In the world of Oriental Rugs, Karapinar is a word that never fails to raise eyebrows and make hands sweat when one is offered for sale. Such was the case at Brunk’s Auction but this so-called Karapinar was different and those differences, though they were quite easily discerned, seem to have been ignored by everyone. But before enumerating some of them let’s examine what exactly a “Karapinar” rug is.
The town Karapinar is located in central Turkey in the eastern part of the great Konya plain and the name Karapinar means "the black spring". It was named after a spring that still exists today and can be visited at the top of the hill in the center of the old part of the city. In the museum of archaeology in Konya there are a number of Neolithic period objects found in and around that hill. There are female statuettes, painted ceramics and spindle-wheels, which substantiate this area was a weaving center thousands of years before Christ.
Supposedly no rugs with the Karapinar-design were woven in the town itself prior to the 19th century and rumor has it the area from Karaman in the west to the Karacadag mountains in the east was more probably the production location for them beginning the period when the Turkish Karamanoglari group had control over this region (13-15th century).
The word Karapinar was virtually unknown in the vocabulary of rug collectors before the early 1980’s but today it rings all the bells and whistles, just like another infamous moniker - Salor. Interestingly enough a small village located in this area called Yesilyurt has a mosque where a number of rugs with the Karapinar-design (more about this soon) can be found. This is not remarkable nor is the fact the villagers trace their lineage to Central Asia and say they are Turkmen. But what is quite astounding is their claim to be direct descendants of the Salor who they say built this village before the Ottomans arrived in the 14th century. The villagers also maintain the Karapinar-design has nothing to do with Karapinar and it is, in reality, a Salor design having been woven by them for generations.
So perhaps the two biggest buzz-words in the rug world, Karapinar and Salor, have some connections that hopefully one day will be investigated more closely.
The primary design associated with the name Karapinar displays one or more circular medallions, whose interiors are quartered and filled with floral designs that are then repeated in the spaces between, above and below them.
Here are two Karapinar rugs that demonstrate this medallion and corner piece design style:
The detail on the left is the Brunk rug and the detail on the right from a single medallion rug that was offered for sale by Michael Franses’s Textile Gallery as “17th century”. I have often found Mr Franses’s dating of Turkish carpets to be dubious and this example typifies this situation. In the ensuing discussion here, Franses’s mistake will become evident for all to see and I would welcome any attempt he might chose to offer to support what will be shown to be a highly erroneous date for this late and derivative 18th century rug with a Karapinar design.
The drawing in the oldest examples is sinuous, graceful and particularly beautiful, as the Brunk piece demonstrates while Franses’s example looks dead, two-dimensional and rote in comparison. More to come later on why the dating of the Franses example to 17th century is highly suspect and just another example of how the Karapinar myth is used by the rug trade to elevate rug prices.
The main border of all the Karapinar design rugs also has floral motifs but here they appear to be a bit more geometricized than those in the medallions. All the old Karapinar designed rugs share one other characteristic, they all have extremely generous proportions and scale and always appear larger than they are. This holds true whether they are 4 foot by six foot or larger and even a weak rug, like Franses’s example, aptly exhibits this trait .
Ok, enough background on Karapinars, let’s cut to the chase here: What rugs are Karapinars? To be honest I don’t exactly know and neither does anyone else!
The crux of my discussion here is just that: No-one has yet to prove any genuinely old rug(prior to the 19th century that is) definitely comes from Karapinar. Just like Salor, Karapinar has been a dealer’s catch-word but unlike the identification of S-group, an easily identified and quantified technical characteristic that connects a number of supposed Salor weavings, no such identifiable trait or hallmark has been found for Karapinar rugs. It is for this reason I do not put any belief in calling the Brunk rug “Karapinar” or for that matter any other weaving and hence the so-called “Karapinar” label I have placed on the rug sold at Brunk’s. I do agree, however, there is a “Karapinar” design shared by many rugs but as we all realize sharing a design is surely nothing to hang positive provenance upon.
The next installment of this exercise will look at a few of the more famous “Karapinars” and compare them with the Brunk example.
More to come, stay tuned.