Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >The Animal rug & Tibet Connection: fact or myth
Tue, Sep 1st, 2015 04:08:48 PM
Topic: The Animal rug & Tibet Connection: fact or myth

The Doha animal-in-animal rug (center) and its group (clockwise: two parts of the Kirchheim animal in octagon fragment; Jeremy Pine’s two thin fragments of an animal in octagon rug; the best of the bunch the Bruschettini/Genoa carpet with an animal-in-animal in a large octagon; and the Cagan/Metropolitan Museum of Art four animal rug RK claims is an Afshar)

RK already offered our comments on michael franses’s “Early Animal Rug” podcast given in Doha at the Hamad bin Khalifa symposium in 2011.

It can be read here:

Recently we came across franses’s more detailed written (pdf) presentation on the same subject titled “An Early Animal Carpet and Related Examples”, and since no one else will dare review it we have.

Cover of franses’s pdf presentation

Before beginning we must say we found it strange franses does not illustrate the subject of his paper, the Doha animal carpet (the former Kirchheim/Holmes carpet), on the cover.

Rather a similar but far inferior example, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, was used.

The Met’s carpet was also originally purchased from ms Holmes at about the same time our old buddy Heinrich Kirchheim bought, and then several years later sold, the one which is now in Doha.

By the way Kirchheim got such a large return on this sale it paid for every carpet he had ever bought, several times over.

RK can only suspect the decision to use the Met’s carpet was franses’s belief the importance of a carpet purchased by the world’s most prestigious art museum, even if inferior, far outweighs a purchase by the less well known, or important, Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

Adding further question is franses’s employment by the Museum Authority in Doha, leading anyone to think his allegiance would lie there.

But RK has long maintained franses has no loyalty to anyone but himself and is nothing but a wannabe pretentious snob who is impressed by, and passionately seeks, status and notoriety for himself.

More than likely this is the reason the Met’s carpet, and not Doha’s, appears on the title page.

We also need to make clear our amazement at the lack of scholarship both his talk and this written presentation display.

There is an unmistakable thread of golly-gee amateurism throughout, as well as more than a few undocumented assumptions presented as facts; a smattering of grossly incorrect statements; and omissions of his former ownership of, and involvement with, the sales of carpets mentioned in this paper.

Again, we can only surmise, it is knowing the oriental carpet field lacks any genuine critical review that allows an author like franses to present a far from academic effort like this one.

For instance in the second paragraph franses offers up this absurdly naïve and completely untrue, mind you, statement:

For more than 10,000 years, tribal symbols have been portrayed through woven items on costume, animal trappings, tents and carpets

Not only is this the stuff of fairytale far more suited to a children’s bedtime story, it shows franses to be nothing but the academic poser we have often claimed.

Presenting illusionary ideas with no documentation or backup is typical for the carpet field and franses, who pretends to be the field’s leading expert, just follows suit.

He then continues to build on such ridiculous notions “These motifs were the very language of the peoples who created them, bestowing fertility, warding off evil spirits, bringing joy in life or richness to the land, and carrying the soul to the afterlife.”

Here we go again, the fantasy concept of a ‘lost language of weaving’, something that can only make a knowledgeable reader laugh.

To support this tall-tale spinning franses cites “Images exist of patterned textiles from 9,000 years ago, and surviving examples go back at least 4,500 years”.

They do?

If so franses should show them instead of pretending they exist.

But we know he can’t because the historical and archaeological record of complex patterned weaving contains no such examples.

And to boot the simple fact franses, a footnote producing freak, does not cite even one reference makes his statements appear even more questionable.

Studying these works of woven art today provides an opportunity to delve into the histories of mankind, to contemplate both the simplicity and complexity of thought that achieved such intriguing patterns, to marvel at the glorious creations, and to ponder their meanings”.

These references are far more suited to Joseph Campbell and his mythos and mythology entertainment than a carpet studies academic paper.

Fact: No positively woven and not painted complex patterned textile images exist from 9,000 years ago, and there are no extant complex weavings from 4,500 years ago.

There are, however, a few representations of clothing/costume with simple patterns but are they woven or painted?

No one knows, but RK’s guess is they are painted on and not woven into these cloths.

Regardless there are none with the complexity and nuance of iconography franses is waxing poetic over.

The “glorious creations” to which he refers are thousands of years later.

Enough of the preamble and franses’s fantasy references, let’s get into meat of the matter.

For the 2011 Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium, I was invited to discuss one carpet from the Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art(MIA)….I selected a carpet that embraces diverse cultures, a carpet from Anatolia depicting mysterious creatures, a work so intriguing that we might never properly understand it.”

This is nothing but superficial, and highly questionable at that, patter.

First, the Doha animal-in-animal carpet might or might not have been made in Anatolia. We sincerely doubt it was as our reasoning below evidences.

One thing is sure: It surely is not like other ancient examples of Anatolian carpet production and its materials, especially what appears to be a goat hair warp, point to a far more probable eastern Kurdish origin, or perhaps one from western Armenia.

Second, we’d like to know who or what those diverse cultures franses refers to are?

Making such general statements without even providing a shred of evidence bodes poorly for claims franses is an important rug scholar.

There is, however, one thing with which we absolutely agree, the statement franses might “never understand” this carpet.

