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Mon, Oct 12th, 2015 02:22:52 PM
Topic: KARAPINAR: Myths and Facts

(ed. The following was written and published on RugKazbah.com from 12July to 24July 2003. In the ensuing decade plus the Foy/Casper Medallion carpet is still, erroneously, called Karapinar, as are a host of far lesser weavings that also were not woven in 'Karapinar'.)

KARAPINAR: Myths and Facts

In the previous post two details of so called Karapinar medallions appeared. One from the Brunk piece and the other from Michael Franses’s Textile Gallery’s inventory. It is no surprise to me Franses dated his piece, which is in my opinion late 18th or even early 19th century, to the 17th century, as he has done this repeatedly. There are innumerable examples in Textile Gallery advertisements, as well as those from Eskanazi Gallery who work in tandem with Franses, where late 18th and early 19th century rugs are over-dated to the 17th and even 16th century. And while this practice is not really germane to this discussion of Karapinar rugs and raises a far larger issue of the quagmire of dating Oriental Carpets in general, it does have some bearing on it as it will be necessary to place the Brunk rug into perspective.

As many who are familiar with my writings about rugs will know, I do not believe in placing dates on them and rarely do, except in instances like this where others have already place their feet in their open mouths. Rather than making guesstimates as to how old a rug is, I prefer to place them within the continuums almost all known types of Oriental Rugs belong. By "them" I mean pre-commercial period pieces, as my interest in chemically dyed later rugs is non-existent and while I do recognize some commercial period pieces can be interesting to some viewers – they aren’t for me.

Ok then let’s start to examine some Karapinars and place them within a continuum. But before getting into that exercise, let’s examine the aforementioned details of two so-called Karapinar rug medallions and see what they can show us.

Here they are again, remember the Brunk example is one the left and the Franses Textile Gallery one on the right.


First examine the interiors of these medallions. The Brunk example, even in this small jpeg, looks alive and vibrant while the same cannot be said of the Franses example. Notice the complex arrangement of both curvilinear and straight white lines surrounding the four-lobed medallion in the Brunk piece and the complete absence of this feature in Franses’s. Notice the floral elements within the lobes in Brunk’s and the simple skeletal forms the weaver of Franses piece substituted in their place. Compare the red and white crenellated outer shell surrounding the medallion in the Brunk piece as compared to the rather limp and squarish yellow line defining Franses’s. Compare the beautiful floral motifs within the medallion defined by the crenellated line in Brunk's and the Franses’s weavers repetition of those skeletal forms there in their place. Lastly, notice the sinuous and wonderful floral forms within the corner pieces surrounding the Brunk medallion compared to the jumble of unrelated motifs the weaver of the Franses example crammed into this space. I could go on with this but I am sure even the most dead-eyed disbelieving rug collector should get the picture. Right?

Just for drill let’s now take a peek at the blurb Franses wrote about his rug that appears on the Textile Gallery website where it is offered for sale.

Here is a photo of the entire Franses Textile Gallery piece and his description of it follows

“Karapinar, Turkey 17th century 138 x 190 cm (4ft 6in x 6ft 2in), wool pile on a wool foundation
The attraction of the rare group of thirty or so known 16th- and 17th-century rugs from Karapinar, which are keenly collected, is based upon their powerful designs, which are almost entirely confined to this particular family of rugs.(-ed.-Is Mr Franses so blind to believe this rug compared to any of the other genuinely old examples, which presumably he knows about after referencing them here, has a design that could honestly be called powerful?)

Most examples have a large crenelated(sic) central medallion, often with pendants at each end. The corners of the field usually contain a quarter of a diamond-shaped medallion. The borders are invariably on a dark brown or black ground, often dyed with an iron-based mordant which has caused the wool to corrode, giving an embossed effect; against this are placed curvilinear abstract designs in bright colours.(-ed.- The designs in this border are far from curvilinear suggesting again either Franses is blind to what a curvilinear design really looks like or he just plain doesnt know the difference)

Karapinar is situated in the middle of an arid region one hundred kilometres east of Konya. Because it was a fair distance from the main trade routes, it was relatively isolated from the commercial influences brought about by a growing desire for oriental carpets in the West from the late 15th century onwards. Consequently, rugs woven in this region continued to imbue strong, ancient tribal qualities (-ed.- Again Mr Franses is treading on very thin ice as all the motifs in a 17th century Karapinar rug should be derived from Court inspired drawing and motifs of “tribal” origin only present in degenerate examples like this one evidences) right up to the end of the 17th century; their designs remained 'purer', less affected by changing tastes and fashions in the outside world.

The particularly fine example presented here is noted for its superb colours and strong robust design.(-ed.- Again can Mr. Franses honestly believe this is a “particularly fine" example compared some other ones of thios group that really do fit this description?)

