Fig.1; Archetype trans-Caucasian couched stitch silk embroidery corner fragment; RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic Weaving of the Caucasus, 1990
On Monday May 19th 2014 a reader posted reply to RK’s “Kaitag: Valid Discovery or Blatant Hype”, which has been online at RugKazbah.com for a number of years.
It seems David Hayton, who was and still is unknown to us, was upset with what RK wrote.
Hayton expressed displeasure with our position kaitag embroidery is nothing but derivative, folksy embroidery tradition based mainly on the far earlier trans-Caucasian embroideries. He also took exception to our rebutting any ideas these embroideries are pre-19th century.
The trans-Caucasian embroideries can be securely dated to the 16th – 18th centuries based on a number of criteria, not the least of which is comparative art historical analysis.
We need to mention, once again, there is not one shred of evidence of any type to date any kaitag embroidery earlier than towards the end of the 19th century when the chemical dyes which occasionally appear in them can be identified.
In fact it is very strange there are so few kaitag embroideries with synthetic dyes.
This could be because it took longer for imported goods, like European dyes, to reach the isolated kaitag embroiderers, and therefore these dyes would only appear in later types.
And concomitantly, examples without chemical dyes would still have been produced well into the post-synthetic dye period, circa 1880-1930, where in other neighboring and foreign regions all kinds of weavings with synthetic dyes had virtually become omnipresent.
This time-period lag perfectly segues with our position most kaitag embroideries are no earlier than middle 19th century and the majority post 20th century. Note: Even the presence of synthetic dye only offers a terminus ante quo date, ie, cannot be before. So if a kaitag has a dye known to have been first discovered in 1870, it does not mean the embroidery is from 1870, it just means the embroidery could NOT have been made prior to 1870.
Fig.2, see description below
For the past 20 plus years RK has privately voiced exception to dating any kaitag embroidery earlier than mid-19th century, circa 1850. Unlike avid proponents, authors, collectors and appreciators who have swallowed bait kaitag embroideries existed in the 16th/ 17th/ and 18th century based on no proof whatsoever other than the hearsay say-so of people like Chenciner, franses and tabibnia RK has demonstrated this is complete nonsense and hype.
We first wrote publicly about these embroideries in 2003 when we detailed amazement the icoc would mount an exhibition of them and date some examples to the 17th century.
Likewise we mentioned an organization called ‘kaitag.org’ which was to present “scholarly research on and interpretation of Kaitag embroideries…(that will be) among the various papers offered at the conference.”.
We attended and the presentation was just as full of early undocumented dating claims which characterized all other such claims.
And right, you guess it, ‘kaitag.org’ no longer exists, its two leaders, Béa Welsh Weicker and Susan Scollay, gone completely from the textile world.
And while on the subject of previous critiques we should quote what we wrote in 2007:
“Here is part of the press handout for the icoc kaitag "exhibition" at the Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) in Istanbul.
‘The Kaitag embroideries, dating from the 16th century through to the 19th century under Ottoman influence, presented in 1994-95 at L'Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and the Deutsches Textilmuseum, Krefeld, Germany, is now meeting the artlovers in Istanbul.’
This icoc last minute exhibit was organized by (michael)little lord franses of Queen St. London, who also was responsible for the shows at the other venues mentioned. Like them, this exhibition continues to make the outrageously absurd and totally off the wall claim they dating from the ‘16th century’. ”
So as the years went by the dating continued to get earlier and earlier based upon no new documentation or discoveries, only the greed of the sellers to try and convince their buyers of the “importance” of kaitag embroidery.
As RK’s readers know michael franses was Chenciner’s partner and co-conspirator in developing and promoting the ‘kaitag embroideries are pre-19th century’ myth. His website http://textile-art.com still contains statements dating them to the 16th century.
And as the publisher of Chenciner’s “Kaitag: Textile Art from Daghestan” book you can be sure franses not only read the text but was intimately involved with it.
Blame for the major errors we cite belong with him as well as Chenciner.
Using every possible means, other than reality, to date kaitag embroideries back to the 17th century Chenciner’s book and franses’s website propose certain design similarities with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the art of the Timurid court, Chinese designs, Ottoman Turkish rug patterns, Sassanian and Mongol art all imply great age for these embroideries as well.
Yet the following quote from the introduction of Chenciner’s book makes it clear he knows those references lack any real substance for dating kaitag embroidery.
