PLATES TWO AND THREE
Size: 26 x 17 cm and 31.5 x 18 cm
The second and third fragments chosen for this presentation were also labeled
Seljuq-type by Lamm in his descriptions in the “Carpet Fragments”
catalog(9). In common with the preceding example these fragment should also
be viewed as predecessors to the Ala al-din Mosque carpets. Lamm makes no
reference to their being originally part of the same weaving but they most
probably were. Again the structural analysis in the catalog refers to warps
with a left-handed twist but, in fact, it is right-handed or ‘S’
ply. The reconstructions he offered also do not imply or indicate these two
fragments were once part of the same carpet.
Plate Two shows what appears to be a part of a star and bar medallion design.
It also has a simple but indescribable geometric design in diagonal rows covering
the field (fig10)
). This iconographic image is made up of two simple hooks placed back-to-back
with a triangle below and a small square set at a 45 degree angle above. Each
one is very reminiscent of the decoration seen on one of the earliest pieces
of slit-tapestry yet recorded and found in a neighboring area to the north of
This kelim fragment, discovered by the Russian archaeologist Rudenko in a
frozen tomb located in southern Siberia, has been dated to 430 BC based on
the carbon-14 analyses of other objects entombed with it. Rudenko also found
several other similar, large log-lined burial tombs, called kurgans that contained
both material possessions used in life as well as special burial goods. Because
of the quantities and high style of these objects, it is theorized these kurgan
were the final resting places for the embalmed corpses of the chiefs of the
steepe tribes, known as Sythians, who ruled this area throughout the first
millennium BC. Many were richly decorated in gold and silver and other goods
including those made of leather, wool, felt and actual weavings were also
present. Because of the apparent stylistic differences they display, some
are believed to have been of local manufacture while others imported.
The Sythians are believed to be non-literate, as no written records have
discovered, and aside from what can be determined from their artifacts little
is known about how, where or by whom any of these were made. One thing is
for sure, they are all of incredible artistic quality and their complex style
unique and extraordinary. Some theorists have postulated the roots of this
‘Sythian-style’ is Assyrian or Achmenenid in origin while others
claim Greek or Mongolian but in any event it demonstrates a highly developed,
refined and sophisticated iconography.
Some of the textiles and carpets found in the kurgans also appear to have
been imports from elsewhere and Turkmenistan has been suggested as their source.
Figure 11 is one of these. It was found in a burial kurgan, known as barrow
2, and has been attributed to Persia. However, unlike other weaving found
here I would suggest it was of north European or Nordic origination. This
is not the place to begin a discussion of the trade routes of the Sythians
but contact between these two areas was quite possible and in my opinion probable
the reason this textile ended up here.
In any event this kelim(fig.11) does not appear
to be indigenous but, among
the other articles found in this tomb, another textile decorated with the
same motifcould have been made locally (fig.12)
. Described by Rudenko as the corner of a man’s caftan, it has a piece
of remaining border decorated with the same symbols. There was also what Rudenko
called a mane cover (fig.13)
decorated with the same symbol. It was made of leather with cut-out and appliqué
hooks that also appears to be of local manufacture.
Was this simple hook an icon or just an ordinary geometric design? If we
cannot affirmatively answer this question we can substantiate that it was a
very old one. Slip-painted and fired pieces of Neolithic ceremonial pottery
circa 5,000BC, as well as numerous other Neolithic and early Bronze Age objects
were also decorated with similar hooks, leading to the belief this symbol carried
important connotation. This same design also appears on one of the Beysehir
carpets but now it been incorporated into a larger, more complex pattern(fig.13b)
. Interestingly enough the leather horse-mane
cover(fig.13) has a somewhat similarly embellished version and although this
is not exactly alike the Beysehir carpet’s, it deserves mention.
In addition to this same field pattern, Plate Three has two small inner borders
and the remains of a wider main border. Based on these fragments, the carpet
they originally came from had one or more crenulated star and bar medallions
placed on a field covered with diagonal rows of the back-to-back hook design
discussed above. It had a border system of at least three separate borders,
the main one having a type of kufic-script design. Again I find some question
with the Lamm reconstruction, particularly the depiction of main border and
how the medallion might actually have looked.