This rug was first seen by the late Dr May H. Beattie in the storage of the Sultan Selim Mosque, Karapinar, on a field trip to the region in 1959.(-ed.- If t his is so, how did it then get into private hands?) She illustrated it in her 1976 study on Karapinar rugs, where she also published the only western painting (a Portrait of a Lady, circa 1620-1630) that we know to depict a Karapinar rug.
Provenance: Sultan Selim Mosque, Karapinar, 1973; Private collection, Europe; The Textile Gallery, London; Private collection, Chicago. Published: Beattie, May H., 'Some Rugs of the Konya Region', in Oriental Art, vol. XXII, no. 1, Spring 1976, pp. 60-79, fig. 26; Hali, issue 87, July 1996, p. 58 (in colour). Exhibited: London/New York, Colnaghi, Turkish Rugs and Old Master Paintings, exhibition organised by John Eskenazi and The Textile Gallery, 14 February to 2 March 1996 (London), and 15 March to 3 April 1996 (New York).
Currently on loan to Hampton Court Palace
ref : 14240 Price on application. All items are offered subject to availability”

There is not ONE facet of Franses’s rug that could lead any really knowledgeable rug connoisseur to a belief that it was made in the 17th century.

We at Rugkazbah.com would welcome Mr Franses or Mr Eskanazi to reply here and attempt to support their opinions about this late and degenerate example of the so-called Karapinar design.

More to come in the next installment of this discussion when several more so-called Karapinars, including the Cantoni example in the Rijksmuseum, will be illustrated and compared with the Brunk piece.

Saturday morning May 31 at around 10:15 AM 117 Tunnel Road, in Ashville North Carolina was ground zero for almost everyone who is anyone in the rug world. At that time Robert Brunk Auction Gallery was preparing to auction perhaps the most significant Turkish Rug to ever grace an American action Sale.

This might sound like an exaggeration but Lot 57, a 7 foot by 20 foot woolen pile carpet was not only monumental in size but in every other respect as well. Here is a photo of the piece:


The scale, color and design were masterful and this was not lost on the myriad of potential bidders who came by car, train and plane to this quiet hamlet nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina. A greater number had received digital images and were bidding by phone or had sent representatives to execute their bids.

I learned of the piece several weeks prior to the sale and planned to attend in person, arriving on the day before to be sure to have a good look at it as well as the several other pieces which had come from the same collection. Of the other 15 or so others, the main standouts were a Transylvanian prayer rug, lot 74, which was horribly miscataloged as a late 19th century Ghiordes and a Spanish carpet, lot 84, which was equally misattributed as an 18th century “Turkish” rug.

These errors were bad but they paled in comparison to the 18th century “Turkish” label Brunk and Co. hung on lot 57.

As I am not very interested or enamored by Spanish rugs of the period Brunk’s came from I am not going to bother to discuss it or illustrate it here but here is a photo of the Transylvanian:


All these carpets came from the estate of Casper Foy, a conservator of paintings, who had labored for the Brooklyn Museum in New York City and were discovered in a warehouse in Palm Beach, Fla. It was there that Robert Brunk first saw these carpets packed in plastic trash bags. Were they destined for the local garbage dump? Surely we will never know, but once they were found by Brunk their destiny, and particularly lot 57's, was set and the wheels of fate and fortune have now propelled them into an international spotlight. This notoriety, which has in fact just begun to glow, will no doubt soon burst, like super nova, over the rug scene, as the 270,000 dollar hammer price lot 57 sold for continues to reverberate through the rug world.

Mr. Casper was described in the catalog as a collector with”…unrestrained enthusiasm…” and the many other objects from his stash that were also included in the sale well support such an epitaph.

A “Karapinar” attribution has now become almost inexorably attached to the centerpiece of Casper’s rug collection. But in this writer’s opinion this is incorrect and although I could set out why I believe this not to be the case, I will for the present not delve into the question of this rug’s provenance. And regardless of the fact everyone else believes it to be a “Karapinar”, I will gladly stand-alone and maintain it isn’t and for this reason I will heretofore refer to the rug as a so-called “Karapinar”.

One thing everyone will agree on is the fact that it is unique example and not only the best of its type but also a pinnacle of Turkish pile carpet weaving.

Part Two

In the previous post two details of so called Karapinar medallions appeared. One from the Brunk piece and the other from Michael Franses’s Textile Gallery’s inventory. It is no surprise to me Franses dated his piece, which is in my opinion late 18th or even early 19th century, to the 17th century, as he has done this repeatedly. There are innumerable examples in Textile Gallery advertisements, as well as those from Eskanazi Gallery who work in tandem with Franses, where late 18th and early 19th century rugs are over-dated to the 17th and even 16th century. And while this practice is not really germane to this discussion of Karapinar rugs and raises a far larger issue of the quagmire of dating Oriental Carpets in general, it does have some bearing on it as it will be necessary to place the Brunk rug into perspective.

As many who are familiar with my writings about rugs will know, I do not believe in placing dates on them and rarely do, except in instances like this where others have already place their feet in their open mouths. Rather than making guesstimates as to how old a rug is, I prefer to place them within the continuums almost all known types of Oriental Rugs belong. By "them" I mean pre-commercial period pieces, as my interest in chemically dyed later rugs is non-existent and while I do recognize some commercial period pieces can be interesting to some viewers – they aren’t for me.