Moving right along franses launches into the alleged discovery of the Doha carpet, and a group of similar animal-in-animal rugs, from Tibetan monasteries.

It is well known that rugs had traveled along the ancient Silk Road since Roman times: in the early twentieth century Sir Aurel Stein discovered pile carpet fragments preserved in the deserts of Central Asia (http://ipd.bl.uk).”.

While both of these statement are true they are meaningless here since none of the fragments Auriel Stein, or any other archaeologist, has discovered on the Silk Route look anything like the animal-in-animal carpets franses is discussing.

The caravan routes of the Silk Road also passed the Buddhist monasteries of Greater Tibet, whose culture spread far beyond the present-day boundaries of the Tibet administrative region of China. Chinese emperors and dignitaries would visit and take retreat in the Himalayan monasteries, and travelers would bring as gifts a wealth of silk and textiles, the currency of the Silk Road (Watt and Wardwell 1997). Thus, over a period of 2,000 years, these monasteries became some of the greatest treasure houses of the world.

This also is true; however not one animal-in animal carpet, any fragment, or even a scrap of one, can be positively proven to have come from a Tibetan monastery. Plus the fact no other “Anatolian” carpet of any kind has come from a Tibetan source makes franses’s position moot.

Trying to prove the unproven idea any of the animal-in-animal carpets came from Tibet, franses continues:

After the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, and particularly during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, most of the physical evidence of the culture of ancient Tibet was deliberately and systematically destroyed. The monasteries were torn down or put to secular uses. The art objects that they had preserved for centuries were largely burnt, defaced, or stolen, although the monks did manage to hide some. Others survived because a practical purpose was found for them: the enormous Yuan period tapestry-woven mandala in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1992.54), for example, was reportedly being used in the 1970s as a ceiling canopy in a grain mill, in what was originally a small monastery. A number of monastic treasures were also publicly distributed to local residents, with the admonition that these were their possessions, in essence stolen from them by the monks during centuries of predation. Some of the recipients chopped up the textiles they were given and put them to use, while others stored them away.

It’s hard to believe but this barely circumstantial evidence is presented to support the following:

The dealer Jeremy Pine related an account of an incident that took place in the 1970s at the Potala Palace in Lhasa. A large group of old carpets, which had been folded up for centuries and in some cases were worn or damaged, were gathered together from a storeroom by Chinese troops.They were loaded onto three lorries (one carpet alone is said to have required eight men to lift it) and dumped into a nearby river. A Tibetan fisherman managed by chance to catch one fragment and took it home. Some years later he moved to Kathmandu and discovered that it was part of an extremely rare twelfth- or thirteenth-century carpet from Anatolia (see pl. 236b).

Citing this gossip in an academic presentation is comedy, considering it ‘evidence’ even worse.

RK has met and knows Jeremy Pine.

Frankly, we would not trust his telling us it is raining without our looking out the window.

Mr Pine is an inveterate story teller and franses a fool to believe such a story as well as an academic clown to present it in a paper, even one read before an audience of school children, which this one surely wasn’t.

Between 1959 and 1990, many thousands of Tibetans left their country in fear of persecution. Often reliant on aid from international organizations to support themselves, these refugees consequently sold off the treasures they had acquired or saved from the monasteries. These included several carpets and textiles, among them masterpieces of textile art from Spain in the west to China in the east, some dating back more than 2,000 years.

Again, more less than convincing circumstantial evidence for a case sherlock franses is trying to build to justify the unproven story these the animal-in-animal rugs came from Tibet. A story that is impossible to believe when carefully examined.

It is far more likely the Doha animal-in-animal carpet, and the others of this group, came from unknown repositories in Anatolia or elsewhere and were clandestinely taken to Tibet for sale to wash and remove their previous history.

And, in fact, were they illegally removed from Anatolia you can be sure this would kick up a mass of trouble were the truth to become known.

The MIA Anatolian Animal Carpet
Before it was acquired by a previous owner in Kathmandu, Nepal, the MIA animal carpet had reportedly been in a Tibetan monastery.

Reading all the above, and more we did not quote, it becomes obvious franses’s hearsay references to a Tibetan monastery source were to make the above seem logical and true.

However, even a cursory examination proves his ‘theory’ extremely unlikely.

You see, franses was twice involved with the sale of the Doha animal-in-animal rug.

The first time from Ebberhart Hermann, who had recently purchased it from ms Holmes, to Heinrich Kirchheim. And the second time from Kirchheim to Doha.

So, obviously, franses has a lot invested in that tall-tale Tibetan monastery story.

Let’s examine it a little more.

Reportedly these rugs were found in Tibet, might we ask by who, where and when?

Guaranteed these answers will never be known and this ‘theory’ is as questionable as finding ancient rugs floating in Tibetan rivers, which by the way was the first story we heard about where and how the animal-in-animal rugs were originally discovered.

Then, franses spins the presence of “yak-butter wax” on the Doha carpet as more evidence.

But this, too, is specious because there is no way to tell when “yak-butter wax” got on the carpets, particularly since, according to franses, “yak-butter wax” is still in use in Tibet monasteries.

Leaving the far from proven provenance of the Doha animal-in-animal carpet behind franses then begins his analysis of its iconography.

Looking at this extraordinary carpet, one is immediately fascinated by the abstracted animal forms that fill the center. The patterns embrace aspects of Islamic art as well as iconography derived from earlier traditions and show how the peoples of the Islamic world adopted and adapted symbols. We are confronted by creatures within creatures, possibly symbolizing fertility, or perhaps by mythological beasts, summoned to carry the soul to the afterlife. These strange creatures are probably ancient totemic symbols that can be traced back to some of the oldest civilizations of the ancient Near East.

This might sound believable to someone without any knowledge of the subject, but once again the earliest archaeological and historical records contain not one example of animals-in-animals, and glibly calling them “ancient totemic symbols that can be traced back to the oldest civilizations of the ancient Near East” equally as undocumented and dubious.

We’d like to see franses provide even one reference to such animals-in-animals in the iconography of the “oldest civilizations of the ancient Near East”.

This is just spinning more fantasy, it’s surely not scholarship.

The carpet clearly tells a story, of which there have been many interpretations, but here I will merely attempt to shed light on its rarity and significance.

Since this carpet was discovered and entered the market RK has not read any such interpretations, nor do we believe any story it might or might not have told will ever be uncovered.

More franses fantasy spinning.

In trying to explain why the Doha carpet had been cut into six sections, which by the way is the typical size carpets are cut into by thieves who steal from Anatolian mosques so they can hide their stolen goods in their pants before leaving, franses offers the following, again to try and support his Tibet story.

The fact that it had been divided at some point (in this case into four sections of equal size) was typical of the many thousands of textiles that arrived in London from Nepal between 1970 and 2000.”

And what about franses’s thinking it “…quite remarkable is that they all survived and remained together.”?

This is easily explainable, and surely not remarkable, if they were, as RK believes, stolen from an Anatolian repository or one in Armenia.

In March 1993, the carpet was exhibited at the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, where it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Heinrich Kirchheim, private collectors from Stuttgart.

Actually this is a lie, as Kirchheim purchased the carpet weeks before the Maastrict Fair and then readily agreed to the charade of pretending it was sold at the fair.

Also this is rather disingenuous since franses was involved in the sale and were he an honest broker of information he would have revealed such a significant fact.

The carpet remained in the Kirchheim Family Collection until February 1998, when it was acquired by the MIA.

This is true but, again, since franses was intimately involved in this sale as well honest reporting would again suggest he reveal his role.

His paper then goes on to discuss “A Brief Background to Early Carpets
A full historical survey of oriental carpets in general, and of those with animal designs in particular, would need to start at the very beginning. The first surviving carpets were made more than 4,500 years ago. Over the past thirty years, the subject has advanced in quantum leaps with the continuing discovery of so many knotted pile carpets made 1,600 to 2,800 years ago from Central Asia, Persia, and China, making it a topic of on-going research that is not ready for publication at this stage.

Really, “So many knotted pile carpet made 1,600 – 2,800 years ago”?

Where pray tell are they? What do they look like? Upon what evidence are they so dated?

These are pertinent questions franses glides over with even scratching the surface.

Again this is not academic scholarship by any means.

I will therefore start some 1,300 years ago, with the discovery of the oldest complete, or almost complete, carpet from the Near East, which was reportedly found in Fustat, former capital of Egypt and now part of Old Cairo. The Fustat lion rug (pl. 232), carbon-dated in 1983 to 580–920, was purchased by Mrs. McCoy Jones in 1987 for the Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco.

“Fustat lion rug”; deYoung Museum collection; San Francisco, California; donation Mrs Caroline Mc Coy Jones

RK knows this rug well, as we were in franses’s home/office on Castellain Road in London the day it arrived.

In fact, we helped him open the shipping box while he was recounting the story of how he purchased it from a restorer, who by the way he did not name.

From that beginning, and since, we have seriously questioned franses’s ‘theory’ where it was made and actually how old it is.

Our seeing it with franses was several years before he and cathrine aka ‘where’s my commission’ cootner convinced Mrs. Caroline Jones to purchase it.

By the way, during that time span, franses tried (unsuccessfully) to interest many other museums and collectors in the rug. However, when none of them expressed any interest to own it he finally was able to pawn it off on an unsuspecting and trusting Caroline McCoy Jones with cootner’s help.

The rug is exceeding ugly, its damage unsightly, and its design far from elegant or evocative.

And color-wise, the muddy ghostly and ghastly coloration might as well be stirpped off and it this is why it looks far better in a black and white photo.

Once more franses does not reveal his former ownership of the rug or involvement in its sale to the deYoung Museum. Nor his many efforts to find other buyers, which in this case is meaningful as obviously no one else thought the rug important enough to purchase.

Since there are no other early carpets related either in design or color for which the place of production or the culture of the weavers is certain, this rug could have been made almost anywhere, though it was probably made in the Near East, possibly in Anatolia.

RK definitely agrees with the first part of the above sentence but definitely part company over the second – franses’s idea it was “possibly made in Anatolia”.

We don’t know where it was made but we do know where it wasn’t -- and that's Anatolia or anywhere nearby. There is not one iota of evidence for an Anatolian provenance and franses’s theory, once again, is improbable to the max.

Following the Fustat rug, there is a gap of 200 to 400 years before the next Anatolian carpets that survive in a sufficiently intact state for the design to be discernable.

If franses is talking about Anatolian carpets with animals, and trying to relate the “Fustat rug” to them, he is barking up the wrong tree as none of the known animal rugs in any regard even slightly resemble it.

Actually franses should be ashamed to picture such a questionable weaving like the “Fustat rug” in this paper and then not reveal his having owed it. We are amazed at his hubris and belief such history is not germane.

Next up is a discussion of Dr. Richard Ettinghausen and Kurt Erdmann’s dating of Anatolian animal rugs based on those recognized in early European paintings.

This is old hat and franses adds nothing to what has been known for many decades.

And the one single painting which looks like the animal-in-animal rugs is not truly a match, as franses dutifully for a change notes, because it “… has a different arrangement of these motifs from all the surviving examples.

He also mentions the Lamm fragements, which were found in Fustat.

RK knows these well, as we examined them in person when we published the Weaving Art Museum exhibition, which can be read here:

None of them relate in any way to the Doha rug and mentioning them is nothing but name-dropping.

Jumping to the so-called Seljuk carpets franses gives a brief history of their discovery but unfortunately in doing so adds nothing to the discussion, as singly or en mass they have nothing in common with the Doha animal-in-animal rug or the others of its group.

The Seljuk connection franses is trying to establish is to bona fide the unbelievably questionable link the fragment below has with them.

Carpet fragment sold by Jeremy Pine to Kirchheim

Even more tenuous is the idea it is ‘evidence’ for the early Anatolian carpet and Tibetan Monastery ‘theory’ franses keeps trying to prove and one that is unquestionably the main subject of this paper.

Again this is a carpet (fragment) with no proven provenance, but it surely is one without any of the Seljuk association franses, Pine and others have suggested. Just seeing the poorly rendered and hardly recognizable ‘kufic’ script style border should be enough to put to sleep any such association.

Moving into the subject of the animal-in-animal rug group franses begins with “The Cagan Animal Rug
The first Anatolian animal rug discovered in Kathmandu in the 1980s was found by Fred Cagan (pl. 240). A Buddhist monk had reportedly saved it from a Tibetan mon- astery. In 1990, the Cagan rug, which probably dates from the late fourteenth century (again, the early carbon-14 result should be considered unreliable until the carpet has been re-tested), was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum.

This is the rug on the cover, one RK has stated for two decades and more is most likely an Afshar made in NorthWest Persia in the 16th century.

It most assuredly is not Anatolian or like any other early Anatolian rug, forget any of the animal rugs, which are Anatolian.

Obviously, we do not believe for one minute it is 14th century, as the C14 dating claims, nor that it is an Anatolian weaving.

Colorwise, structurally, and iconographically it is far more like an Afshar than any Anatolian rug we have ever seen.

Also, it displays a more stiff and boring rendering of the iconography found on the other animal-in-animal rugs published in franses’s paper.

It is telling franses’s claim a Buddhist monk “reportedly saved it from a Tibetan monastery” has not one shred of evidence behind it, other than more undocumented hearsay. Frankly, it is not believable at all and RK cannot shake the thought all of them were stolen from somewhere else and then smuggled to Tibet for sale.

And his citing dan walker’s, the former head of the Met’s Islamic Department who championed this rug’s purchase, statement the Cagan animal rug is related to the “…famous Marby bird-and-tree rug in Stockholm and the Bode dragon-and-phoenix rug in Berlin” is more patter, as there is absolutely no resemblance iconographically or materially.

And, by the way, after seeing the Marby rug several times in person RK doesn’t for a minute believe it is an Anatolian product.

We’d far more guess it was produced in Scandinavia and not in Anatolia, or even in the Near East.

Its materials, colors and weave, particularly the fact it has rows of knots on the reverse, have led us to that conclusion.

Also the stiff, lifeless drawing is unlike the animated style early Anatolian weavers were always able to impart to their weavings.

The next of the animal-in-animal rugs franses illustrates and discusses are the “Three Carpets with Abstracted Animal Motifs
Another early rug has remained an exciting curiosity since it was discovered in Tibet in the 1980s: the so-called “Faces” carpet, carbon-dated to 1042–1218, which was first published in 1992 (Herrmann 1992, pl. 1), and immediately acquired by the Kirchheims (pl. 237).

Detail, “Faces” carpet, Kirchheim Collection

Actually soon after RK saw this rug with Lisbet Holmes, long before Hermann bought and illustrated it, we tried to convince dan walker to purchase one of the halves for the Met, as we had plans to sell the other half to a collector we knew.

But walker pooh-poohed the idea and instead went on to purchase for the Met the complete but boring ‘Afshar’/Cagan rug from Ms Holmes.

The “Faces” rug is an iconographic oddity, a one-off, unlike any other carpet we know.

Also it doesn't really belong in this discussion as its tiny, Turkmen looking often double headed, animals have nothing in common with the other animal rugs, and surely nothing in common with the Doha carpet.

Dropping the possibility, as franses does, that this rug is Kurdish because of its many off-set knots is again specious.

First because off-set knotting is used by many weaving groups, not exclusively Kurdish ones. And, secondly, all its other characteristics -- color, materials and iconography – bear no relation to any Kurdish rug we know.

More than likely, the “Faces” rug was produced in the Armenian region of the lower Caucasus, a guess also made in Kirchheim’s book where the rug is illustrated as plate 218.

