(ed. Heinrich Kirchheim, one of the most significant and well-known second half of the 20th century gentleman collectors of antique oriental rugs, immortalized his almost 20 year collecting obsession with the publication of "Orient Stars".
We refer to him as a 'gentleman' collector because he did not have a great knowledge of the subject and instead relied heavily on a group of high-profile advisors, who more often than not recommended purchases that in the final analysis, and during the end of Kirchheim's collecting career and life, were culled out of the collection and resold, almost always for major losses.
RK has written before of our belief much of the look of the "Orient Stars" publication was copied from our "Image Idol Symbol: Ancient Anatolian Kelim". The oversized dimensions, black covers, the black hard bound slip-case, and the lack of dust jacket being the most obvious.
But there are a number of differences, perhaps the two most important that Kirchheim as the author did not write one word, chosing instead to use his group of hired gun advisors -- thompson, franses, spuhler, etc -- whereas we wrote the entire text of ours. Second and most significant was the varying quality and importance of the 200 plus examples in his, while the nine examples in ours were all masterpieces, only one Plate Six not being a best of type. However, it still was the second best of type!
But the purpose of our writing this preamble is not to drawn distinction between those publications. Rather we want to put "Orient Stars" into perspective and feel critiquing the long introduction the best means to that end.
Originally published in September, 2014 more than 1200 readers have already viewed our critique and now placing it here in the "Best of RugKazbah" we hope will move others who have not read it to do so.)
Detail, Plate 23, “Orientteppiche”, spuhler; Berlin Islamic Museum Collection
In 1993 with great fanfare thanks to that rag hali patting itself on the back for producing it Heinrich Kirchheim’s “Orient Star” publication entered many a rug collector’s library.
It’s a big, heavy, book excellently printed, one that RK cannot help but think was modeled after our “Image Idol Symbol:Ancient Anatolian Kelim” publication.
Ours is even larger and heavier(if you consider its two volumes and hard slip cover case) but it is the black covers and case, among other similarities, which immediately conjures up this idea.
But, naturally, it is what’s between the covers and not the covers themselves that is important. And in that regard we must say our text has no fantasy, no bogus illusionary references, or severe over-dating; all faults which mar every chapter of “Orient-Stars”.
We have for quite some time been contemplating critiquing michael franses’s “Orient Stars” introduction chapter and figured this is a good time to do so, as readers might already recognize franses has of late become a major topic of conversation here on RugKazbah.com.
And for good reason.
This spotlight has exposed the purposely bogus and flawed manner in which franses has created among other mentionables what might be humorously called his anti-Zelig personna.
The fictional cinematic character Zelig, in the woody allen movie of the same name, inserts himself into history; into scenes, times and places he surely never actually visited.
On the other hand, and just the opposite, michael franses consistently paints himself out of, and removes himself from, situations he was deeply involved in and/or created.
When we first met Heinrich Kirchheim sometime in 1986 or ’87 he took us to his home/flat in Stuttgart and proudly showed us many pieces in his ever-growing rug collection.
We recognized some we had already seen with michael franses, and when we asked Kirchheim if he purchased them from franses he said “Yes”.
He also told us some stories about his relationship with franses, which made it clear he thought franses was difficult to deal with but “…knew a lot about carpets…”
As we became better friends we learned Kirchheim actually knew very little about carpets, or what he was buying.
Instead Krichheim totally relied on various people, like franses, Hermann, rageth, spuhler, etc, to tell him what to purchase, often at far more benefit to themselves than to him.
In the end Kirchheim’s rug collection can be divided into two parts; the many, mostly far from best of types to decidedly mediocre, Caucasian and Anatolian rugs in the first approximately 250 pages of the book and the excellent early, and some instances masterpiece, Anatolian carpets and fragments published on many of the remaining 100 pages.
It’s an interesting and convoluted tale how Kirchheim came to purchase the collection, which contained the best of these. It is one we will eventually tell in our promised autobiography.
Rest assured no one else who was involved will tell it any sooner, and if they do we are pretty sure it will not be accurate.
Just before the section of “Orient Stars” where those Anatolian pieces appear the previous chapter called “Ottoman or Anatolian” has a number of second-rate pretenders the chapter’s text, written by fredrich sphuler, tries to elevate to importance far beyond their actual merit, and it is highly instructive to compare them with the others in the back of the book.
Vive la difference.
There are other comparisons one can make to show the same penchant for the over-dating and over-importance this book grants many of Kirchheim's pieces, even some in those back pages.