Ok then let’s start to examine some Karapinars and place them within a continuum. But before getting into that exercise, let’s examine the aforementioned details of two so-called Karapinar rug medallions and see what they can show us.

Here they are again, remember the Brunk example is one the left and the Franses Textile Gallery one on the right.


First examine the interiors of these medallions. The Brunk example, even in this small jpeg, looks alive and vibrant while the same cannot be said of the Franses example. Notice the complex arrangement of both curvilinear and straight white lines surrounding the four-lobed medallion in the Brunk piece and the complete absence of this feature in Franses’s. Notice the floral elements within the lobes in Brunk’s and the simple skeletal forms the weaver of Franses piece substituted in their place. Compare the red and white crenellated outer shell surrounding the medallion in the Brunk piece as compared to the rather limp and squarish yellow line defining Franses’s. Compare the beautiful floral motifs within the medallion defined by the crenellated line in Brunk's and the Franses’s weavers repetition of those skeletal forms there in their place. Lastly, notice the sinuous and wonderful floral forms within the corner pieces surrounding the Brunk medallion compared to the jumble of unrelated motifs the weaver of the Franses example crammed into this space. I could go on with this but I am sure even the most dead-eyed disbelieving rug collector should get the picture. Right?

Just for drill let’s now take a peek at the blurb Franses wrote about his rug that appears on the Textile Gallery website where it is offered for sale.

Here is a photo of the entire Franses Textile Gallery piece and his description of it follows

“Karapinar, Turkey 17th century 138 x 190 cm (4ft 6in x 6ft 2in), wool pile on a wool foundation
The attraction of the rare group of thirty or so known 16th- and 17th-century rugs from Karapinar, which are keenly collected, is based upon their powerful designs, which are almost entirely confined to this particular family of rugs.(-ed.-Is Mr Franses so blind to believe this rug compared to any of the other genuinely old examples, which presumably he knows about after referencing them here, has a design that could honestly be called powerful?)

Most examples have a large crenelated(sic) central medallion, often with pendants at each end. The corners of the field usually contain a quarter of a diamond-shaped medallion. The borders are invariably on a dark brown or black ground, often dyed with an iron-based mordant which has caused the wool to corrode, giving an embossed effect; against this are placed curvilinear abstract designs in bright colours.(-ed.- The designs in this border are far from curvilinear suggesting again either Franses is blind to what a curvilinear design really looks like or he just plain doesnt know the difference)

Karapinar is situated in the middle of an arid region one hundred kilometres east of Konya. Because it was a fair distance from the main trade routes, it was relatively isolated from the commercial influences brought about by a growing desire for oriental carpets in the West from the late 15th century onwards. Consequently, rugs woven in this region continued to imbue strong, ancient tribal qualities (-ed.- Again Mr Franses is treading on very thin ice as all the motifs in a 17th century Karapinar rug should be derived from Court inspired drawing and motifs of “tribal” origin only present in degenerate examples like this one evidences) right up to the end of the 17th century; their designs remained 'purer', less affected by changing tastes and fashions in the outside world.

The particularly fine example presented here is noted for its superb colours and strong robust design.(-ed.- Again can Mr. Franses honestly believe this is a “particularly fine" example compared some other ones of thios group that really do fit this description?)

This rug was first seen by the late Dr May H. Beattie in the storage of the Sultan Selim Mosque, Karapinar, on a field trip to the region in 1959.(-ed.- If t his is so, how did it then get into private hands?) She illustrated it in her 1976 study on Karapinar rugs, where she also published the only western painting (a Portrait of a Lady, circa 1620-1630) that we know to depict a Karapinar rug.
Provenance: Sultan Selim Mosque, Karapinar, 1973; Private collection, Europe; The Textile Gallery, London; Private collection, Chicago. Published: Beattie, May H., 'Some Rugs of the Konya Region', in Oriental Art, vol. XXII, no. 1, Spring 1976, pp. 60-79, fig. 26; Hali, issue 87, July 1996, p. 58 (in colour). Exhibited: London/New York, Colnaghi, Turkish Rugs and Old Master Paintings, exhibition organised by John Eskenazi and The Textile Gallery, 14 February to 2 March 1996 (London), and 15 March to 3 April 1996 (New York).
Currently on loan to Hampton Court Palace
ref : 14240 Price on application. All items are offered subject to availability”

There is not ONE facet of Franses’s rug that could lead any really knowledgeable rug connoisseur to a belief that it was made in the 17th century.

We at Rugkazbah.com would welcome Mr Franses or Mr Eskanazi to reply here and attempt to support their opinions about this late and degenerate example of the so-called Karapinar design.

More to come in the next installment of this discussion when several more so-called Karapinars, including the Cantoni example in the Rijksmuseum, will be illustrated and compared with the Brunk piece.