The presence of two color, white and brown, S-plied z-spun warps and dyed red weft fit well with this provenance.

To which we’d like to add the unmistakable resemblance the two complete large portraits with their distinctive hairstyles/caps have with early, provincial, Christian/Copt iconography.

No doubt this further complicates determining the “Faces” rug’s origin but it does further our ideas an Anatolian one is far from accurate.

Consistent and serious over-dating is another weak spot in franses’s career and it exists here as well. His suggestion the Zuber/von Bode rug, shown below, might be 14th century is highly improbable, if not impossible.

The East Berlin Museum, aka Zuber, rug franses dates as possibly 14th or 15th century and says is “probably Kurdish”; Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin

The iconography, although unique, has not a trace of 14th century detailing but more than likely places this rug firmly in the 16th century at the earliest.

Also ideas it is Kurdish are equally misplaced, as its coloration and materials are much more similar to weaving from the Caucasian/Shirvan area than anywhere in Kurdistan.

Plus calling it an “animal” rug, regardless of the fact it does display some animal heads and what can be seen as larger abstract animals, adds nothing to the discussion.

However, the same cannot be said about the Hecksher “Faces” fragment, shown below, that is very similar, but also very different, than the “Faces” Rug.

Detail, Faces rug fragment; collection George and Marie Hecksher

For many years RK has been trying to determine which might be the earlier and presently we are of the opinion they are quite contemporary, as each shows archaic features and ones we see as later.

The border of the Hecksher fragment is quite outstanding and when it is closely examined its primitive drawing style nevertheless conveys a sophistication and originality we sincerely doubt can be considered as later than the considerably larger “Faces” rug.

Hecksher’s fragment’s coloration and materials also point to the same Armenian/Caucasian provenance, one that might suggest it is an archetype ‘Karabagh’ rug.

The wool quality, the two-color S plied warps, the strong primary colors and large size knots all suggest such a guess might not be far off the mark.

A Specific Group of Early Anatolian Animal Carpets” signals franses is finally going to discuss the Doha animal-in-animal carpet and its group.

What makes the MIA and Cagan carpets of special interest is that they form part of a small but very definite group of five survivors sharing many similar characteristics (pls. 240–44).The other three – the Genoa, Pine, and Kirchheim carpets – also emerged from Tibetan monasteries and appeared on the market in Kathmandu between 1985 and 2000.

The group of five animal-in-animal rugs that have absolutely no proof they came from Tibetan monasteries

RK has made our feeling about a Tibetan monastery source for any animal-in-animal rug quite well known and we do not need to reiterate.

But we do need to make clear the plain and simple fact these five animal rugs are so, so, similar it highly discounts that probability. It far more establishes a scenario these carpets had been sequestered elsewhere and then taken to Tibet to hide their true origin.

Was it from Anatolia, which is a very large region with many backwater locations that still today are little known. Or Armenia or North Western Persia where the same conditions existed.

On the other hand while there are many isolated and inaccessible areas of Tibet their being so far from the rug producing areas of the Near East, where undoubtedly these five animal rugs were produced, and their very inaccessibility, discounts the chances five such rare(and totally unknown until recently) early animal carpets could have ended up there.

Surely anything is possible but probabilities almost totally are against that having happened.

Together with the examples with more abstracted creatures discussed immediately above, these represent one of the greatest discoveries in the history of carpets since Martin came across the “Early Konya” carpets in 1905 and Rudenko (1970) discovered the Pazyryk carpet (carbon-dated to 383–200 bce) in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 1947.

This statement, though it reeks of hyperbole, does hold some water solely for reason these five rug raise as many questions as the discoveries of Martin and Rudenko have.

However, unlike them, these animal-in-animal rugs have no reliable discovery information or provenance.

These early Anatolian animal carpets from Tibet partially fill the huge gap between the “Early Konya” carpets made about 800 years ago and carpets of the type most famously represented by the Bode dragon-and-phoenix rug, made about 500 years ago (see pl. 250d). Carpets of this intervening period were a prime area of study for Kurt Erdmann, who was excluded from the storerooms of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul even though he taught at the university there for many years. In 1957 he wrote Der Turkische Teppich des 15. Jahrhunderts, and examination of his notes some twenty years later revealed his fascination for the lost carpets of the fourteenth century. Sadly the other great scholar of Turkish carpets, May Beattie, also died before these treasures from Tibet came to light, and Charles Ellis only caught a glimpse of them in his final years. Thus these and other recent finds have prompted the almost complete rewriting of this part of carpet history.

It would have been interesting to hear Beattie and Ellis’s take on these animal rugs, one RK can help but think might not have been as enthusiastic as franses’s and more in line with RK.

Now don’t get us wrong, we appreciate the rarity and historic importance to carpet studies the animal-in-animal group lends.

But we strongly doubt they have re-written carpet history; are as early as franses believes; were made in Anatolia; or are directly related to the animal rugs seen in certain 13th – 15th century Italian frescos and paintings.

In his discussion of the similarities and the differences the animals on these five carpets display franses opines:

The cord hanging from the mouths of the inner creatures of the MIA carpet should be noted, as well as the necklace that also appears on some of the Cagan and Genoa animals (bringing to mind the necklaces on samite-woven silks from China, Sogdiana, Persia, and the Byzantine empire).

