Tekke torba with R gol minor classic period; published “Turkmen Carpets in Franconia” plate 25; hoffmeister collection
“The devil’s in the details” is an old expression with significant connotation for Turkmen rug studies.
“All Turkmen rugs look alike” is an oft spoken comment by those who do not, or is it cannot, understand the historic connections, mathematical rhythm and subtle charm the earliest of these weavings possess.
We must say there is no debate about the first, lots about the second and perhaps a little more than a little about this third one.
Over the decades we have been involved RK has observed an unfailingly almost universal progression in antique rug collecting.
Most collectors begin with Caucasian rugs.
Those with more inquisitive minds then invariably move on to Anatolian workshop and village weavings.
The majority stop there; but a few, particularly those whose intellectual capacity is deep, or whose curiosity has not been already satisfied, end up becoming, or in most cases trying to become, collectors of Turkmen weavings.
Few make it.
First because the earliest and best Turkmen weavings are extremely rare.
Second recognizing them is very difficult and third hardly any genuinely early ones, pre-1800, are in excellent condition.
This presents a trio of formidable obstacles.
This pattern, like everything about oriental rug collecting, is no hard and fast rule chiseled in stone.
However, it is one that has proven itself.
So now let’s get back to that devil sequestered in the details of Turkmen weaving culture and products.
RK has written quite a few papers which have outlined and exposed the parameters and origins of certain archetypal icons found in the earliest Turkmen weavings.
We then have shown how they were subsequently adapted and changed through the processes of accretion and deletion.
When later Turkmen weavings are viewed this archetypal iconography remains hidden even though it is often embedded just below the surface of adulterated design motifs.
However, if the archetypes are known they can be easily recognized, and their influence on the development of later version traced.
This is RK’s methodology, one we have used in the past and will use in this paper.
As part of this modus operandi RK developed ‘the set theory’ - a set being three or more icons that remain together and are always transferred from the archetype to later examples of its type.
These two paradigm are the only ways presently available to analyze Turkmen weaving and determine the art historical relationships all of the various types maintain and share.
These are likewise the only way to date them, not by means of calendar dates but ones determined comparatively.
Turkmen rug studies will perhaps one day have established a database of forensic information detailing the differences in the materials and dyes that were used to create these weavings. But since no one is interested enough to fund such an endeavor even the most initial steps toward that goal remain unfulfilled.
Therein lies the importance of discovering rare archetypal Turkmen weavings, recognizing their historic iconography and the indelible influence it had on the symbols and motifs seen on later weavings.
Detail LFT with R gol minor; Archaic period; Jack Cassin Collection; unpublished
These ancient Turkmen weavings and their archetypal iconography have from time to time been the subject of RK’s research publications. This paper will add an examination of the origin of the chemche gol to that short list.
Detail chemche minor gol from a classic period Tekke torba fragment; RK Collection; unpublished
The chemche gol for all intents and purposes always appears as a minor gol and is one of the most frequently encountered Turkmen ornaments.
There are quite a number of variations, often those varying the most from the norm are later editions.
However, there are a small number of variants which appear to be considerably earlier than the others.
Our discovery some years ago of this ancient Turkmen LFT with the R gol led us to uncover the probable origin of the chemche gol.
Left: detail chemche minor gol from a classic period Tekke torba; formerly RK collection Right: detail close-up of the ancient R gol that is the chemche gol archetype from an archaic period LFT; Jack Cassin Collection; unpublished
For lack of any other name or identity we simply call this ancient minor gol the R gol, aka the rare gol, because of the extreme small number of weavings where it appears.
It and the Saryk timurjin gol are the rarest Turkmen gol we know.
By the way, all of the weavings where the R gol appears are LFT (large format torba) and it always appears as a minor gol.
At this point in time most of these LFT have unknown tribal origins but a couple of the later ones can be assigned to the Tekke.
Here are four other LFT with the R gol shown in no particular order.
While they ostensibly all look alike there are significant iconographic differences. See if you can spot them.
Then see if you can identify other differences by comparing each of them to the archetype.
Before we examine some of these differences to show how details of the archetypal R gol have been used to originate the standard chemche, and several other different more rarely seen minor gol, we’d like to add some rug world perspective.
The Tekke torba from “Turkmen Carpets from Franconia” illustrated at the beginning of this paper was until our discovery of the LFT above the earliest known weaving with the R gol.