Part Three

The comparison of the Brunk rug with the example from the Textile Gallery emphasizes several key points not the least of which is how rugs of rather pedestrian origins are elevated to heights way beyond their importance. Franses’s rug is not a bad thing, nor is it totally bereft of value, it’s just not 17th century or particularly significant as compared to the great examples of its type.

This is not an opinion and anyone who has read Part II’s brief but telling comparison and cannot recognize this sorely needs to open their eyes to the subtle but quantifiable factors that separate the rare masterpiece weavings from those of lesser qualities.

Michael Franses is, perhaps, the leading dealer of antique Oriental Rugs and supposedly an “expert” but why then does his description of the “Karapinar” rug from his inventory present it in a manner that disregards reality? He surely has seen photos of other “Karapinars” as he references them and while a few of the 30 odd ones he mentions are inferior to his almost all of the rest are superior. My raising this point is rather rhetorical, it appears here to goad Mr Franses into presenting his views on why his expertise of his Karapinar falls so short.

Ok, enough said about Franses and the embellishing description he scribbled about his piece. Let’s now look at a few other “Karapinars”.

The famous “Cantoni” example in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might be the best place to start. Here is a photo of it


Before the appearance of the Brunk/Casper example, the Rijksmuseum’s was considered to be the kingpin of the group. But while it’s proportions, coloration and drawing can surely not be faulted, a situation, which is not the case with Franses’s piece, the Brunk/Casper rug’s combination of monumental scale and delicacy of draftsmanship provide what this writer believes, is the prototype. Here are details showing the two medallions side by side that demonstrate the superior articulation and complexity the Brunk carpet’s weavers were able to actualize. The Brunk example on the left and the Rijksmuseum’s on the right


The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is an apt comment for me to make here so let’s move on to look at some other “Karapinars” to see how this design has changed over the centuries. In Part V of this discussion I will explain my “feeling” about the history of the Brunk/Casper carpet but for now let’s concentrate on watching the progressive degeneration the Karapinar design underwent.

In my opinion this next example, from Jacoby’s ‘Eine Sammlung Orientalischer Teppiche” plate 22, is the next best rendition after the Brunk and Cantoni pieces. Unfortunately this B/W photo is the only one I know of that shows the carpet in its entirety. Perhaps Mr. Franses will delve into that famous library of rug books he has been compiling for the past decade and email a color picture of it? Here is the photo of the Jacoby piece:


This piece, like the Cantoni and Franses’s and most of the others, is diminutive in size compared to the Brunk example. They are all les than 5 feet by 7 feet while the Brunk/Casper is 20 feet by 7 feet. Bigger is not necessarily better, at least when it comes to “Karapinars”, but size and great drawing are hard to beat as the North Carolina masterpiece proves without a doubt.

Jacoby dates his piece to 15-16th centuries and attributes it with a ? to the Caucasus. I cannot possibly agree with his dating and would gladly accept a late 17th century guesstimate but I do recognize his thought that this piece might have been made in the greater Caucasus region. What are my reasons for this? Let’s look a the color detail Jacoby published along with the B/W. Here it is:


By the way, besides for the frontispiece, this is the only other color photo in the book and because of this we can believe Jacoby not only thought this carpet was particularly important but also that he liked it. So do I.

First compare this medallion to the Cantoni’s and the Brunk’s. What differences do you see and what similarities? The most obvious is the Jacoby’s weavers attempt to recreate the delicate layers of tracery surrounding the Brunk four lobed medallion and the absence of it in the Cantoni. However, that said recognize this attempt, which appears both within the medallion proper and surrounding it retains little of the style and grace of Brunk’s and somewhat distracts from the medallions importance and position as the major element. Frankly, I prefer the Cantoni weaver’s decision to forgo trying to recreate it and instead realizing it was beyond her scope and skill. The four large tulips and simple but effective combination of simple geometry permits both the floral motifs within the medallion as well as the crenellated outer edge of it to retain a power and majesty that can favorably compare with that expressed by its prototype. As is often the case, the accretion often associated with degeneration of design, as shown by the Jacoby piece, doesn’t really succeed and the old saying “less is more” definitely rings true here.

Besides this there are a number of other factors I could cite to support not only the Brunk piece pre-eminence but the superiority of the Cantoni example as compared to Jacoby’s s well.

Let’s leave this issue aside and look a bit further at the Jacoby piece, which by the way is no slouch and so far is the best of the rest of this “Karapinar” design group. Check out the main border. It is truly wonderful and while it cannot in any way compare to Brunk’s or the Cantoni, it is still an impressive feat of design and weaving. Here we have a new and exciting combination of forms – some of the curvilinear floral stems and sprig from the Brunk/Cantoni pieces, as well as cartouches and animal forms. The rather blocky rectangles have scalloped edges that remind me of both their crenellated medallions as well as the cartouches on Transylvanian rugs, but, it is the abstract but recognizable animal forms between them that catch my eye and make this border come alive. Are those animals dragons and are they part of the Dragon Rug iconography? While a question like this has no definitive answer it does highlight a connection and goes some distance into support but Jacoby’s and my own feelings this carpet has connections to the Caucasus. Also, the coloration of it has a certain je ne sais quo connection to the bold and in your face style of early weaving made in the Caucasus rather than the somewhat more subtle and calmer way colors are handled in early Turkish rugs. Another piece of the puzzle pointing to a Caucasian origination are the trefoils in the two minor borders, as no early Turkish rugs exhibit this convention.

