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 probably rhetorical but 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 that 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 ideas 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 less 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” (Franses's is larger than the Cantoni but surely not better), 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 weaver's attempt to recreate the delicate layers of tracery surrounding the Brunk four lobed medallion and the absence of this in the Cantoni. However that said, recognize this attempt as it is expressed in the Jacoby "Karapinar" - it appears both within the medallion proper and surrounding it - captures little of the style and grace of Brunk’s and somewhat distracts from the medallion's importance and position as the major element. Frankly, I prefer the Cantoni weaver’s decision to forgo trying to recreate it, realizing it was beyond her scope and skill. The four large tulips and simple but effective combination of elemental geometry and motif permit both the floral designs within the medallion, as well as the crenellated outer edge of it, to retain a power and majesty that favorably compares 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 fact, there are a number of others 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, as so far it 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 from the curvilinear floral stems and sprig of the Brunk/Cantoni pieces, as well as cartouches and animal forms. The rather blocky rectangles have scalloped edges that remind me both of the crenellated medallions as well as the cartouches on Transylvanian rugs. But it is the abstract yet 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 both Jacoby’s and my own feelings this carpet has connections to the Caucasus. Also, its coloration has a certain je ne sais quo similarity to the bold and in your face style of early weavings 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.