In a second installment both to pump sales of a book hali had a hand in producing as well as to stimulate interest in the D.C. affair, which might appear to be the most dead-on-arrival ICOC on record, another glowing web-article on the hali site publicizes Jim Burns's new book on Kurdish rugs.
Before entering into the Saragasso Sea captain Burns so confidently set sail on and having the opinions expressed here ship-wrecked by criticisms from those who might not like what is said, the following disclaimers should be noted.
1. I have not had a chance to read Burns's text in its entirety and in fact have only skimmed through it.
2. After having set in motion the rug world's now de rigueur focus on the importance and relevance of pre-historic and archaeological findings, I am no stranger to this material.
3.That said I am, however, often amazed at how authors either over generalize the possible relationships these materials have with certain carpets or even worse totally misappropriate such information in the guise of "proving" great antiquity for specific weavings or types.
4. Lastly and something that has been previously stated, I am not a fan of Kurdish weaving. Almost all of these rugs have no original iconography – they are mostly derivative of Persian, Turkish and Caucasian weaving. I find their colors monotonous and technically they are coarse and often made of sub-standard materials.
However, there are a very few examples which break out of this mold and are genuinely wonderful, important and well deserve praise and admiration. Please notice the VERY FEW designation.
With these caveats in mind let me provide some objective balance to hali’s glowing review, written by Michael Wendorf, aka Mr Mambo to those who have followed his use of anonymouse-tags here on RK.com a while back.
Jim Burns may have been a heavy-weight trial attorney but as a rug scholar his past efforts can surely not be so described and now, based on what Wendorf has excerpted, things don’t appear to have changed.
If in fact Mr Burns does assign Kurdish tribal group attributions and locations of production to the rugs in his collection, I for one would like to know where these ideas came from. Has Mr Burns borrowed the oujji board other 'researchers' have consulted for such difficult to pinpoint information or has he somehow connected spiritually with the souls of Kurdish weavers past?
The assignments he makes appear to me on first glace as highly fabricated and based solely on opinion and not fact.
Take for example plate 56, the so- called a Shanbo rug. Burns attributes it to the Hakkari Heights in Northern Kurdistan. Please tell me Mr. Burns would any judge in the courts of law where you have spent your career accept this as fact and over-rule a hearsay challenge? I believe not and I am sure so would you in such a circumstance.
Why then would this author so boldly present an “idea” as a fact? As I have not the interest or desire to prove or disprove these contentions Burn’s forwards I will leave them alone but I can easily demolish one that is within my purview - his attributing this rug to the second half of 17th century.
plate 56 so call Shanbo rug, Burns Collection
Again has Burns been oujji boarding? Because this rug is not a 17th century rug and it is debatable whether or not it even predates 1800. The “…veritable feast of designs and symbols.” appears to me to be a mish-mosh of 18th century Turkish village iconography distilled from the prototype weavings made several centuries before. The sloppy drawing, the pastiche of ornaments thrown into the over-filled field area and a main border design not found on any 17th century weaving combine to negate any of Burns’s wish full thinking this rug is anything other than an early 19th century piece.
Here is a Turkish rug, from the Ulu Mosque in Divrigi (plate 67 in the Vakiflar catalog), which might have been the model for Burns’s and one that is late 17th century.
plate 67 Vakiflar Catalog, circa 1700
It also has a full plate of design on the field but notice the careful placement and articulation of those designs and ornaments. They show the world of difference that exists between Burns’s funky piece and a real late 17th/early 18th century rug.
Is it beautiful, I say Yes; is Burns’s? Well since beauty is in the eye of the beholder the following only expresses my opinion - No Burns’s isn’t beautiful but it is funky.
Burn’s could be onto something in his describing one of the motifs as the “star of Teshup” and I will look forward to reading this explanation as soon as I have the opportunity.
But not to pee further on Burns’s parade, I did find it remarkable that the Shanbo were not mentioned by other writers, as Wendorf carefully informes his readers, and, notwithstanding Burns’s choice of other citations, his Shanbo attribution may be on even on shakier ground than his 17th century dating of this rug.
Another fanciful and stretch-marked attribution concerns plate 25, which Wendorf calls “A most intriguing example”.
plate 25 Hexagon gul rug, Burns Collection
Just for the record, Mr Mambo chose this piece for illustration rather than others that might actually be intriguing to satisfy his own purposes - as its design is related to his pet project - weftless-soumak Kurdish weaving - and his still-born theory of their great antiquity.
But as the meanderings of Wendorf’s rug-homeworking are secondary, let’s see how Burns’s pan out. Firstly dating it to the 18th century is far better than his last guess-timate and while I would believe it is more than likely early 19th century, based on the drawing of the field and borders, this is a minor point.
What isn’t minor is the comparison Burns cites with the very similar, and I must say obviously better and earlier carpet illustrated in Erdmann as plate 121.
plate 121 Erdmann mid-18th century
Erdmann was not too sure of how old this piece was, as his 16th-18th century attribution shows, and since this type of rug is definitely in my area of interest and expertise my dating it to the mid-18th century might explain the 19th century date proposed for the Burns example.