For instance, below is a ‘medallion rug’ plate 178 dated in the caption 16/17th century that is, in our opinion, no earlier than middle 18th.
Plate 178 “Orient Stars”
Compare it with the following quite similar in some ways but in the end very different, far superior, carpet from the Vakiflar Collection in Turkey.
Plate 30, “Carpets of the Vakiflar”; Eastern Anatolian carpet from the Ulu Mosque, Divrigi Turkey; 16/17th century
It is easy to see the Vakiflar carpet’s far more expert command of the ‘medallion and corner piece niche style’, where every aspect and detail shows the “Orient Stars” carpet to be perhaps as much as 200 years later.
One particular give-away element are the two pairs of large pseudo-‘saz’ leaves above and below the medallion.
Another the absolutely crude 19th century “style” drawing the central medallion suffers and the lifeless star in octagon at its center.
Compare these features with the complexity of the medallion on Plate 30. Don’t miss the small, elegant, star embedded in its interior ‘shield’-like medallion.
Another point worth noting is the ‘early’ look the border of plate 178 gives on first glance. However, even a cursory second-look shows the amorphous and clumsy articulation most of the elements display.
These are not elements found in 16/17th century Anatolian Village rugs.
Regardless of the actual age difference Kircheim’s would appear quite far down on a continuum we could construct for this type of Anatolian Village carpet, the other at the top.
With the above as background our intent and purpose is not to critique Kirchheim’s collection but rather to point out some of the obvious errors and flaws in michael franses’s introductory chapter. Errors and flaws he continues to make whenever he tries his hand at pontificating about Anatolian weavings.
First, however, we need to dispel any illusions franses makes concerning whether or not Kirchheim knew enough to curate his collection, to decide what to buy, or how much to pay for it.
Fact is Kirchheim knew little regardless of this ludicrous and totally incorrect statement franses published “However, not long after this collection was begun he(Ulrich Schurmann), retired from active involvement in the rug world and the Kirchheims, always open to a variety of opinions, were thenceforth guided primarily by their own taste and judgment in widening the scope of their collection.”
There are others but we can assure readers it this is complete nonsense, as we were quite friendly and close to Kirchheim and our first hand observation definitely contradicts franses’s glowing picture of a rug-wise Heinrich Kirchheim.
By the way it is not hard to understand why franses is so laudatory – he is writing in Kirchheim’s book and paid by Kirchheim to do so. Any more questions?
But there is another, over-riding, reason – franses was continuing to advise Kirchheim and to present pieces for him to purchase. And he surely did not want to rock that boat.
Once again franses tries to cover his tracks and present himself as an impartial voice, something he is definitely not, nor is he someone without an unmentioned agenda.
Not once does franses acknowledge or even intimate his prior and present involvement with Kirchheim in this introduction.
This is, of course, par for franses, the anti-Zelig who constantly writes himself out of the picture.
“The Kirchheim’s purchased a group of carpets from the Konya region of central Anatolia(see plates 110-158). The majority of which have yellow ground…”
This ‘collection’ was assembled in Turkey for rather small cost by fredrick spuhler soon after he was dismissed from his curator position at the Berlin Museum because of his extra-curricular activities selling rugs he bought.
RK had heard about the ‘yellow rug collection’ being originally for sale for $500,000 and we even saw some pictures of supposedly the 16/17th century examples it contained. Total nonsense is all we thought.
As time marched on the price kept getting lower and lower until Kirchheim, who basically employed spuhler as his go-fer, purchased it from him for the bargain price of $75,000, which was seventy five thousand too much as far as we are concerned, as there is not one piece worthy of serious consideration.
These fragments are worth what spuhler paid, from what we have heard $15,000, and selling them to Kirchheim for even “only” 5 times that price was still a major rip-off. There is not one best of type or important example in the bunch, forget any notions of the 16/17th century dating some carry in “Orient Stars”.
So much for Kirchheim’s good taste…
“From there” franses goes on “they(the Kirchheims) moved on to some bold and powerful Anatolian kilims, many of which were earlier in date than the so-called ‘yellow ground’ Konya’ group; this was a natural and understandable progression.”
Reading franses’s fantasy version of the truth versus knowing it cannot help but make anyone wonder: Is franses so ignorant of the facts or does he have ulterior motives?
Probably in this instance both as:
1. Among the yellow group examples there are five dated 16th/17th century, more than a dozen with 17th century dates, and most of the rest dated 18th century.
