Home > Archive >Ardabil Fight-Club
Author:john taylor
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Sun, Jun 6th, 2004 09:00:10 PM
Topic: Ardabil Fight-Club

Published in 1905,Thomas Hendley`s book Asian Carpets contains reproductions of Indian carpets from the collection of the Maharajah of Jaipur.


The high quality plates are actually paintings intended to be of use to graphic artists in all fields.


However,the book also contains a number of illustrations of the London Ardabil carpet,taken presumably from the first series of photographs made by the Victoria and Albert Museum.


They are predominantly border shots,and many of the original photos have never been published.


They reveal the extant of improvisation,and the artistic liberties which the weavers took with the original sketches.

Author: jc
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Sun, Jun 6th, 2004 09:00:10 PM

After reading louise mackie’s technical description of the Benaki fragment, perhaps the best part of her long-winded ramble through the Safavid design idiom, it is clear the warps have been dyed light and dark blue and grouped in alternating color pairs. The warps were then knotted asymmetrically open left and are fully depressed. The weft were dyed light red and vary from 2-4 between each row of knots.

The dyed warps are highly unusual, rarely encountered in weavings made outside of atelier/workshop/factory situations. The fully depressed warp knotting also implies more highly organized production methods than those typically found in town, village, or nomad weaving environments.

There are six colors, the field having only two and the border the same two plus four more. Creating a two-color field, when others were at hand, is another rarely seen convention.

According to mackie “…The asymmetrical knot open to the left survives primarily in Persian carpets from the 16th century onwards and is the overriding reason for attributing this fragment to Iran. Turkish carpets were woven primarily with the symmetrical (Turkish or Gordes) knot.”

Guess ms mackie never saw an “S” group weaving. So much for her Iranian thesis.

The rest of the hali article is sprinkled with similar optimistic interpretations but to her credit she does state the supposed resemblance between the Benaki fragment and those carpet-like floors in 14th and 15th century miniature paintings “…only partially holds up under close scrutiny.”

According to mackie’s view “All of the above leads to the hypothesis that a silk textile woven with two colours inspired the field design in the Benaki carpet fragment”. And it does if you agree with her “take the evidence that fits and ignore the rest” methodology.

Sorry, louise, the Benaki fragment may actually be Timurid but it wasn’t necessarily made in Iran. Did you forget where the Timurid Dynasty hail from?

One piece of evidence presented in her myopic attempt deserves to be illustrated:


This two-color silk textile is described as a “…doublure for an Arabic manuscript believed to have been rebound in Istanbul ca 1480/81A.D…”. I like the grace and style used here to express these idiomatic patterns compared to their far more flaccid and rote re-uses in most of the later Safavid, post 1650, carpets and textiles.

I also like the way she describes the Persians as being “colour- intoxicated”. But definitely don't savor her thought, presented as a fait accompli ,“The design of the Benaki fragment is a highly logical silk pattern.” Weaving ain’t necessarily logical, ms mackie, especially the designing end and the pattern on the Benaki frag could just as easily been originally a “carpet” pattern that migrated to the silk draw-loom as visa-versa. And while “the sophisticated linear character” mackie states is associated with royal workshops, it was not necessarily limited to silk textiles – two other holes in her hypothesis.

But she really blows it at the end with this: “Given the technical affinity of the Benaki fragment with carpets from Iran and not from other carpet weaving areas, a Persian attribution is unavoidable and justifiable.” - unavoidable and justifiable onlyif you wish to ignore any other possibility.

The possibility both the Benaki fragment and most of the other “mythic” Timurid weavings were made in Central Asia is far more likely than their having been made in Persia. Even after the Timurids had settled into Persia for decades, the weavers working in the royal atelier/workshops/ factories they established there were equally as likely to have roots and traditions from Central Asia as those from Persia.

The Benaki fragment is definitely a vestige from an unknown lineage and assuming it might be Timurid is not unreasonable – but declaring it to be Persian is.

Author: webmaster
email: webmaster@rugkazbah.com
Sun, Jun 6th, 2004 01:36:44 PM

JC asked me to post more of the photos from the Ardabil Carpet borders sent in by John Taylor.

There is one additional Ardabil photo of the inscription also included.

Author: jc
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Sun, Jun 6th, 2004 04:59:28 AM

The provenance of the textile published in hali and alleged to be Timurid is not very secure. While probably no one would doubt the possibility of it being somewhat the right age, having what appears to be a loosely twisted goat hair warp and full-depressed knotting doesn't exactly jive with an Eastern Persian location. It does, as you suggested, fit more likely with one from Turkestan and I, too, would place my bet there rather than anywhere farther west.

Perhaps it is a "Timurid" weaving made before their departure?