One of the major obstacles in trying to provenance any of these rugs is the lack of structural and technical details and until such a dossier is complied I recognize the liabilities my writing on this subject entail. However, I am fairly certain what is written here will not be proven inaccurate in light of that information’s compilation.

So enough for today. Stay tuned for Part IV when several other Karapinars of lesser pedigree, like the Franses piece, will be pictured and discussed to flesh out the “Karapinar” design group that the Brunk/Cantoni and Jacoby examples so wonderfully define.

Part Four

After reading the preceding parts of this discussion it should be clear Karapinar is not really a descriptive term useful for anything other than describing a design-type. The rugs that share this pattern are very different in both structure and coloration and this precludes any possibilities of their sharing similar production locations or for that matter genuine cultural affinity. I have no doubts the Brunk/Casper piece is the prototype, or archetype if you will, of this group and in the next and final part of this discussion, Part V, some thoughts on its sources will be presented.

Let’s now compare six “Karapinars” that illustrate how the progressive changes, i.e. degeneration, of this the design occurred. This exercise emphasizes the brilliant conception the weavers of the Brunk example were able to achieve. It also demonstrates the difficulty succeeding generations of weavers had in capturing the inspiration responsible for its creation, as well as the introduction of alien motifs and symbols these later weavers utilized and relied on to express what they could not duplicate.


On the first line of photos, a side-by-side comparison of Brunk/Casper rug and the Rijksmuseum’s example cant help but demonstrate the mastery the unsung weavers of the Brunk piece were able to actualize. And while the Cantoni is no slouch, its lack of the complex treatment both within the medallion and surrounding it make it appear somewhat two-dimensional. This perception is also fostered by the limited but intense color palette its creators employed and this factor - color - more than any other supports the reality that these two rugs have nothing whatsoever to do with each other besides for the similarities of design they share. Plus the Brunk carpet’s monumental scale implies it was made in a highly sophisticated urban atelier environment rather than the probably far more humble village setting that gave birth to the Cantoni.

I have seen both rugs in the flesh and while I was not able to compile detailed structural analyses, I can positively state these two rugs have no technical aspects in common other than sharing a woolen foundation and knotted pile.

The next line of photos shows what this writer feels is the next incarnation of the “Karapinar” design form:


On the left, the best of these, the example from the Jacoby book, appears. Here the aforementioned attempt to re-create the complex system of pattern surrounding the Brunk medallions separates it from the other three. But this is not the only feature to support the assessment it is better than the others, as the highly inventive design of the main border combined with its far superior coloration and number of colors place it head and shoulders above the others to its right. I should mention here that if this weaving and the Cantoni were exhibited side-by-side there would surely be some rug fanciers who would prefer it for those two very reasons. But in fact this cannot really be considered correct. Although it has more colors and that intriguing border – both of which give it a more “exciting” “look” – the brutish power of the Cantoni - that is derived from its amazing use of proportion and perspective, accentuated by the deeply saturated colors and their simple but highly effective utilization – combine to disprove any such thought.

The visual punch the Cantoni delivers was no accident and the weaver who made it knew it was impossible to reproduce the complex articulation of the Brunk/Casper rug so instead of tying to copy or duplicate it, an original and extremely potent interpretation was produced.

Is the Cantoni as good as the Brunk piece? No, it isn’t but in its own right and for the reasons just expressed, and others that I have not bother to mention, it must be recognized as a highly important Turkish rug and an influential feat of knotted pile weaving.

To its right another weaver of the so-called “Karapinar”-design, which by the way was recently sold at auction in Germany for almost 100,000 dollars, produced what this writer can only describe as a two-dimensional copy of the medallion and corner-piece arrangement we are calling “Karapinar”. As weak and ineffective as it is, it is still nonetheless better and more skillful in all respects than the weaver of the Franses Textile Gallery rug was able to muster. There we see only a blatant copy of the features that distinguish the “Karapinar” design group, as expressed by the rugs to its left and those pictured above it.

Perhaps its most redeeming aspect is the main border but when that is compared with the Cantoni’s – undoubtedly its source – it’s jumble of designs that at first appear interesting are, on further inspection, actually only a confused attempt to capture what the long dead weaver of the Cantoni was able to create.

Again, the Textile Galleries piece is not terrible but when compared to the two others of its period, it falls far short and even more so when viewed in light of the two pictured above it.