And in our opinion all of these are inaccurate, best to add at least 100-150 years to all the pre-1800 ones and 50 years or so to the later ones.
2. There is absolutely no doubt Kirchheim got ripped-off by spuhler, and in the years since publication Kirchheim sold most of these ‘yellow group’ rugs. And sold them at a loss.
3. Now then among the “bold and powerful” Anatolian kelim franses claims are “earlier in date than the so-called ‘yellow-ground Konya group” not one carries a 16th century or a 17th century date; most are dated 18th and 19th century. And in our estimation hardly any really are 18th century, we’d date even the earliest circa 1800.
4. So where is this “…natural and understandable progression.” franses wrote about from the later ‘yellow-ground’ rugs to the kelims?
It doesn’t exist and we can only propose either franses was just too lazy to look at their dating before he wrote this; he believes they are earlier; or he’s just writing nonsense that has no credibility when compared with reality and the truth.
By the way, most of the kelim Kirchheim bought he purchased from jurg rageth, another expert he should have kicked out the door day one.
With every kelim Kirchheim bought he got ripped off, and to say he is just another victim, but high profile one, of rugDUMB’s “Goddess Fever” would probably be correct.
Ripped off for a collection of less than great ‘yellow-ground’ Konya rugs and a group of mediocre kelims sure doesn’t show Kirchheim’s alleged “great taste” but does show the greedy and less than knowledgeable “experts”, like spuhler and rageth, he depended on to both advise him and to sell him pieces.
It also blows big holes in franses’s bogus praise of Kirchheim’s rug collector savvy.
“Although the taste which lies behind this collection is to a large extent instinctive, Mr and Mrs Kirchheim have nevertheless been influenced by a few key publications and events, especially in the direction trhe collection has taken most recently. These include the two volume catalogue of the kilim and pile carpets in the Vakiflar Museum…, the exhibition anad publication of early Anatolian kilim from the Garry Muse Collection…., the exhibition of the early pile rugs, many of them Anatolian, belonging to Christopher Alexander.”
All RK can say is if Kirchheim had real taste of his own, instinctive or learned, and studied those publications with intellectual curiosity and knowledge instead of just looking at the pretty pictures, he would never have bought those mediocre yellow-ground’ rugs and pedestrian Anatolian kelim.
Again, Kirchheim learned the truth the hard way and was, at the time of his passing, seriously involved in getting rid of many of these at any cost.
Too smart, too late; too bad for Heinrich Kirchheim.
Were franses an honest broker of information, and not a self-propelled p.r. machine for his own benefit and glorification, his descriptions would reflect the truth and not the fantasies he tries to establish.
“From the late 1980s, Mr and Mrs Kirchheim began to be attracted above all by strong and direct images, such as those which can be seen on two magnificent carpets…followed by the acquisition of two groups of early Anatolian rugs…two of the most recent additions to the collection, plates 185 and 212, represent an attempt to delve even father back; their date of manufacture cannot be pinpointed exactly, but sometime between the 12th and early 15th centuries is likely.”
Here are two attempts to “delve even farther back”
Upper: catalog plate 185 dated 12-14th century; Lower: catalog plate 212 dated 15th century
We could not disagree more with franses’s ideas about dating them and, in the case of 185, his ludicrously incorrect Anatolian provenance.
There is no real evidence to attribute plate 185 to Anatolia, and RK has already discussed this fragment in our examination of franses’s Doha symposium podcast and his longer paper on “Early Animal Carpets”, both of which can be read on RugKazbah.com here:
It is almost certain plate 185, the Jeremy Pine fragment, is NOT Anatolian but rather a weaving made much farther east in Central Asia, perhaps in Kashgar, or even further east somewhere along the edges of western China.
Regardless of where it actually was produced, it has not one shred of evidence to relate it to any known Anatolian weaving and franses is blowing hot-air to continue yapping about his loopy and unreal Anatolian provenance.
And the yellow ground carpet fragment, Plate 212, is in our opinion no earlier than middle 18th century, franses’s completely ridiculous 15th century date nothing more than Anatolian comedy central.
Years ago when we first looked through the “Orient Stars” book Kirchheim gave us and saw that date we thought it a misprint. But after discussing it with Kirchheim and hearing his self-impressed franses inspired spiel we realized, regrettably, it wasn’t.
Two of the greatest purchases Kirchheim made were plates 196 and 197, which were part of the aforementioned collection readers will have to wait for our autobiography to read about.
And it is these carpets, not plates 185 and 212, that can be called 15th century.
