221 years and its rulers were among the greatest patrons of the arts. Probably tens of thousands of carpets were made that have not withstood the ravages of time. It is unlikely, however, that many royal carpets were created, as these were extremely costly.

“Tens of thousands of carpets?

Really, what kind of carpets were they and made by who?

This type of gross exaggeration reflects poorly on franses’s abilities as a scholar, forget about his honesty as a researcher.

RK sincerely doubts between 1501 and 1723 tens of thousands were produced in the Safavid empire, as it was not until the middle of the 19th century, a good 250 later, that wide-spread production of carpets existed.

As for how many “royal” Safavid carpets were produced?

Surely immensely far fewer, as not only were they “expensive” to weave but more importantly the number of skilled artisans with the expertise to work on such fine and demanding weavings was limited.

It is for these reasons we sincerely doubt franses’s tens of thousands could mean anything we would today call a “carpet”.

And to believe tens of thousands of complex patterned ones were produced is just complete nonsense.

The fact no documentation exists to detail where any “royal” atelier/workshops were located, who were the organizers and owners of them, and who were the artisans who produced the drawing, the materials and did the weaving, severely hampers knowing anything more about a classical rug than an Anatolian village or Turkmen one.

But you’d never know this reading what franses or his colleague in classical carpet journalism, dr. jon thompson, produce for publication or their belief their opinions and guesses are innately superior to those who research and write about non-classical ones.

Both franses and thompson gloss over the genuine lack of evidence and continue to construct thesis based on hearsay, guesswork and nonsensical statements like tens of thousands of carpets were produced in Persia during the Safavid reign.

Handmade carpets have always been highly valued. The best were set aside and unrolled only for important guests or special events, but most were in daily use, serving as covers, for sitting, dining or sleeping areas. Just as important as the ownership of a carpet was the making of it. It was the very continuity of this tradition that was essential. Old carpets were not ‘collected’ in western and central Asia, whereas in ancient China there had always been a high regard for items from the past. In Persia and Turkey carpets were not handed down, because each generation made its own, often to mark an important occasion such as birth, marriage or death.

This, once more, is nothing but simplistic drivel and it has no place in a “serious” publication.

What carpets is franses talking about?

RK sincerely doubt “royal” carpets, the subject of this publication, were in “daily use”.

Nor do we believe these carpets, or any others with complex iconography like that found on Anatolian village or Turkmen ones, were mistreated, used carelessly or in any disrespectful manner.

These weavings were extremely valuable, highly prized and justly appreciated, it is not unreasonable to assume they were very, very carefully treated when in use and cared for when stored. Not mistreated and used up as franses tries to imply.

Just as important as the ownership of a carpet was the making of it.

What a comic book quality statement this is.

It was the very continuity of this tradition that was essential.

The cultural traditions of carpet-making have their roots in villages and encampments not in palace workshops, and the production methods used in those workshop differ greatly from those made in village and camp environments.

Palace workshop workers were doing a job, while the traditional carpet weavers in Anatolia and Turkmenistan were weaving as a natural part of their life.

This is a big difference and while franses’s comment surely applies to them, it doesn’t in any way describe those who produced the royal Safavid carpets he is discussing.

Old carpets were not ‘collected’ in western and central Asia, whereas in ancient China there had always been a high regard for items from the past. In Persia and Turkey carpets were not handed down, because each generation made its own, often to mark an important occasion such as birth, marriage or death.

This is nothing but nonsense as it ignores two important facts.

1. While collecting carpets in the contemporary sense did not exist in the Near East, carpets were so highly revered and treasured they were de facto collected and preserved. Forget about the most probable preservation and retention of earlier carpets by weavers to use as models for their work.

2. Plus, in Turkey/Anatolia there existed an institutional, time-honored tradition for “donations” of carpets to mosques, other religious institutions and buildings. Within their walls numerous ancient carpets were saved and preserved for centuries.