The next line of photos demonstrate what can be considered the next manifestations of the “Karapinar” design group:


Frankly the example on the left is superior to the Franses rug but, because it is less “classical” in its depiction of the “Karapinar”- design, I have placed it here below the Franses piece only for this reason and none other. I would prefer to own this long four-medallion rug to Franses's any day because here this weaver was inspired, not just copying. And while this rug is no real champion compared to those that are – like the Cantoni and Brunk/Casper - it is onje when it is considered alongside the example to its right, the Textile Gallery's and the all the others of its period.

The medallions are not complex but they are honest. They embody and capture the proportions of the Brunk rug and the lifting of the large “tulips” featured in the medallion of the Cantoni and their placement on the medallion’s dark ground successfully produces a medallion with both grace and power. This might seem simple but it is both a difficult and rarely successfully executed combination, as the Franses rug and others not pictured here well proves.

The gold-orange field color contrasts extremely well with the dark ground medallions and the sparse field decoration is both tasteful and in perfect balance with and to those medallions. The four baby-blue corner-pieces, interesting minor border and wide trifoliate major border all blend perfectly together to produce a magnificent achievement of later central Turkish village weaving. I like it.

I don’t like the rug to its right. Why?

Simply put, this weaving is a flaccid imitation of the “Karapinar” design. It is miserably inferior to every other example we have examined so far in this discussion. The medallions look impressive but that is due only to their having white grounds, a trick later weavers often resort to in their effort to “catch” the eye of the viewer. The sloppily conceived and executed blue pattern that surrounds them is even more insipid and meaningless and oh those contrived half-medallions that poke their way into the field from the side-borders, ugh!

But all these pale in comparison to the border. What was this weaver thinking, or rather what was the weaver not thinking. Words cannot do justice to the lack of inspiration, genuine knowledge and familiarity with the “Karapinar”-design, or weaving expertise that produced this rug. It is a poster-boy for the worst of Turkish pile weaving. Let me stop there, ‘nuff said about this waster of wool.

I can’t honestly say I would prefer to own the example illustrated by itself on the last line of photos rather than the one just discussed, but almost.


Here we have the final recognizable incarnation of the “Karapinar”-design and as weavings of this period interest me not, I don’t feel like enumerating the obvious defincies it displays.

Part Five

The previous installments of this discussion concentrated on placing the Brunk/Casper rug within the specific continuum of other rugs that share a similar design layout and major motifs. It should be very clear to any reader not only does such a continuum exist but also that this weaving is the archetype for it. Unlike all the others, it appears to have been produced in a court manufactory and not in the domestic milieu or environment responsible for all the other known examples.

Several important clues exist to support this, the first and perhaps most telling is its monumental size – 7 foot wide by 20 foot long rugs present certain logistic requirements beyond the ability or scope of any single weaver or any ad hoc group of them. Weavings of this size could only be produced within atelier or factory settings.

Second is the intricate and highly sophisticated design it displays. Such fine and perfectly orchestrated work is rarely or even ever produced outside this type of production setting and thoughts that a designer laid it out in a drawing or “cartoon”, as it was known in the rug-trade, are surely not misplaced. A group of weaver would then have been given the job of producing the carpet from this prepared design and this combination of a designer and a group of weavers was most probably the one responsible for this masterpiece.

Third is the huge amount of materials necessary to create such a large weaving and the large investment securing these would have entailed. And as the quality of the wool and dyeing are superb and of the highest quality, all these factors also point to a court manufactory and not to any other situation.

Ok then this explains the how let’s now examine the why it was made.

The Central Asian tribes, soon to be known collectively as the Ottomans, began to conquer and settle parts of Anatolia beginning in the 11th century. Almost immediately after their military successes, they ordered the construction of new buildings not only to proclaim victory but even more importantly to create and manage the social order. Sometimes these were single monuments but more often that not there were several buildings grouped together that functioned as both a religious, cultural and government center.

These complexes were called “Kulliye” and often included mosques, kitchens to feed the poor, religious schools, primary schools, hospitals, market-places, tombs, and bath houses. These structures quickly became the center around which society functioned and more significantly, they allowed the Ottomans to stage, control and further expand their empire in Anatolia.

One of these “kulliyes”, which included a mosque, caravanserai, bath, market place and imaret, was constructed from 1563-4 at Karapinar during the reign of Sultan Selim II (1566-1574). The Konya-Karapinar region was first captured by the Ottomans in 1442 and it is known Selim I stayed there during his campaigns against Egypt and Persia. Konya also hosted Suleyman I and Murad IV on their military expeditions to the east as well.

These royal visits and the construction of the large “kulliye” by Selim II, as well as other monuments, during the 16th century are mentioned to place into context the following theory. I feel it is highly probable the Brunk/Casper rug was made under royal patronage expressly for the mosque at Karapinar and taken there and donated either at the time of the mosque’s inauguration or during one of the later royal visits.

