According to Mills “…arguably the oldest and finest of surviving re-entrant prayer rugs” is an example from the Topkapi in Istanbul. Here is the photo:
Sandwiched into the re-entrant ‘keyhole’ is a “Ghirlandaio” medallion, which draws its name from the appearance of a similar medallion used in a painting by a 15th century Italian artist whose name was Ghirlandaio.
This medallion bears a striking similarity many similar ones found on early Turkish, Mamluk and Turkmen rugs and while Mills seems to equate its appearance in the re-entrant rugs as a significant factor denoting age, I don’t necessarily agree, especially when it is squeezed and shoe-horned into that space, as it is here.
The Topkapi re-entrant holds little fascination or interest for me. Why? Because, save the drawing of the main border, all other elements have that contrived and cutesy look of later 18th and 19th century Turkish weaving.
I am in now way implying it is from such a late period, though we’d be hard pressed to date it any earlier than the later part of the 17th century, the15th or early 16th century date Mills gives doesn't holding any water.
RK does agree with his appreciation of the main border, which has its source in architectural decoration.
Here is a decorated column from the Mosque in Dandanakan, South Turkmenistan, that is dated to the 11th – 12th centuries:
The open fret-work and stylistic conventions of the column bear strong witness to the open fretwork border design and to the strong link the Ottomans maintained with their central Asian heritage. The design also relates quite well to the field pattern of the Pazyryk carpet, which of course is quite understandable considering many believe it had a central Asian origin.
Surprisingly, Mills illustrates a rug that actually is the “oldest and finest” of this type of re-entrant rug and why he mis-judged the Topkapi piece as ‘the great one’ can only be ascribed to his lack of rug expertise and knowledge. Commonly called Mamluk but, like all the others given this attribution, still of an unproven provenance. This prayer rug is from the east Berlin Islamic Museum.
Here is the photo:
In common parlance this is a ‘pisser’ of a prayer rug, one that’s got it all. Granted it is somewhat condition challenged but, aside this fact, the colors, design, articulation, and proportion are perfect. Almost too perfect.
In our estimation, it is the prototype for all the others illustrated in parts I and II of this discussion, as well as, all of those Mills illustrated in his article.
No cutesy hanging lamps, scrunched “Ghirlandaio” medallions or contrived designs – this piece is a powerhouse, a freaking tour-de-force of weaving.
Look carefully to notice the light blue plant form growing from atop the ‘keyhole’- this is the archaic source for the medallions that float in the fields of the four pieces illustrated in Parts I and II.
The magnificently conceived crenellated mirhab and mysterious forms in the panel above it speak volumes as to the fact that this weaving could really be attributed to the 15th century. The sinuous dragon-like cloudbands of the red inner border are wonderfully life-like.
But it is the open, proto-fretwork green ground outer border that seals its position as the prototype of the Topkapi rug.
One more point, notice the two proto-‘Ghirlandaio” medallions flanking the mirhab in the two green-ground spandrels. And if you look carefully, they are each suspended within a red fretwork ground pattern that is both complex and unique. So much for Mills’s Topkapi choice.
But there is one other Turkish rug of the re-entrant category deserving mention here, although, again, Mills missed this one, too.
Here it is:
This amazing survivor, from the Turk ve Islam Eserleri Museum in Turkey, almost defies words to describe it.
If the Mamluk was the prototype for all the other re-entrant prayer rugs, this piece is the archetype. Some readers might remember it from another issue of hali where it was published as one of the connoisseur choices.
Unknown to most people before then, this was the first publication but RK has had a black and white photo of it since the mid-seventies in my photo-file collection. We still marvel at it even after knowing it for so many years and having seen it in the flesh in Turkey. To say it’s a great rug is an understatement of the greatest degree – it’s a supreme rug, one of RK's favorite pile-woven Turkish weavings.
Here all the elements of the re-entrant style are delineated in their archaic form – the ‘key-hole’, the “Ghirlandaio” medallion, the crenellated mirhab and the open fret-work border.
In the text that accompanied it’s connoisseur choice publication debut, gary muse, to his credit, recognized the relationship and association to the re-entrant style rugs. But his waxing on about its Neolithic connections, it’s iconographic “…interrelationship of human and animal worlds…(and) the concept of ‘guardianship associated to the
Neolithic period”, animal skin prayer rug relationship and references to “…the ancient language of prehistory” are as foolish as Mills’s ignoring hit in his survey of re-entrant prayer rugs.
This is a great rug indeed, and as muse surmised it may pre-date even a 15th century attribution (personally RK's sure it does). But what is even greater is the light it sheds on the proscribed nature of early Turkish weaving traditions.
Studying a rug like this and comparing it to other examples, not only re-entrant type weavings, is more instructive than reading dozens of rug books. Try it and see for yourself: