Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >Karapinar: Myths and Facts Part V
email: jack@rugkazbah.com
Thu, Jul 24th, 2003 07:45:16 AM
Topic: Karapinar: Myths and Facts Part V

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.

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