The mosque and entire “kulliye” was built by Sinan, perhaps the most famous architect of the 16th century and chances are good an important and magnificent carpet like this one was ordered as decoration for it. Having the greatest architect and builder create this complex reaffirmed the importance Konya-Karapinar area, which was one of the major crossroads both for commercial and military traffic. This fact plus the various recorded visits by these four Sultans and their royal attendance in and patronage for the Sinan mosque adds much weight to this possibility.

Was this the history the Brunk/Casper rug could tell us if it could? Unfortunately it cannot answer us on this but I feel strongly enough about this possibility to go on record in support of it.

Leaving this perplexing question aside, the art historical influences that produced this carpet can be positively determined, so let’s now examine them

The “Karapinar”-design group’s medallions are their most important and indicative motif and it is here we should begin with the obvious question: What was their source? This type of medallion, known as a quatrefoil medallion, i.e. one with a four-lobed interior, is not unique tto this group and similar ones are also found on other types of Turkish rugs.

The earliest one of these was found in the 13th century Seljuk mosque at Beysehir. Only large fragments exist from what were originally the lower right side, corner and part of the bottom part of this rug. Here is a photo of it and a detail of one of the remaining quatrefoil medallions:


This fragment is conventionally dated to the 14/15th century but ideas it was made for the inauguration of the mosque may not be incorrect and would then date it to the end of the previous century.

This four-lobed medallion provides the oldest precedent for the “Karapinar” -design group’s. Within its interior, the simple flower-like motif at each end of the white cross sets-up an archetype for the more recognizable floral elements that appear in each of the three Brunk/ Casper rug’s medallions. More about these floral designs will be mentioned later.

The quatrefoil medallion also appears, along with another different medallion design, in another type of ancient Turkish rug known as the small pattern Holbein. Here is a photo of one from the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, Hungary and a detail of one of the medallions (notice the absence of even a hint of any recognizable floral elements):


Another group of Turkish rugs that often display quatrefoil medallions are known as Ottoman Cairene carpets, named for the theory these were manufactured in Egypt for the Ottomans. These should also be considered precursors to the “Karapinar”-design group. Here is a photo of one:


In common with the others we have already spoke about the medallions on these Cairene rugs utilize small finials at the top and bottom axis and crenellated edges to define the medallion. Notice the Beysehir rug’s tentative use of both these conventions and the progressive enlargement and emphasis they receive in the succeeding examples, with the Cairene medallion displaying the most exaggerated form. The source of both these design aspects appears not to be indigenous to Turkey, having been adopted from Persian rugs. More about the relationship early Safavid (Persian) rugs played in the development of the “Karapinar”-design will be mentioned below.

The arrangement of scrolling leaves that surround the Cairene medallions, the delicate floral drawing in the four corner-pieces and in the main border should be seen as one of the myriad of influences that contributed to the Brunk/Casper rug’s design. There should be little question the “Karapinar”-design group’s medallion is directly related to the three groups of rugs just mentioned and, as all of them have royal connection, the idea presented here that the Brunk/Casper, which is undoubtedly the archetype for this group, was made on an Imperial order should now seem even more valid.

Both the Seljuk, small pattern Holbein and Cairene examples pre-date the period the Brunk/Casper rug is from but the earliest examples of another type of rug, known as a star Ushak, probably were contemporaneous with it. Here is a photo of one of these that was formerly in the Joseph McMullan Collection and was gifted by him to the Metropolitan Museum in New York where it now remains. These rugs often show quatrefoil medallions and a detail of one also appears next to the whole rug:


Notice how a new and different rendition of the quatrefoil design was created in the large photo. It can be seen above and below the medallion shown in the detail. However, here it is not placed within the confines of a medallion but rather outside it. Four of the usual shaped lobes are positioned to define this very large four-lobed octagonal medallion that contains yet another quatrefoil design within its eight-sided perimeter. This interior quatrefoil has more than just the suggestion of floral elements within each of the four lobes, as well as many naturalistic flowers, tendrils and leaves carefully scattered all-over the red field.

Another type of Ushak long rug with an analogous medallion and layout is known by the name Medallion Ushak. Even the earliest of these rugs date a bit later than the oldest of the Star variety and the overblown, motif packed designs they exhibit are no doubt a reflection of this. One has been illustrated here to show the further development and reliance this group makes of floral forms, the virtual disappearance of a well-defined quatrefoil pattern for the medallion interior and the progressive enlargement of the crenellated outline and finials to define the medallion. Here is a detail showing these features:


The synthesis of design, pattern and motif rug weavers in Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Persia shared is a topic worthy of much more intensive research and investigation and well-beyond the scope of this discussion. With this in mind, the following brief mentions of Safavid rugs with obvious connections to the “Karapinar”-design should only be considered the tip of an iceberg of possibilities. The earliest groups of Safavid carpets have yet to be as securely provenanced as those made for the Ottomans and although this presents many difficulties, it does not hamper our looking at some of the medallions and other designs from a few of these magnificently opulent weavings.