Those “necklaces” on the “samite-woven silks” are actually, in the prototypical examples, wings that the earliest representations of such animals originally possessed.

We sincerely doubt the “cord” hanging from the mouths of the Doha carpet’s creatures have anything to do with the “samite” textiles .

The “necklaces”, on the other hand, the Cagan and Genoa carpets display could be related but, quite honestly, we question whether or not a very narrow striped line below the animal’s head can be called a “necklace” or represent the flowing, far more realistic, necklaces the samite cloth animals often exhibit.

Samite textile showing animal with clearly defined necklace where the part that floats over the animal’s back is very reminiscent of the wings seen on earlier examples; Al Sabah Collection, Kuwait

Plus none of them show animals-in-animals the prime iconographic element of the Doha rug and its group.

We should mention RK has been long researching this feature and can now document, as the recently uncovered illustrations below show, the original iconography was wings and not a “necklace”.

Two early ceramics which clearly show the original iconography was actually a wing and not a necklace; Left: ceramic vessel, circa 550 BC; Right: ceramic painted amphora, circa 575BC; both on exhibition archaeological museum Crete, Greece

The border designs give the appearance of floating on top of the field, and the patterns seem to be overlaid, providing a sense of perspective. The well-conceived spaces between the various patterns and borders lend these carpets a special majesty.

As far as RK is concerned none of these animal-in-animal rug can compare with the few already well known Anatolian examples and they, not the Doha carpet group, demonstrate superior perspective and nuance of design.

The Doha rug group appears stiff and one dimensional compared to examples like the Dragon and Phoenix rug in Berlin and the (probably somewhat later) Vakiflar confronted animals rug, both of which franses illustrates.

Left: Berlin Dragon and Phoenix rug; Right: Vakiflar confronted animal rug

These rugs, and not the Doha and its group, are the real Anatolian animal rugs.

We say this not to discount their importance but to put them into proper perspective, something which franses’s former financial and emotional investment and involvement with them clearly prevented him from doing.

Not content to leave the Tibetan monastery fable alone franses continues spinning it by suggesting the fragment pictured below, formerly Jeremy Pine’s and sold to Heinrich Kirchheim, is “probably western Anatolian”.

Pine’s fragment reportedly taken from the Portola Palace in Lhasa

This, too, is wishful thinking, as these weavings have absolutely no relationship to any known Anatolian rug, their coloration and materials provide enough evidence to immediately discount this idea. The same goes for it being Seljuk, it just ain’t even close.

To try and discount the far more likely idea the Doha animal-in-animal rug and the others of its group were found in Anatolia franses offers up: “Over the past fifty years, Turkish authorities have scoured every mosque in Anatolia, and so the chances of an unknown example now coming to light are slight.

This blanket statement is patently false as anyone who knows the ins and outs of the illicit business of stealing carpets from Anatolian mosques would readily agree.

And while many mosques and other repositories where carpets can be discovered have been inventoried, there still remains scores if not hundreds which have never been visited by any “Turkish authority”.

Plus there are numerous private mosques and turbe which likewise have contents unknown.

Also do not forget the possibility these rugs came from north-western Persia or the large area which formerly was called Azerbijan. These areas also are little known or canvassed by any authorities.

It’s hard not the imagine the picture franses’s paints as still being the carpet salesman and not the academic scholar when statements like the following are made about the animal-in-animal rug group “Their condition is extraordinarily good in view of their great age. Their pile is evenly worn down to the knots, except for the MIA carpet, of which much of the original pile survives.

Analyzing these facts it is hard to imagine the Doha carpet was sleeping for centuries with the others.

Why are they so worn and it in far better condition?

Why was it cut into 6 sections and the others not?

RK doesn’t know, nor are we going to playing guessing games, but we do know these are aother pieces of evidence questioning the Tibetan monastery ‘theory’ franses has staked out.

I propose that all five of these carpets are from Anatolia. There is no proof for this, apart from their similarity, both in technique and in the nature of the materials used and particular hues of color, to carpets dating from the late fifteenth century onwards that are attributed to Anatolia, and their differences from carpets assumed to have been made elsewhere.

Similarity in technique? Please, the ‘techniques” used to make a carpet are far too general, and far from specialized enough, to draw any such conclusion in such a complicated and complex case.

And the “hues of color”?

Not one of these carpets, and RK has seen and examined all of them besides the one Bruschettini from Genoa purchased, has the sparkling and highly saturated colors extremely early Anatolian rugs display.

Their coloration is far more like that which many rugs from the Armenian region display.

The following sentence, like others we have quoted, reveals franses penchant to make statements that present guesses as fact. And, remarkably, at the end of the quote he even destroys whatever credibility he was trying to establish.

Another curiosity is provided by a Sasanian rug recently acquired by the MIA (ca.91.2011) that was carbon-dated to 380–600 and shows naturalistic lions depicted on the tapestry-woven sections at each end. It has technical features more akin to Anatolian carpets than to Persian, although the type of wool used would seem to be more Persian than Turkish.

Although the type of wool used seems to be more Persian than Anatolian”?

Doesn’t that ring a bell the rug isn’t Anatolian?

It should.