Left: Plate 196; Right: Plate 197; “Orient Stars”, Heinrich Kirchheim Collection
Suffice it to say Kirchheim paid a pant-full for them, a cool million usd for both, but it was a very, very smart purchase.
Why franses glossed over them to mention the bogus Pine fragment and that late yellow-ground fragment is unexplainable.
Perhaps he was scheming to one day in the future get Kirchheim to let him sell them? Frankly, we would not be surprised if this was the reason.
There is also, plate 201 in “Orient-Stars”, which is likewise far superior to plates 189 and 212.
Plate 201 “Orient Stars” dated in the caption 16th century.
This is a rare and wonderful example but it is more probably more 17th than 16th century, as comparison with this earlier and even more interesting masterpiece example demonstrates.
RK dates this rug 16th century; Collection Museum for Islamic Art Collection, Berlin; published in “Die Orientteppiche, spuhler; Plate 23, caption dated 16/17th century
This comparison shows the difference between a circa 1700 somewhat stiff and far more two dimensional Anatolian city/town ‘workshop’ rug(Plate 201) and a masterpiece, genuine, 16th century, Anatolian Village rug(plate 23).
Just study the main ‘cloudband’ border differences and if that is not telling enough then turn your gaze to the green-ground niche/spandrels.
And if you are still not convinced then spend some time studying the interior drawing of the two pendants above and below each of the central medallions.
Worth further mention are the iconographic significance some of the icons embedded in the detail of this carpet shown at the beginning of our critique. Try and see how many you can identify.
RK has more than once lambasted michael franses for his inability to distinguish early masterpiece Village rugs from their century or two later copies.
This is another.
Plus a little tidbit for motivated readers: The 15 piece “private” franses collection of Anatolian rugs offered to ‘Gunter’ is full examples franses believes are “early masterpiece Village rugs”, but RK knows are later city/town workshop pieces franses has grossly over-dated and according to the descriptions he sent ‘Gunter’ liberally showered with undue accolade.
But back to the franses’s “Orient-Stars” introduction.
There is no doubt about 25 of the rugs at the end of the “Orient Stars” publication are far more important, and valuable, than the two hundred plus which proceed them, and the few we have illustrated are the best of those.
Among them several small choice ancient Anatolian Village rug fragments also deserve mention, something franses misses the boat on completely.
As comical as some of the statements he has already made, this one by franses could take the cake “Until very recently, it was considered unlikely that major, but previously unknown, groups of post-ancient carpets remained to be discovered in any great quantity. However, throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, two sources have provided us with a continuous stream of extraordinarily important examples, both pile and flatwoven, which in some instances have necessitated the rewriting of early weaving history. The first source consists of old Turkish collections and the second, and less expected, Tibetan monastries.”
Here in 1993, for the first time in print, franses conjures up the Tibetan connection, one bereft of even one single piece of substantial documentary evidence.
Starting with the Cagan animal-in-animal rug purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, franses connects mythical dots and truly unbelievable hearsay to try and support an unsupportable history and provenance.
Plus his timeline account of the animal-in-animal rugs is as questionable.
“Since the discovery of the Cagan rug and the considerable publicity which surrounded its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum, at least six other early pile carpets have come out of Tibet. Coincidentally, two of these later discoveries have identical animal motifs, which are also very similar to that on the Cagan rug.”
It is our contention the three animal-in-animal rugs -- the one now in Doha that formerly belonged to Kirchheim, the Met’s and the Bruschettini/Genoa carpet – were all taken together, and at the same time, from a hidden and unknown repository located somewhere in the arc between Anatolia, Armenia, Kurdistan or western Iran and then brought to Tibet for sale.
The two others franses mentions, which are actually small fragments, probably the same.
And the unbelievable stories of ancient rugs floating in Tibetan rivers, those covered with ‘yak-butter’, and all the other hearsay and tall-tale jabbering provenances have been added to hide their original, non-Tibetan, source.
With michael franses being the number one organ grinder for this improbable provenance.
Why does he do this?
Well, let’s face facts, since he was twice involved in the sale of the ex-Kirchheim/Doha animal-in-animal carpet he has a vested interest in maintaining the story and spreading it far and wide to prevent any unraveling of this improbable fable.
Plus we saw with our own eyes the Cagan rug along with the Kirchheim/Doha animal-in-animal rug and the “Faces” rug at Lisbet Holmes’s house.
Obviously, the Met had not yet purchased the Cagan rug, so franses’s timeline is far from accurate on this point as well.