“ It is evident these embroideries contain a variety of design elements of great antiquity. Some of these came to Daghestan at different periods of its history, and others are of ancient local origin. The continuity of the design tradition makes it very difficult to date the earlier embroideries. It would be misleading to attempt to ascribe dates to the embroideries on the basis of their archaic designs alone, since such designs seem to have survived until recent times in other media in Daghestan. Like many objects of wood and stone in Daghestan which appear very old, but turn out to have been made in the 18th and first half of the 19th century, it is possible that the embroideries may not be as old as they seem”
However, this breath of honesty and reality from Chenciner became lost in a gold rush explosion where 16th and 17th century dates got attached to numerous examples for absolutely no reason. Plus let’s all remember his book dates a number of embroideries 17th century, and on franses’s website 16th century dating is featured.
And, just as important an error, the influence of the earlier trans-Caucasian embroidery tradition and culture has been completely ignored by everyone, except RK.
This omission is inexcusable and truly unbelievable considering Chenciner’s book and franses’s website make no mention of them.
Fig. 3, see description below
Plus another issue was conveniently avoided: Since there were quite a number of different types of 18th century and earlier pile rugs made in Daghestan and virtually none have silk knots, warp or weft, just where and how did the embroiderers in the very isolated villages where kaitag embroideries were produced acquire enough silk to produce the 600 plus examples Chenciner’s book says exist to this day?
On franses’s textile-art.com website the following questionable ‘explanation’ appears:
“The silk thread used in the Kaitag embroideries is of many qualities and sheens, and the variation in a single piece indicates that it was hand twisted by the embroiderer. It is reported that silk used to be widely produced in Daghestan and that there were plenty of mulberry trees there. There is still large-scale silk cocoon production by Avars near Belokon and Zakatal in northern Azerbaijan.”
Notice the word “reported”.
Reported by who, when and where.
One would think it pertinent to document such an important contention and failure to do so, again, bodes poorly for franses’s kaitag embroidery claims.
Chenciner’s publication is no better, he too completely avoids the question.
But he does state “…most, if not all, of the silk is wild…”, which surely adds another element of confusion.
Considering the number of surviving kaitag embroideries has been estimated by various authors to be 500 – 1,000, with 600 given by Chenciner and 1,000 on franses’s website, there must have originally been many more, as we cannot believe every kaitag ever made still exists.
Regardless whether the actual corpus is 500 or 2,500 it’s apparent it would have taken a considerable amount of silk to make them, and if it was only from wild sources, as Chenciner claims, we cannot possibly see how the numbers could possibly add up.
And if some silk had to be imported from outside the small mountain villages where kaitag embroiderers lived, how did it get to them?
Remember the extreme isolation of these villages, located far from major centers or trade routes, is the main reason Chenciner, franses, and other promoters have relied upon to explain why kaitag embroidery remained completely unknown until recently.
If these points aren’t enough to make anyone question the kaitag myths we can only say they are zealots who believe walking on water is possible.
While doing our research for this re-examination of kaitag embroidery we discovered a photograph of a trans-Caucasian embroidery we had never seen before.
Fig.2; Trans-Caucasian embroidery fragment, circa 1700-1750; published in Grote-Hasenblag “Der Orientteppich Seine Geschichte und Seine Kulture band 1 plate IX, “collection Herr Dr Martens, Berlin”
We immediately realized it provides important missing link evidence between the somewhat similar but far exacting designs and embroidery work found on older trans-Caucasian examples and the much looser, diffused, amorphous design versions found on kaitag embroidery.
We have placed white numbers, 1 – 11, on parts of its design that we will discuss and others that bear unmistakable similarity to work seen on kaitag embroideries.
Plus when compared with the archetype trans-Caucasian embroidery Fig.1 several hundred years of iconographic degeneration become self-evident.
This degeneration continued as Fig.3 shows and finally culminated in the kaitag embroidery tradition, Fig.4.
Notice: This photo is marked with an A, B and C that will be discussed below
Look carefully at Fig.2 numbers 1, 8, 9 and 10. You will see the same crudely fashioned designs found on kaitag embroideries.
Then compare Fig.1’s cross within the medallion, A, with Fig.2 #5 and 6.
These, and others we can point out, are not just circumstantial similarities they demonstrate strong iconographic relationship.
Fig. 3; Trans-Caucasian embroidery fragment with two large transitional designs, one red ground the other blue, which directly relate to similar ones seen on kaitag embroideries.
Additional comparisons like the more flaccid drawing within the white curled-arms, Fig.2 #3, and the other less detailed and vivid drawing in the large medallion, #11, reinforce the probable 200 year or so time separation between it and Fig.1. These are not the only reasons, RK can easily produce art historical continuum with numerous examples of trans-Caucasian embroidery of different ages which support the entire 400 year time-span from Fig.1 to the kaitag group Fig.4.