Compare the elongation of the hexagonal medallions in the Burns rug as well as the lack of design articulation the minor and major borders exhibit. It is apparent Burns’s is a later edition of this design.
By the way, this field pattern and border design both appear on an earlier and probably ‘real’ 18th century rug also from the Ulu Mosque in Divrigi.
plate 63 Vakiflar catalog circa 1750
Here you can see the origination of the hexagonal guls, their interior motifs and the associated main border that both the Erdmann and Burns rug have copied.
And the archetype for the drawing within these hexagonal medallions, if not the hexagons themselves, can also be shown from another rug in the Divrigi Mosque
plate 47 Vakiflar catalog circa 1600
Visualizing how the central and side medallions in this archaic rug were combined to generate the hooked medallions within the hexagons in the Erdmann and Burns examples, as well as how the border design was morphed into that which appears on them, may not be so obvious at first glance - it requires some concentration.
However, the transliteration of archaic designs into the later far more stylized ones seen on 18th-19th century rugs, as comparisons like this demonstrate, need no imagination to follow. For by providing such a continuum like this, the evidence it displays allows this process to become visible and proves it as a valid means of design identification and origination.
Shame Mr. Burns missed these analogies and the story of his hexagon gul rug’s design origination they tell.
The rather questionable one he offers “…a 14th-16th century Anatolian carpet now in the Berlin Museum that was formerly in the collection of Julius Lessing…” is so far out in left field it has become obtuse.
plate27 Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, circa 1650
Burns cites a commonality based on color, a sharing of a design depicting birds, an all-wool foundation, and the presence of offset knotting. These criteria are far too general to associate a rug like Burns’s with one of the all-time great Turkish rugs. Likewise, his off-set knotting theorizing is another shot in the dark and, not a very good one I must remark, for it in no way provides factual support linking these two disparate weavings or not surprisingly any proof that a weaving is Kurdish because there are staggered knots.
Why he also references the by now very famous Kirchheim 'Faces' carpet here is also beyond me. Burns remarks it too has offset knotting and shares similar colors - blue, green and light red- all facts that maybe true but really have no bearing in any non-coincidental attempt to link these rugs and, once again, would the learned counselor present such flaky evidence in a court of law? I am sure not.
Perhaps Mr Burns feels that by name-dropping such references he will elevate his pedestrian weaving to the level a proven champ like the Faces rug maintains?
Also let me remark, Mr. Burns, I see no commonality of iconography in these two rugs and would enjoy listening to your attempts to demonstrate one.
For your information, Jim, if any of those archaic rugs found along with the Faces piece could be called Kurdish - it is the now ex-Kirchheim collection animal carpet and not the Faces rug. But explaining that further shal remain for another lesson you might want to avail yourself of, just ask me next time we meet.
Many of the other rugs in Burns’s magnum opus are equally as over-dated and over-rated as those chosen for commentary here. However there is one rug that truly is remarkable and very important, Plate 40.
plate 40 Burns Collection circa 1750
This finely woven, well for a Kurdish rugs that is, piece has a white ground field covered with an animated design of medallions, palmettes and other ornaments.
If I am not mistaken this rug appeared at a New York City auction some years ago and sold for a quite princely sum that, by the way, was well worth every penny Burns paid compared to some of the other prices he has dished out to own many of the ‘old’ rugs now published in this book.
Plate 40 is the most outstanding piece in the book. Why you might ask? Because it has an original and prototypic use of motif and, believe it or not, this rug is the prototype for a type of 19th century Caucasian rug, like one shown here from Schurmann plate 95, known as Ashvan Kubas.
plate 95 Schurmann circa 1830
Notice the way the weaver of the Burns rug has carefully ‘cut’ the design to fit within the field and the borders ‘Transylvanian’ inspired cartouches with their complex interior design. These features, as well as its fine weave, suggest this rug was made in an urban center, perhaps even from a cartoon.
It surely is not the product of a nomad’s loom or even a so-called village rug – this piece screams of urbanity and high culture. Funky, it aint.
Is it beautiful, a definite Yes.
As stated above, my sole reason for commenting on Wendorf’s review and Burns’s writing is to provide another perspective to hali's self-promotion and Wendorf's groupie posturing to the guru of Kurdish rugs, Mr Burns. And while finding many faults with the methodology Burns used and the conclusions he presents I do agree with Wendorf when he states
“'Antique Rugs of Kurdistan' must be considered a monumental achievement and essential to anyone interested in the Kurds and their weaving.”
However, I strongly disagree with the notion of a legacy reaching back to antiquity that both Burns and Wendorf share concerning Kurdish weavings as well as the validity Burns’s classification system implies – both of which are central to the theme of this book.
All Near Eastern rugs maintain some degree of attachment to antiquity, this is undeniable. But trumpeting this fact in regards to weavings that are at or near the end of their design continuums, as has been shown here, doesn’t prove those rugs are ‘important’ nor does it make them more attractive.
It does allow authors to fill up pages with text and references and to picture really ancient archaeological remains along side of their chosen weavings but, might I ask, does it in the end prove anything?
I can congratulate Jim Burns on finally making a well-produced and handsome book but I don’t have to agree with what he writes to do it.