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PLATE TWO
 
PLATE THREE
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.

Fig. 10
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 Turkmenistan(fig.11) .

Fig. 11

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.

Fig. 12

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
Fig. 13
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.
Fig. 13a

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 (fig.13a), 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
Fig. 13b
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.

Fig. 14

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
Fig. 15
Lamm fragment(fig.10).
Fig. 16
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.
Fig. 17

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
Fig. 18
figure 20 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 design (fig.21),
Fig. 19
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.
Fig. 20
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
Fig. 21
the lettering style used on the borders most of the Ala al-din Mosque carpets (fig.23) were done in kufic script, even though this Plate, which is earlier than they are, has the later nashki style.

Fig. 22

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.

Fig. 23

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.

Footnotes:

 9. These knotted-pile carpet fragments are illustrated as numbers 4 and 5 in the “Carpet Fragments” catalog.

Bibliography

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