Also, there is no doubt missing link embroideries like Figs. 2 and 3 and the kaitag embroidery group to which Fig.4 belongs were based on the archetype example, Fig. 1.
That time separation is likely the same between the missing link examples, Figs.2 and 3, and what we believe to be the earliest example from the related group of kaitag embroideries published by Chenciner, Fig.4.
Fig.4; second half 19th century; plate 62 “Kaitag: Textile Art from Daghestan” Chenciner; this one of the few reasonably dated embroideries in the book based on the presence of a pink synthetic dye
The obvious design degeneration between Figs 2 and 3 and Fig.4 warrants no further explanation, nor does the extreme degeneration between Fig.4 and Fig.1.
So, is there any question the trans-Caucasian embroidery tradition has greatly influenced kaitag embroidery?
RK feels publishing one additional trans-Caucasian embroidery, Fig.5, will further document this process of progressive design degeneration.
Fig. 5; detail trans-Caucasian embroidery, circa 1650, Washington D.C. Textile Museum Collection
There are numerous reasons for dating Fig.5 circa 1650 and the Grote-Hasenblag example, Fig.2, circa 1700, not the least of which is the far more archetypal rendition of icons within the medallion.
Perhaps equally significant are Fig.2’s well-defined hexagons, placed in the field, and the truer reproduction of the large curving hooks and drawing in their interiors.
Careful comparison shows none of the Grote-Hasenblag embroidery’s crude, amorphous, and unrecognizable kaitag-like iconography, see #’s 1, 8, 10, which become even further degenerated in the kaitag embroidery group to which Fig.4 belongs.
The design continuum, Figs.1-5, we have outlined, from the archetype and other trans-Caucasian embroideries to the kaitag, plate 62, should be very convincing, if not conclusive, evidence kaitag embroidery is an off-shoot of the earlier trans-Caucasian embroidery tradition.
But there is more proof positive: The archetype, Fig.1, is made with a very similar embroidery technique to the main one used for kaitag embroidery.
Both utilized a couched stitch, meaning silk thread is first laid on the top of the ground cloth and then attached to it with a couching-stitch that anchors the thread by going through to the reverse side.
This embroidery technique shows very little silk thread on the reverse, exactly the same as found in kaitag embroidery.
But according to Chenciner’s book(page 39) “The main embroidery is a laid and couched stitch, which is not found elsewhere in the Caucasus or adjacent regions”
Rather amazingly franses’s website states the same falsehood “The main type of embroidery, a laid and couched stitch, is not found elsewhere in the Caucasus or adjacent regions.”
This is another drastic error that puts to question their scholarship and sinks credibility in other areas particularly the kaitag embroidery dating myth.
Note: There is another group of trans-Caucasian embroideries made with the cross-stitch, and although they have similar iconography they are completely different and these two groups should not be confused.
Nothing happens by itself and art works are always related to earlier ones. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the most probable and to look afar to China, Persia and Turkey as Chenciner and franses do to explain the kaitag embroidery design repertoire while ignoring the region’s ancient trans-Caucasian embroidery tradition is something we find inexcusable.
And considering this tradition puts both the dating of kaitag embroideries, as well as explaining how a solid portion of their iconography developed, into context it is nothing less than an essential part of the kaitag story.
There is one more mentionable aspect to the kaitag dating myth – how it has been spread by pundits and commentators, who have relied on what Chenciner and franses wrote while knowing nothing about the subject themselves.
For instance from Wikipedia we found this on their page for kaitag embroidery: “Surviving examples are mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries.”
And from Kunstpedia’s kaitag page where rug-lost professor steve price writes: “ Spectacular silk embroideries were produced there from at least the 17th century to the early 20th century.”And referring to the age of an embroidery he likely owns “…estimated to be an 18th century product by those who claim to be able to estimate the ages of these things”.
Plus there’s also another book on kaitag embroideries, which even had an accompanying museum exhibition held in Pordenone, Italy in 2011 at the Museo di Storia Naturale.
“The publicity states ‘Kaitag: Arte per la Vita’(‘Kaitag: Art for Life’) edited by Dr. Carlo Scaramuzza, a scholar of Oriental textile arts, with text contributions from Robert Chenciner, Luigi Molinis, Moshe Tabibnina… presents 60 examples of these rare textiles from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.”
Regardless of 20 plus years of fanfare, fact still remains not one book, not one author, no proponent, researcher or collector has ever presented anything but hearsay to date any kaitag embroidery prior to the mid-19th century.
We rest our case.