About their dating franses surmises “Bearing these points in mind, it is likely that the MIA, Genoa, and Pine rugs are contemporary and probably date to the second half of the fourteenth century. The Kirchheim fragments are possibly the earliest, from the mid-fourteenth century, and the Cagan rug might be a little later, from the late fourteenth century. If these datings are correct, then it is likely that the rugs arrived in Tibet over a considerable time span.

After trying so hard to present evidence, none of it more than hearsay, franses is on very thin ice declaring the age of these carpets or their provenance.

And is 75 years a “considerable time span”? We’d have to say no.

But regardless of all the above, frankly, nothing more is really known about these animal-in-animal rugs than what can be seen with ones eyes and felt with ones hands.

They are undoubtedly an important addition to oriental carpet studies; however, they answer no questions while presenting more than enough evidence to make any knowledgeable reader take most of what franses says in this paper with the proverbial filled to the brim salt-shaker.

In closing we chose to examine one of the last statements franses makes:

This returns us to the question of where the carpet in the Zahhak miniature was made. Could it have been imported from Anatolia to Persia? Or is it not more likely that the inspirations for these Anatolian animal carpets were in fact Persian, and that these five survivors from Tibetan monasteries were simply Anatolian interpretations? We probably will never know.

Here is the miniature and a detail showing the animal in an octagon on what appears to be a carpet in the foreground.

Left: miniature painting “Zahak consults the physicians at court” from the Shahnama (Book of kings) by Firdawsi, circa 1330-1340; Right: Detail showing the carpet with an animal in an octagon in the foreground of the miniature (note the white arrows pointing to the animal)

In illustrating this miniature painting franses got the title wrong, as the correct title is “Zahak consults the physicians at court” and not “Zahhak Enthroned”.

There is a miniature with that title in the Freer’s collection but it is a completely different painting done about 200 years later, as this caption from their website shows:

“Zahhak Enthroned Ascribed to Mir Zayn al-Abidin Iran, Qazvin, Safavid period, ca. 1576–77 Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper; Lent by the Art and History Collection LTS1995.2.70”.

In the scheme of things this is a small error compared with the blind-eyes franses casts trying to equate the animal in the miniature with those on the Doha carpet and the others of its group; or omitting his former involvement with the selling of the Doha animal-in-animal carpet and the deYoung Museum’s “Fustat” rug; or his unproven ‘theory’ those animal carpets came from Tibetan monasteries..

These are far more serious errors we are sure franses will never have to defend thanks to a complete lack of any peer review besides for RK’s comments and critiques.

The miniature shows an animal in an octagon and only the Bruschettini/Genoa single animal-in-animal carpet displays this iconographic style.

This is a very significant point, one which franses avoids completely in his efforts to both prove these carpets came from Tibet and are Anatolian.

Also the crudely rendered ‘kufic’ style borders the Doha animal-in-animal rug and others of the group display, particularly where compared to the miniature’s carpet, readily discount any possible similar date of production.

In fact this imply hundreds of years separate them.

But these are far less important than the realization even a cursory examination of the animal in the Freer miniature shows it having wings.

Nor does it have anything resembling a necklace” or anything hanging from its mouth, both of which are aspects of the Doha carpet group strongly suggesting they are later ‘copies’ of the genre of animal carpets the Freer miniature illustrates.

Let’s also remember the Freer miniature is dated circa 1330-1340, and if the animal carpet it shows was new at the time then it surely suggests the dating franses and others have given for the Doha carpet and the others of its group is very incorrect. They can’t be contemporary.

But it is also possible the animal carpet in front of King Zahak in the Freer miniature is a heirloom that might be much older than even he is.

This is, in our opinion, a strong possibility as the animal it portrays looks far more like the ones in the earliest of the silk samite textiles, which are dated between 600-800AD.

There are other aspects of the carpet in the miniature that suggest this possibility might not be as far-fetched as it seems.

The most significant is the design on the white ground border of the octagon. It looks to be pre-kufic.

But whatever it represents it is unique, we do not recall ever seeing anything like it.

Drawing analogy between the miniature’s animal carpet and the Doha carpet and its group does not as franses maintains help to provenance them to Anatolia, nor to date them. Nor does it help to explain them.

Just the opposite, it demonstrates far too important iconographic differences that only help to weaken and, in the end, disprove the Doha animal-in-animal carpet is Anatolian.

Likewise for the possibility the hearsay evidence franses presents to support the found in Tibetan monastery provenance is accurate or factual.

Author: hpmuller
email: aliqapoo@hotmail.com
Thu, Sep 18th, 2014 10:21:26 PM

RK Replies:

There is little doubt the oriental carpet field has no standards, and in fact hardly any academics.

Writers like franses and jon thompson have done little to advance carpet studies regardless of their in-group given awards and laudatory acknowledgements.

However, blaming them for the situation is myopic as the blame is far better put on the shoulders of those involved in collecting and selling these weavings, as well as the museums where collections exist.

RK has watched with amazement as countless examples of buffoonery and dishonesty have been accepted by rugDUMB with nary a squeal of complaint.

The dennis dodds LACMA ripoff being perhaps the keystone event.

This attitude has allowed michael franses to parade himself as the leading light of rugDUMB -- frankly both deserve each other.

What more can RK say.


No, I haven't attended the symposium in 2011.

I have seen the video of his presentation. And no, there are no further references apart from those mentioned in the text.