The first piece, one of a small group of carpets believed to survive from the reign of Shah Abbas (1587-1629) is an amazing piece of work. The patterns, coloration, execution and monumental size of these rugs, as exemplified by this example from the Tyssen-Bornemisza collection, cannot help but dwarf almost any type or group of Oriental Carpets. Here is a photo of the rug as well as a detail of the medallion:


While there are no really apparent similarity to the Brunk/Casper rug or the “Karapinar”-design, other than the shape and gentle crenellation of the medallion’s outline, this rug, which is believed to have been made in Tabriz, nonetheless deserves mention for the following reason. Within the medallion there is no quatrefoil and instead a composition of interlocking bands, known as strap-work, fills the red-ground interior between the central small blue medallion and the crenellated outline defining the almost ogival shaped larger one surrounding it. It is my contention the by now familiar quatrefoil of the “Karapinar-design, and other groups, directly developed from this far more evocative and involved composition. A small but salient clue remains in support of this theory and it is shown here:
The four of these elements placed along the strap-work exactly mirror the positioning of the four lobes of the quatrefoil, only they have just been displaced on a 45 degree angle. But it is their finials, which unfortunately are tiny and barely visible in these photos but not so in this large nine by seventeen foot carpet that provide this evidence, as each one, in microcosm, is precisely the shape of the quatrefoil lobes. I cannot believe there is no connection, as their number, four, and their positioning, at 2- 4 - 8 and 10 o’clock, perfectly mittors the quatrefoil design.

Also this elaborate network of strap-work might also have been the source from which the thinner and far less complicated pattern surrounding the Brunk/Casper medallion’s four-lobed interior was derived. Likewise the large cartouches in the main border, each of which contains a pair of animals in combat, may also have been the source of those in the border of the “Karapinar”, which of course do not show such a scene, only floral elements.

While I recognize the analogies presented here are not on as firm ground as the others detailed in this discussion, they do have bearing on the where and how the “Karapinar”-design’s quatrefoil medallion was developed.

Let’s now get back down to terra firma and look at another Safavid rug whose connection to the in the “Karapinar”-design, specifically the floral elements just mentioned, is far more obvious and concrete. Here is the photo of the piece and several details:


This carpet, of which two good size sections are all that remains, is preserved at the shrine of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661 a.d.) at Al-Najaf in Iraq. This region of Iraq was conquered and annexed by the Safavid ruler Shah Isma’il I in 1508 and in 1531 the Ottoman Sultan Sulayman I ousted the Persians and added it to his dominion. It is recorded both of these men visited the shrine. In 1623 it again fell into the hands of the Safavid rule during the reign of Shah Abbas I but in 1638 it was again retaken by the Ottomans and held by them until WWI.

The importance of this shrine cannot be underestimated and the collection of early carpets found there extremely important and magnificent. From the history, it would appear this example arrived there during Shah Abbas’s time but because of the amazing quality of the drawing and the brocaded gold and silver threads it contains thoughts it might date to the time of Shah Isma’il cannot be discounted. Well at least by this writer.

It appears here in this discussion for two reasons – the beautifully articulated strap-work covering the field and the distinct floral elements contained in the triangular-shaped lozenges superimposed and carefully positioned on it. These somewhat surreal floral elements are almost exactly like those in the Brunk/Casper quatrefoil medallion as well as those in the cartouches in the main border. This comparison is beyond conjecture – it is as positive as it could be considering both the geographic and cultural distance that existed between and separates these two weaving.

Here once again are several details of the “Karapinar”, two of the medallion and one of the border showing these surreal floral motifs:


Finding pertinent analogous references to illustrate some of the sources for the style and specific motifs found in “Karapinar”-design weavings or demonstrating why the Brunk/Casper example is the archetype of this group is a relatively simple task compared to determining who designed it, where it was made and for what purpose it was destined. Any conjecture, even the theory posed here of its having been ordered by Selim II for the Sinan designed and built mosque at Karapinar, are truly only shots in the dark. And although the design it bears has been claimed by the present-day residents of Karapinar, as well as the neighboring villagers of called Yesilyurt, formerly known as Salor that was mentioned in a previous part of this work, there is not on shred of evidence to prove where any of the genuinely old “Karapinar”-design group examples were made.

Taking this into account and knowing full what follows is total conjecture let me venture some guess as to where this carpet was made. First let me preface the following: I cannot imagine the Brunk/Casper rug was woven in central Anatolia. That said, my feelings point to somewhere further north and west of Karapinar. Intuition says somewhere around the Kutahya/Eskisehr region but this is nothing more than a wild but educated guess.

What isn’t a guess is the fact this carpet was made expressly for a purpose, in a sophisticated manufactory and of the highest quality materials. The graceful re-interpretation of earlier motifs and the skill technical execution of the weaving process imply this manufactory was imperial.

Perhaps someday, when both historical research and forensic studies have increased the paucity of information and evidence necessary to positively provenance ancient rugs, the mystery surrounding this carpet's birth will be revealed.

Author: LB
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Mon, Oct 12th, 2015 02:22:52 PM

Thank you for this insightful and reasoned article. I have been enriched. LB

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