And although in Persia this tradition did not actually exist many carpets were privately donated to mosques and remained there until the end of the 19th century when clever European and Russian carpet and antique dealers managed to acquire many from such sources.

Almost forty complete or almost complete ‘Tabriz’ carpets survive, including the Ghiyath al-Din Jami Hunting Carpet (Plate 1), along with a similar number of fragments, bringing the known examples to just under eighty. Undoubtedly many thousands were made, and today we have just a tiny remaining sample to study.

Here again mr. exaggerator franses is at work, or perhaps he is just became lost in his own wordage.

For if he is talking about royal Tabriz carpets, like Plate One, then saying thousands were produced completely negates his former statement, and what is logical, of how very few court carpets were produced on account of their high “cost”.

RK has not spent our career researching classical Safavid rugs but we do know something or two about them.

And from what we know we sincerely doubt the original numbers of 16th century and earlier ones were as great as franses is now trying to project.

But regardless of how many there were, we doubt there were ever “thousands” like Plate One, or any other pictured in this catalog.

By closely comparing the survivors one finds a dictionary of ornaments and patterns that form the very language of the group.”

Here we go again with the trite “lost language” of carpet mythologizing.

This is nothing but hot air masquerading as more pseudo franses-fact.

Pray tell: Where’s this “dictionary”, even one definition; and where is this “group language”, even one sentence?

After making a statement like this, one would think an author would then spend sometime demonstrating some, even any type of, proof.

But not franses, who makes these statements and then leaves them hanging in the wind to blow-dry.

The closest similarities, however, are seen in the materials used: the type of wool, the particular hues, the manner in which some colours wear, the structure, the way they reflect the light. While some of these observations can be quantified, others are subjective and based on a deep and continuous familiarity with the group.”

Sounds good on paper but why doesn’t franses define even one of those quantifiable observations?

Of course he can’t and he, like dr jon thompson and other writers, expects his carpet-god words will be believed without even a shred of factual proof or support.

About Plate One, the Ghiyath al-Din Jami Hunting Carpet, franses states: “The outline of the sixteen-lobed medallions is probably derived from the cloud-collar rim of Mongol tents, in the centre of the ceiling of which is a hole for smoke to escape: from the inside one looked out onto the stars and on the outside one saw the lobed cloud-collar pattern. The cloud-collar symbolises a gateway or ‘sky-door’ between heaven and earth.

Isn’t it well past timely to give the weary and moribund cloud-collar theory up, as no one has yet to even propose how a Mongolian or Chinese tent feature made its way to Persia and adoption within the artistic conventions of the Safavids.

It might be circumstantial the tent hole and the medallions share a central position and similar scalloped-outline but that is as far as this analogy goes.

And while it might symbolize the sky-door we’d like to hear franses, or its original promoter mr cloud-collar himself dr. jon thompson, make an attempt to document this pertinent question.

Through their technique, colours and materials the Ardabil carpets appear to belong to another group very closely related to all the carpets presented in this exhibition with the exception of the Ghiyath al-Din Jami.

Again this is an important observation but without any details given it fails to be anything other than undocumented hearsay, something michael franses excels at producing.

About the “Salting” group franses says:

There are people who consider some of the ‘Salting’ rugs to be clumsy – but they are far from that. The patterns are highly refined and extremely well conceived. For example, the lines forming the arabesques narrow in places, while elsewhere they are wider and more prominent, quite intentionally. Small cusps on the sides of the border cartouches give the effect of multiple layers, and circles are placed between the small border ornament and the edges to create a balance. The positive and negative spaces are in perfect harmony.

Considering the “Salting” group of Safavid carpets and prayer rugs is far from homogenous, both materially and in age, this might negate some of the later examples experts believe “clumsy” but it surely does not effectively counter that impression for the earlier ones, some of which are surely not as good as others.

But let’s remember franses has a lot invested in the “Salting” group as he was one of the promoters of the now accepted idea some of them are early and not the 19th century copies as some carpet scholars formerly believed.