The book was published by Yale University Press but that probably doesn't mean too much as regards scientific content given the fact that probably rich Qataris had to pay for it.

No peer review necessary.

It is cheap, just Euro 53 (not bad for 3 kg and 400+ pages). I need to read the other articles.

I have recently read with great interest about Iranian "Chinoiserie" in the 14th century and pitied that the author deliberately had omitted Mongolian influence in carpets except a footnote where he quotes certain animal carpets (sic!) and the reference to Ettinghausen (1959), probably difficult to get.

For me, Islamic art is so overwhelmingly present in the Islamic world that I cannot accept that especially textile art should not follow some basic principles.

As any great art, Islamic art has adapted and adopted influences of all civilizations which were conquered and converted in hundreds of years.

Especially Iranians were and are masters of adapting and adopting foreign cultural influences, that became very clear again when reading Kadoi's very nice book.

Franses does not do Qatar or anybody else any favour when concealing that he was involved in the business on these historical pieces.

Of course I would not consider him a "scholar".

In particular his presentation was very unprofessional, not even entertaining.

Anyway, thanks for some background information.

Author: hpmuller
email: aliqapoo@hotmail.com
Thu, Sep 18th, 2014 07:58:39 AM

RK Replies:

Many thanks for your comments and critiques of michael franses's Doha talk.

You pose several questions which can only answered by saying michael franses is not a scholar and the majority of his publications are flawed.

His major problem being a lack of formal education.

This should not necessarily be an impediment to someone rising on their own to prove capable of scholarly work.

However, in franses's case his overblown ego and erroneous belief he is the leading voice of academics in rugDumB prevents him from realizing the truth about his less than exemplary, or even more than satisfactory, efforts.

You sound like someone who attended the symposium, is that so?

Also you write like you have the publication. If so are there any references to the raft of undocumented pseudo-factoids in his paper you might share with RK and our audience?

We agree with the points you raise except for your idea the Islamic religion's spread throughout Anatolia or Persia was so pervasive as to wipe out completely and replace the former, ancient, pantheistic beliefs of the peoples who lived in isolated small towns, villages and those living in even smaller kinship groups.

RK's position is these types of weavers might, or might not, have been somewhat aware of the 'Islamic Revolution' but either way it had little sway over their iconographic choices when sitting at the loom.

The animal rugs, and especially the 'animal-in-animal group' franses tried to provenance, are impossible to type cast. The expression: "What you see is what you get" and the corollary: What cannot be seen, or felt, is merely guesswork is the byword here.

Regrettably even their recent discovery, and appearance on the scene, which should have allowed their provenance to have been properly documented, is now shrouded in a fantastic tale -- they came from Tibetan monasteries.

RK sees franses's furthering this fantasy myth, and we are not alone, as the largest and most serious obstacle preventing anyone from taking him seriously and trusting his, as you remarked, "absurd" opinions.

We are glad someone, besides yours truly, has enough knowledge and guts to publicly voice objection and criticism. Congratulations.

So thanks again for your post, and we hope you will continue to make your views, no matter how controversial or unwelcome by the majority of rugDumb's sheeple, public.


Hi Jack,

Regardless Franses's amateurish 2011 presentation at the Hamad bin Khalifa symposium in Doha, the article which has recently appeared in a glossy publication by editors Blair and Bloom which compiles all contributions on "The Object in Islamic Art and Culture" (http://www.amazon.com/God-Beautiful-Loves-Beauty-Islamic/dp/0300196660/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411049337&sr=1-1&keywords=god+is+beautiful+and+loves+beauty) is remarkable for at least two reasons.

First, when dealing with these animal carpets, in particular the one the Qatari MIA had purchased and which, as he explains, was deliberately chosen as topic of his lecture, Franses, when speculating about their presumed Anatolian origin, does not mention the period, namely the time following the Mongolian conquest of most of the known world.

Second, Mongolian influence in designing the carpets may in fact be the "un-Islamic" depiction of animals. The depiction of the prophet Muhammad and even of his face, or faces of his companions or those of biblical/Qur'anic figures in early 14th century manuscripts typically indicates Mongolian influence, see a recent publication by Kadoi (http://www.amazon.com/Islamic-Chinoiserie-Mongol-Edinburgh-Studies/dp/0748635823/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411050764&sr=1-1&keywords=chinoiserie%2C+iran) which unfortunately omits Mongolian "Chinoiserie" in Iranian carpets, something which Franses did not touch at all.

In his 40 minutes or so lecture, Franses absurdly utilizes Achaemenian and Sasanian examples of animals disregarding the fact that the religion of Islam had changed customs for hundreds of years in Anatolia, Iran, Central Asia and beyond.

In that regard we need to ask what is actually Islamic in these animal carpets.

Why did he chose apparently "un-Islamic" objects at a symposium about the object in Islamic art and culture?

Why did he bother his Muslim audience with historical pictures of animals from pre-Islamic Achaemenid and Sasanid times?

As regards showcasing the Cagan animal carpet for the article's first page (and not MIA) I am afraid that the editors may have chosen the more beautiful (since complete) example in line with the "Islamic" title of the publication.

Franses's references are somewhat hidden in the end of the book where all references appear in alphabetical order.

Home   Buy/Sell at the Kazbah   Terms Of Service