Except for the medallion(s), all the other design characteristics imply this
carpet was a similar but much smaller version of those found in the Ala al-din/Beysehir
Mosques and it, or other contemporary examples, present the archetype for
them. It is both interesting and curious none of the Ala al-din/Beysehir Seljuq
carpets have large medallions, only all-over field patterns. These carpets,
it is theorized, were specially commissioned for these mosques and woven around
the time of their construction. The lack of medallions might be due to this,
for as floor covering for pious institutions, the presence of ornate medallions
might not have been suitable.
The medallion here does, however, show strong connection to a group of somewhat
later Turkish carpets, called large-pattern Holbein and known by the abbreviated
acronym LPH. These rugs were named after the Dutch painter Hans Holbein, who
used one as an important accessory in several of his most famous portraits.
These LPH carpets are later than the Seljuq examples and the one chosen for
illustration, while not the earliest example of the group, provides an excellent
references to illustrate this connection (fig.14)
The first of these is a smoking gun - notice the star and bar configuration
the inner medallion of the LPH rug displays (fig.15).This
is exactly like what remains of Plate Two’s star and bar medallion.
Of course the rest of the medallion is missing but be certain there originally
were more stars and bars, as the remains of the beginnings of another star
below the bar supports this contention. In addition, the small tripartite
design surrounding the LPH’s medallion. Figure
16 has an uncanny resemblance to the back-to-back hooks on the
Another version of this design, which should be considered an intermediary one,
appears on one of the carpets from the Ala al-din Mosque (fig.17)
This comparison parallels the age chronology of these weaving - the Lamm fragment
is the oldest, then the Ala al-din Mosque carpet and finally the LPH carpet.
But the connection between Plates Two and Three and the LPH doesn’t
end there. Another even more speculative association can be drawn between
the 16 lozenges that form another ring of design around the star and bar inner
medallion of the LPH(fig.18)
and one of the designs in the main border of Plate Three (fig.19).
These lozenges are basically an enlarged double or mirror-image version of
that earlier design, as
demonstrates. The doubling or mirror image, or its converse
effect halving a design, can sometimes explain how a new design was developed
from an earlier one. The suggestion here might seem tenuous but when the other
links between the LPH and these two Plates are considered, the mirror-image
suggested here seems a likely explanation.
Plate Three’s main border clearly shows what is called the kufic border
which was named after an early Islamic lettering style. There are numerous examples
of this script, circa 800-1000AD, some of them done on extremely fine linen
tapestry-woven textiles. Decorating the sleeves and hems of large over-shirts
these appear in epigraphical bands, known as tiraz, found on male costumes of
this period (fig.22)
.Most tiraz with kufic lettering, as opposed to other early script styles, were
woven in slit-tapestry technique.
The style employed on Plate Three is, however, much closer to a slightly later
script known as naskhi because of its more curvilinear style as opposed to the
angular drawing of kufic. It is interesting to note
the lettering style used on the borders most of the Ala al-din Mosque carpets
in kufic script, even though this Plate, which is earlier than they are, has
the later nashki style.
This difference was the result of two factors. The first and most likely
was Plate Three’s significantly finer weave. It allowed greater design
articulation and reproduction while the far coarser weave of the Ala al-din
pieces precluded any possibility for rendering curves and twists. The second
is suggested without any evidence other than the implication it raises - the
angular kufic letters were more in line with the monumental and awe-inspiring
appearance, not only in size but also in character, the Ala al-din carpets were
meant to convey. This would have been in keeping with their commission as decorative
accessory for this Mosque, which like others constructed during the12th-14th
centuries AD was built to impress the faithful with the authority and strength
of Islam. They succeeded well and this powerful masculine angular drawing rather
than the flowing more feminine nashki style the Lamm fragment displays was far
more suited to this requirement.
These connections illustrate some steps and design processes responsible
for the development of a pattern like the large pattern Holbein. An exercise
like this would be impossible without the references precursor weavings, like
the Lamm fragments provide. But despite their relevance, connections like
these are far from scientific and more positive and conclusive evidence would
be needed to prove them. This type of evidence will only become available
after the Lamm Collection fragments, the Ala al-din/Beysehir Mosque carpets
and other related weavings are subjected to the intensive forensic diagnostic
inquiry the Weaving Art Museum intends to organize.
9. These knotted-pile carpet fragments are illustrated as numbers 4
and 5 in the “Carpet Fragments” catalog.
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