We have examined it a number of times in person and are assured it has all the characteristics of what is called Tekke weaving.
From the first time we handled it we knew it was quite early and today we would date it early classic period, ie circa 1700.
It is an excellent weaving, one of the best if not the best Tekke torba extant.
However, we have long felt it did not have the archetype R gol because even though its major gol (torba type) and the exquisite rare major border (known as the peikam) are superbly rendered, the same cannot be said for the R gol minor. It appears proportionately unbalanced, ie too small, and is overpowered by the major gol and borders.
This opinion was finally proven by the discovery our LFT and its archetypal form of the R gol.
By the way, all these LFT are appreciably larger, some much larger, than any Tekke torba both in length and width, our discovery LFT the largest one yet.
Bigger is not necessarily better, but as a rough rule for trappings and storage bags, ie chuval and torba, the earliest examples are always large.
We only know a few pre-1800 LFT with R gol minors, one of these is the last one of the group of four shown above. There are considerably more later, far less interesting ones than the other three.
We have not been able to personally examine all of early ones but from those we have seen there appear to be several types, based on coloration and technique. This is besides those easily classified as Tekke.
This small number of examples makes them as a group one of the rarest types of Turkmen weaving, and the fact it is not possible to assign most of them to any presently identified weaving group makes them even more objects of curiosity.
Compared to the archetype R gol the most obvious difference is the gol height to length ratio, the archetype being more square, ie height and length about the same, than any of the others. They all have ratios where the length is far greater than the height.
This gol elongation is to be expected in later examples and is another rough rule when comparing all types of Turkmen woven products.
But the major differences we are looking for are iconographic, and how they have become hidden and embedded in the later examples.
The most significant is this large icon in its center.
Proto-chemche icon embedded in the center of the archetype R gol
None of the other R gol LFT have this feature as detailed and complexly articulated; some have only the horizontal arm and others only the vertical, as those illustrated above demonstrate.
There are also examples, like the “Turkmen Carpets from Franconia” Tekke torba, where it is missing entirely. And others, like the second and fourth LFT above, where it is present but in a highly diffused, far less descriptive and articulated form.
It is from this sophisticated and complex icon the highly codified, and often over-packed with almost illegible ornamentation, chemche gol likely was originated.
Detail chemche minor gol from an 18th century Tekke torba displaying clear interior ornamentation; formerly RK Collection; unpublished
Although substantial design degeneration has occurred it is still possible to find a number of other archetypal R gol features in this and other standard chemche.
For instance the paired kotchaks on the vertical arms are no doubt abbreviated remains of the semaphore ‘flags’ that occupy the same position on the R gol.
Detail semaphore 'flags'
The R gol’s center square box also appears on almost every chemche, and while the following is more speculative we envision the two pair of 45 degree arms that invariably appear midway on the chemche horizontal are a combination of the crossed lines forming the five spot, or X icon, in that box extended out to join those 45 degree one from the semaphore triangles placed in that position on the R gol horizontal arm.
Detail R gol center box and five spot icon
On account of its superior articulation a very visible pair of X icon can be seen in the horizontal arms of the chemche from the 18th century Tekke torba above. Notice the box, now a rectangle, in its center.
Here is another chemche from a somewhat later Tekke torba with no central box and instead a large X icon placed there.
It’s also no accident the R gol dot-outlined central box has vanished and migrated to appear in the center of the major gol. This transposition is frequenty seen in later examples as is the transition of the almost square original into an elongated rectangle.
Regardless of these changes the dot outlined central box, like other archetypal icons, remained a viable component of this composition reaffirming the set concept RK sees as key to recognizing how this happened.
Plus it goes without saying the entire layout of the standard chemche, with large vertical and horizontal arms, is taken from the more sophisticated and detailed format of the R gol.
RK has a large photographic file of pre-mid 19th century Tekke torba which could readily produce additional examples of these R gol embedded features.
But before we leave the chemche to trace the influence the R gol has had on several other early minor gol, the detail below of chemche from a late classic period Tekke torba shows the last vestige of the archetypal semaphore neatly embedded inside its vertical.
Detail early 19th century Tekke Torba chemche with black arrow pointing out the vestigial semaphore flag; formerly RK Collection, unpublished
Along with this, the light and dark colored blades of the spinning rosette in the chemche and major gol create a disguised X no doubt representing the R gol central X five spot.