And that very question is still not completely answered as RK thinks a few of the later “Saltings” are in fact later period genre copies.

About Plate Six, The Perez Salting Prayer Rug, franses writes:
Jon Thompson has more recently proposed that ‘many’ of the Salting carpets, without specifying which, may have been made in the ‘late’ Safavid period, 1629–1666. Although his narrative is extensive, he presents no new evidence to date these carpets some eighty to one hundred years after their probable date of manufacture. Based on his aesthetic judgement(sp) of the ‘Salting’ carpets and stating that the art of Tahmasp during the 1550s was not as it was some twenty years before, Thompson considers many of the ‘Saltings’ to be ‘revivals’. But this would entail the unlikely scenario of the workshops that created the Ardabil medallion carpets in the late 1530s re-opening a century later by royal command, bringing back the old weavers and materials, reinventing a possibly lost technique for wrapping the metal thread in a tapestry style, and mimicking not just the patterns but also the style. Furthermore, side-by-side comparisons show the ‘Salting’ carpets to have colours identical to those of the Ardabils, so the old dye recipes (which were usually not written down) must also have miraculously survived.

From where we sit we’d have to agree with thompson and might even go further to believe a few of the later “Salting” prayer rugs could even be 18th century or early 19th.

And as far as franses weak reasoning why some couldn’t be later, or really later like RK believes, holds little water
the unlikely scenario of the workshops that created the Ardabil medallion carpets in the late 1530s re-opening a century later by royal command, bringing back the old weavers and materials, reinventing a possibly lost technique for wrapping the metal thread in a tapestry style, and mimicking not just the patterns but also the style… so the old dye recipes (which were usually not written down) must also have miraculously survived.
It is totally possible certain “Saltings” could have been woven without the original ones reopened, new weavers could have just as easily created “Saltings” from the earlier cartoons, the material would have been of the same quality in the 18th as they were in the 16th. Also the warp-wrapping with silver and gold threads franses describes as the difficult to reinvent is, in fact, easily learned by any accomplished weaver.

And since dyes remained virtually unchanged until at the earliest the middle of the 18th century when the first synthetics were invented, franses’s citing them as an obstacle is also more imaginary nay-saying.

What would hold water is forensic analyses of a number of “Salting” rugs to conclusively determine if the dyes and materials are actually different. Proof like this would be far from the baseless nay-saying ‘impossibilities’ franses offers.

There is no doubt the 16th century, and a few of the later, Safavid carpets are technically impressive works of art and RK is not trying to demean them.

It is their lack of historic iconographic relevance and sometimes mechanical qualities we find difficult to overlook. And while they dazzle the viewer with their immense size, glittering surfaces and precious metals one cannot overlook their inability to transcend the world of nature in which man lives and the one of higher consciousness which has fascinated and intrigued him since time immemorial.

Some of the royal carpets of the Safavid, and also the Ottomans, might tell stories of great kings and their respective dynasties, their triumphs on the battle field, their patronage of the arts, and their family mythology and history.

But nowhere has RK ever seen the type of iconography and symbolism expressed on the earliest and best of Anatolian and Turkmen weavings.

There what at first and to untrained eyes appears to be unrecognizable, and far more foreign than the familiar naturalism of the Safavid and Ottoman royal carpets, soon becomes more familiar and intelligible when carefully viewed and studied.

Also as research into uncovering an incredible long history of development continues, it demonstrates how interwoven weaving culture is with man’s expression, and development, of higher consciousness.

It is this wondrously unknown but intriguingly comprehensible quality we find lacking in Safavid carpets. And no kilos of gold and silver, kingly connections or footprints could ever convince us those carpets are more important or valuable than the earliest and best Anatolian or Turkmen weaving.

We recently remarked these small-scale society weavings made in Anatolian and Turkmenistan are mind candy, and we can think of no better thought to end a comparison of them with the large-scale society Safavid and Ottoman workshop carpets.

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