Author: JT
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Sun, Jun 6th, 2004 01:44:24 AM

This is a good candidate for a Timurid attribution.


I`ve often wondered if it was not woven in East Turkestan, or by East Turkestan weavers, much in the same way as C.G Ellis thought the Mamluke carpets might have been woven by weavers brought from that area.


Photos are from Hali 47.
But this is leading me away from my beloved Ardabils. Especially when new, provocative material has just reached me from our Italian colleagues...

Author: JT
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Sun, Jun 6th, 2004 01:06:28 AM

The Dutch painting here is from Gerhard ter Borch, in the National Gallery, London,and is dated 1667-68. Perhaps the earliest depiction of an Ushak medallion rug is the portrait of Henry VIII at Hampton Court, where the King appears seated on some kind of variant, albeit a small one. This was probably painted before the King`s death in 1543(Hali 3/3).

Onno Ydema claims to have found 28 depictions in Dutch paintings, although many are variants, some may even be Dutch and I am not sure at all about the carpet represented in Vermeer`s Procuress from 1656. It would be a good idea to put up the remaining Hendley pictures,as the border reproductions of the Ardabil are nowhere better documented.(ed. note: we will put them up as soon as possible.)

Author: jc
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Sat, Jun 5th, 2004 09:58:25 AM

The source of the distinct medallion/pendant/cartouche and the delicate floral/vine/leaf tracery seen in medallion Ushaks, as well as many other types of Safavid and Ottoman weavings, begs relationship to the Timurid question/mystery. I have always wondered why no textiles/weavings from the Timurid period have been located and identified. The only suggestions remain in some miniatures where textiles/weavings of this time can be seen. However, the problem is these objects might have actually been produced in other media, not necessarily carpet/textiles.

Investigating the Timurid relationship is the 64,000 dollar question and perhaps sometime soon a Rosetta Stone will be found to connect the Savafid/Ottoman weaving traditions directly to the Timurids.

Author: John Taylor
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Sat, Jun 5th, 2004 02:28:44 AM

In 1473 and in 1514(after the battle of Chaldiran) Tabriz was sacked by the Ottomans. A great deal of material from the Safavid Treasuries ended up in Istanbul, where it can still be seen in the Topkapi Palace.

Craftsmen from all fields were also deported. Many of the leading scribes at the Ottoman Court were Persian, and as Julian Raby has shown, the medallion design seen on Ushak carpets first appears in the 15th century on book bindings.


Ushak medallion rugs first show up on European paintings in the mid 16th century.


The common origin is the khitabkhane, whether Safavid or Ottoman.

A good reference is Suriano, Hali 116.

PS:the book cover is from the Suriano article, taken over from J.Raby and dated to approx.1465. The painting is from the Dutch painter Gerhart ter Borch,in the National Gallery London,, dated 1667-68.

Author: jc
email: jack@rugkazbah.com
Thu, Jun 3rd, 2004 08:46:11 AM

Hi there John: Thanks for posting those nice photos of the Ardabil. That must be some beautiful book you took them from.

Actually I found one of them, the first one, to be of great interest. Did you notice the drawing inside one of the ogives (the oval shaped medallions) is almost exactly identical to what appears on every one of the far larger central medallions of the 17th/18th century medallion Ushak gallery carpets?


In your photo above there are two different interior solutions and the ovige with the purple ground is the one with the pattern found in the medallion Ushaks. It even has the crenellated "flames" that always surround them. Here for comparison is a photo of a quite well known medallion Ushak that was acquired by the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum in 1880:


Also notice the similarities the Ushak's half and quarter side medallions have with the Ardabil's large complex central medallion that is partially visible on the right. There are others as well, like the delicate flower and vine tracery in the fields.

The relationship and influence certain early Safavid and Ottoman carpets share is another neglected area of carpet research that interests me. In fact, one of the candidates for the next WAMRI exhibition is an examination of the All-Time, Top 10 greatest examples of 15th, 16th and 17th century Court carpet weavings and, of course, the Ardabil would be a likely inclusion. The detail photos you sent showcase what supreme artistic achievements these carpets, like the Ardabil, were. The materials and almost unbelievable technical (structural) characteristics are, for me, their most noteworthy aspects.

While I must say I prefer the more mysterious and curious patterns and icons found on non-Court carpets (those I like to call 'low-culture' weavings) to these highly contrived and formalized ones, the synthesis of Classical Carpet designs is a topic that is highly appealing.

The obvious relationship the ogive from the Ardabil maintains with the medallion Ushak is just one of these and it well demonstrates the artistic contact, both overt and covert, the Savafid and Ottoman Courts undoubtedly enjoyed.

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