This spinning rosette is a typical feature of a particular group of Tekke torba that are often early 19th century and have outstanding dyes and materials.
Another gol that even more blatantly appears to have been spun off from the R gol is the kurbaghe, as the side by side comparison below demonstrates.
Left: Detail kurbaghe minor gol variant from a circa 1825 Tekke MC; Right: Detail archetype R gol
The kurbaghe minor gol in the comparison above is a very rare and early variant, the standard one is below.
Examining the features of the standard kurbaghe it is not difficult to see the relationship they maintain with those from the R gol, particularly X pattern made by the colored panels in the central rosette, the hidden semaphore(upper arrow in photo below) and the dotted outline of an octagon in the central square(lower arrow in photo below).
There is another very rare gol(see below) that is even more closely related to the R gol . It very occasionally appears on early Saryk and Ersari carpets.
We believe it to be the transitional prototype between the archetype R gol and the typical kurbaghe.
Left: detail classic period Saryk MC with proto-kurbaghe R type gol; formerly Joseph McMullan collection gifted to Metropolitan Museum of Art NY; published in McMullan’s “Islamic Carpets”, 1965 Right: detail late classic period Ersari MC, published in Logis “Turkmenische Teppiche” plate 80
Again there is the basic R gol set – the tall vertical and horizontal arms with semaphore finials, the X five spot, and a dot outlined octagon center.
It is very telling to note the additional embedded five spot comprised of four small boxes at the end of each of the legs of the X (black arrows in left photo above)and the red and white five spot cross at their epicenter (white arrow in left photo above).
This gol is not a kurbaghe gol as some writers have incorrectly inferred, it clearly is very different form, and in our opinion much earlier.
The standard kurbaghe gol is nothing but a later addition to the minor gol iconographic progression that begins with the archetype R gol and ends with the chemche gol.
We need also mention the pairs of very special triangles(black arrows in photo below), known as Pythagorean triangles, that are placed at the ends of the R gol vertical and horizontal arms. The semaphore are also Pythagorean triangles.
This geometric figure, and its important mathematical and astronomic implications, has a long and storied history that stretches back to the Babylonians, though it was made famous by Pythagoras, the great Greek scientist, astronomer and mathematician.
The right angle triangle, another name for this figure, was also an important equation in the creation of the first permanent buildings and other structures.
The fact the weaver carefully placed all these triangles in the exact position to perfectly line up their outer edges should likewise not be overlooked.
We believe the presence of these Pythagorean triangles on the R gol is no accident, and its full meaning will one day be proven when the mathematics behind archetypal Turkmen iconography has been deciphered.
Compare those triangles with the ones on the R gol from the hoffmeister Tekke torba (white arrows in photo below), where the geometry is far from as perfect.
A comparison like this, plus others even more obvious, highlights the considerable age difference and historic connections the weaver of the archetype R gol had to the ancient weaving culture. It does not, as some pundits continue to try and make a case for, only show one weaver was a ‘better’ weaver than the other.
The weaver of the hoffmeister torba was a highly skilled and proficient weaver. Proof can be readily seen in the excellent articulation of the major gol and the border.
However to correctly capture all the nuance of the archetypal R gol was not beyond this weaver’s ability, but it was beyond a connection to the deep roots of the historic Turkmen weaving culture, a place where the secrets of the R gol, and others, lie and remain to be discovered.
We have already mentioned and illustrated a transitional R gol found on certain rare Ersari MCs, but there is another later one the can be found on at least one middle 19th century Ersari chuval we know.
Detail first half 19th century Ersari chuval with early chemche gol form
A number of R gol features are there, however, they have undergone extreme change, which is understandable considering the centuries of age separation.
The thick horizontal bar, though not the same on the vertical, is the most obvious vestige and difference but there are others from the R gol set: The triangles at each of their ends(black arrows) now equilateral (not pythagorean), the X five spot in the gol center (upper white arrow) remains unchanged but the dot outlined central hexagon(lower white arrow) is no longer an octagon.
The dissemination of later R gol iconography throughout the widespread regions Turkmen groups inhabited, both west and east, is a significant reminder of its importance. So are the tiny number of example with more than a vague attempt to capture the archetypal form.
There is no other icon rich ancient gol that is as pervasive throughout all the types and ages of Turkmen weaving when one includes the chemche as its direct but degenerated descendant.
This detail from a late, circa 1870, Ersari MC can be considered to demonstrate the end of the line for the R gol.
The cross center; the pythagorean triangles (black arrow); the plethora of smaller ones in the large blue and orange gol perimeter; the X icon in the center, now with typical Saryk style trefolate circles at the arm ends; the former dotted outline now appearing within some of the gol large central crosses(double white arrow);and the four kotchak replacing the semaphore are all elements of the R gol set.
There are numerous other examples of R gol iconography embedded within pre-1850 Turkmen weavings. For instance, the unusually large transitional blue X center and four white Pythagorean triangles in the Tekke torba chemche minor gol illustrated below.
It’s easily imagined the oversized pairs of kotchak that almost touch its horizontal arm are remains of the R gol semaphore and the X, five spot, icon in the minor border another R gol element.
In conclusion RK is not the first to mention the relationship between the kurbaghe gol, the nameless gol we called the prototype chemche, and the earlier Saryk gol, as the diagram below from the jon thompson “Turkmen” publication makes clear.
And while thompson did notice this relationship he neglected to include the chemche in this group, as a diagram of it appears in a completely different context in his text.
But more importantly thompson overlooked the R gol’s seminal role in this progression, even though he illustrated a quite good LFT(below) with an old enough R gol on page 143, plate 61, in “Turkmen”.
But that was way back in 1980 and he is not the only one, so did all others as well as RK.
However, RK is the first to explain the importance of the R gol and how all these gol, as well as the chemche and others like some unmentioned rare Yomud group minor gol, developed from it.
This paper reaffirms and continues to document our view historic Turkmen weaving iconography was never secular or domestic but rather magical and spiritual.
It most probably was developed by the ancestors of the Turkmen over a long period of time through an incredibly slow historic process of linear progression that at some indeterminate date prior to the 17th century reached a stasis zenith.
It appears this lasted until the early 18th century when the beginnings of a series of invasive foreign sociopolitical contacts and economic determinants started to destroy this stasis and precipitated the eventual breakdown Turkmen culture and its historic weaving tradition’s ancient iconography experienced.
It was during this period the degeneration of this iconography accelerated, and those effects can be seen in all later Turkmen weavings.
The reason there are so few known pre-1700 Turkmen weavings fits well into this picture: Prior to then very few Turkmen groups had the material wealth accrued post-1775 thanks to that foreign influence to enable their production.
But more important they lacked viable enough connection to the historic weaving culture to enable the creation of the magical, icon rich, patterned weaving like the archetype R gol LFT and other types of ancient examples, some of which we have previously written about and published.
There should be little doubt a gol like the R gol possessed sacred non-secular connotation, its rarity implies this.
However, the Turkmen have left us no indication this interpretation is fact. But to not appreciate the spiritual non-domestic intent and nature of at least some of their exceedingly rare early weavings seems even more improbable.
The outstanding materials used to produce them and the devotional attention their production required were surely an overkill waste of time if these were all simply intended to be used solely as domestic goods.
Every society throughout human history has made a separation between secular and non-secular artistic products and we do not see any reason to doubt the Turkmen did likewise.
The anthropology and ethnography of non-literate societies proves complex, icon rich patterns placed on certain types of objects had spiritual meaning and import.
In fact any decorated object, particularly those with a complex iconography, can be interpreted as serving a higher purpose rather than a purely decorative one.
The pre-European and eastern Chinese contact ancestoral Turkmen groups were far less numerous, wealthy and powerful than those post-contact.
It takes no great feat of logic to realize the complex icons found on ancient LFT, MC, engsi and tentband were intended for different purposes than those degenerated ‘copies’ produced by subsequent generations.
An analysis like this one proves this beyond reasonable doubt.
As a postscript we would like to add an apology for not publishing a complete image of our R gol LFT.
Sorry, but we are just not ready to do so at this time.
We will, however, give readers a good idea of its format by illustrating the LFT below even though it is not as early and does not have the R gol or any of its other features, like main and minor borders.
Classic period LFT with four rows of major gol; offered for sale by ronnie newman in 2012
Though the newman LFT is the only other early LFT we know with four rows of major gol it is in all respects a later, completely different weaving.
We only publish it to allow readers to visualize in their minds eye this format combined with all other iconographic details shown below.
Detail LFT with R minor gol archaic period, pre-1600; unpublished