We also can’t help commenting about franses’s absurd idea “…little more than fifteen years ago, some of the types of oriental carpet weaving so richly represented in this magnificent collection were almost entirely unknown…”.
Except for the three animal-in-animal carpets and the “Faces” rug there are absolutely no others, and franses’s statements again shows either someone who knows nothing about what he is writing or an author who just says whatever he likes regardless of fact or fiction.
Leaving lauding the Kirchheim collection behind franses then launches into a somewhat brief examination of the history of Near Eastern carpet weaving.
How could it not be brief, very little is known about the subject.
Once more he discusses the deYoung Museum’s “Fustat” carpet and again avoids mention of having owned it and then selling it to the deYoung with the help of cathy, where’s my commission cootner, who was the catalyst behind its acquisition.
We will avoid commenting on this brief history, as well as on the next section called “Collectors and Collections.
However, one morsel did attract enough of our attention for mention “…it has to be said that too many of the ideas put forward to explain aspects of oriental carpet weaving, far from being even ‘probabilities’, are based upon vague ‘possibilities’…Often, however, such conclusions are presented as ‘fact’, and it is easy for the unwary reader to fall into the trap of believing them uncritically.”
Great words franses can’t seem to apply to his own writing; the worst example, of many we can cite, is the Tibetan hypothesis and connection for the animal-in-animal carpets, something he has been promoting for decades.
He continues “…there can be little doubt that, in recent years, the study of carpets has become a playground for dreamers and romantics.”
And all RK can say is franses’s wisp of the will Tibetan connection, his gross penchant to over-date so many carpets he has owned and sold, his never ending hyperbole when writing about carpets, and his repetitious attempts to prove himself the king of carpet researchers, as well as the never ending flattery for anything and everything he has ever written or sold, all place him at the forefront of those he is condemning.
For example in the next paragaph franses the hyperbolist claims “There are litterly thousands of illustrations of early carpets in books, articles and catalogues of public and private collections and auction catalogues…”
This is hogwash if one interprets the word “early” to mean prior to 1800.
There are several hundreds for sure but nowhere near the thousands hypster franses claims.
RK and many other who know him can vouch for the fact michael franses is a snob, a pretentious prat who believes his often myopic and self-centered opinions are God-given lore.
The following could not possibly show this in greater detail “There is a desperate need for a true understanding od the quality of this art form, a need highlighted by the number of books and catalogues published recently which seem to string together assortments of carpets for the sake of it. Catalogues of ‘carpets from local collections’ are the worst offenders because, due to the politics frequently involved in making selections, necessary observations on the quality of the individual exhibits cannot be made for risk of offending the owners. The proliferation of such catalogues, especially in the United States, is a worrying trend which should not be encouraged. We have enough general material already. Great collections are always worth publishing, as are specialist ones if they can add significantly to our knowledge of a given subject. But now is the time for us to try and bring some order and logic to a subject which, in normal art historical terms, is still in some chaos.”
And who do you think will be the arbiter to bring that order franses paeans about?
Why of course michael franses himself, someone who is as guilty of the faults he just enumerated as anyone else RK could nominate.
So ends our critique of franses’s introduction to the “Orient Stars” publication.
However, we would be remiss not to mention how franses frequently cannot help disguise his primary interest in carpets -- to find clients and sell carpets to them -- as the following quote from the last pages of his introduction demonstrates “For the most part a dedicated and patient new collector would, with the necessary means and foresight, encounter no area or period of carpets where he would not be able to acquire great masterpieces.”
This is so blatantly untrue RK cannot fathom why franses would be so stupid to make such a claim in print.
Great Safavid carpets, Great Ottoman carpets, Great Anatolian Village carpets, Great Turkmen carpets are as scarce as hen’s teeth and no matter how much money one might have, or how important one’s connections might be, masterpiece carpets of these types, and others as well, are not available for purchase.
And when/if they do appear they immediately disappear like a puff of smoke in an exhaust fan.
It is truly a shame michael franses continues to enjoy a reputation among many in RugDumb and beyond that is in complete contrast to the reality his scholarship is shoddy and even more flawed than RK's critiques prove.
Oriental rugs have always had their more than fair share of charlatans, carpet bagging dishonest promoters and pseudo-scholars; forget the liars, thieves and sleazy operators plying their wares, intrigues and far less than academic approaches to this subject.
To say michael franses, and others we have critiqued, are just the latest batch should be quite obvious to RugKazbah.com's readership.