Animal-Figured Carpets

Animal-Figured Carpets

Historically the second group of carpets that is most important after the Selçuk carpets are those known as the animal-figured Anatolian carpets. We assume that some figured carpets must have been produced by the Selçuks of Anatolia since in so many ways their palaces display in artistic expression a rich variety of figured representations. İt would be hard to think that these were not carried over into the carpets. But examples do not exist, probably because they were destroyed from constant and negligent use. As we have seen, those Selçuk carpets which have remained are from the mosques where they were preserved in quite good condition. Since no figurative decoration was allowed in these places of worship we naturally find that the mosque carpets have mostly geometric designs. Stylized floral motifs do appear but very rarely.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti's "The Virgin Mary Entbroned, guadreped animal-figured carpet motif; formerly in Baer Collection, Munich now in Abec Foundation, Berne.

The rugs of a decorative character with stylized animal figures began to appear among Anatolian carpets about the 14th cen­tury, a date confirmed with the help of the pictorial guide which exists in the European paintings from the beginning of the 14th to the end of the 15th century.

The recognition of the importance of this group came first from these paintings, then samples of the  original carpets began  to
appear, even if only a few in number. The first to be found was the so called Ming carpet; later came the Marby rug, it was followed by the fragments from Fostat.

The study of animal-figured carpets was first taken up as a separate subject of research by the art historian K. Erdmann.

He divided these carpets into various figural types. Taking into consideration ali the figured carpets that are now known, we would separate them into the following types: those that contain simple motif s of animal or bird like figures between or within geometric frames which are arranged in straight offset rows on the main field (actual carpets of this type exist); those that depict a bird-like figüre as an heraldic symbol, as in the case ofsingle -or double- headed eagles (only seen in 14th century paintings); and those that have in them a figüre resembling a cockerel. The animal type generally has in it some kind of an ambulant quadruped, often with a reversed head.


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The more complex types of carpet designs may also include pairs of birds flanking a tree either within a frame or in rows on the main field. Even more complex animal figures, when they finally developed, took on the characteristics of a group motif of combat between a phoenix and a dragon. Examples of this type ali come from the 15th century. The geometric frames in earlier carpets are rectangular or square, but later they become elongated hexagons or octagons.

Erdmann cites examples of re prese nations in his writings, the earliest in a painting of the Giotto school around 1330. We have no woven sample of this type of carpet but the frequency of the representations, and the occurrence of this carpet motif on Anatolian Turkish monuments and textiles of the Selçuk and later periods suggest that it may have been one of the earliest carpets of this type.

Ambulant animal figures were frequently seen on rugs and their representations in the 14th century; six examples in ali have been recorded. There is only one such example dating from the 15th century. From the miniature in the Demotte “Shahnama” in the Freer Gallery, Washington, DC, it appears that representations of carpets from this group were even being made in more eastern regions by the middle of the 14th century. The repeated ambulant animal figüre in a geometric frame to be seen in part in this miniature could well have been copied from a rug imported from Anatolia.

Strongly stylized bird motifs first appear in İtalian paintings, generally of the Sienese and Florentine schools, beginning with the paintings of Giotto early in the 14th century. They continue to occur in paintings of these schools up to the middle of the 15th century.
The first representation within large rectangles of two birds on either side of a tree can be seen in Simone Marti’s painting of St. Louis sitting on a throne. This painting is dated 1317 and is found in the St. Lorenzo Church, Naples. İn this carpet, different colored eagle-like birds are facing outwards from within rectangles of differing colors.
Another example can be seen in Filippo Memmi’s painting of Mary and the Infant Jesus (1350). The carpet depicted is large consisting of twenty sections; the borders are not visible. On a light red ground are cream colored rectangles with cut off corners and filled with two birds on each side of a tree. The field between the sections contains blue rosettes.
The stylized heraldic eagle in frontal or profile position appears as early as 1259 in a Byzantine fresco in Boiana and is found in replicas of textiles and carpets up to the 15th century (Pl. 25).
The motifs may sometimes be ambivalent; they may be seen as either animals or birds. Nevertheless they have a distinct stylistic character. There is one representation in an Italian painting, dated in the second half of the 14th century, of a carpet with bird-like animal figures filling geometric divisions. This is the painting on wood by Niccolo di Buonacorso (d. 1388) of the “Marriage of the Virgin”, dated 1370 and in the National Gallery, London. İt contains the characteristic zoomorphic device (Pl. 26, 27). The carpet has a red main field divided into rectangles with corners depressed. The frames are filled with stylized standing cockerellike devices with heads reversed. The colors of the motif and the inner field of the rectangles alternate, a red bird on a yellow field, then a yellow one on a red field.

A   fragment of a   carpet kept in   the Metropolitan  Museum  of Art,   New  York, bears part of a simillar bird figüre. This fragment which may fall into this group of Anatolian carpets, measures 25.5×18 cm (1,600 Turkish knots per 10 cm2) and was one of the fragments recovered from Fostat. The colors are green, lightbrown and two tones of red.
Western examples of this type are to be found in a painting of the “Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints” in Siena. İn this painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1319-1347) we see a carpet spread beneath the throne of the Virgin which bears within an octagonal frame the ambulant figüre of a leopard with tail stretched forward. A similar painting by the same artist, in the Munich Baer Collection until 1933 (when it was auctioned), contains a carpet again under the Madonna’s throne, but here we see rows of standing quadrupeds within alternating dark and light geometric divisions (III. 14).
A detail of the “Annunciation” (Sienese School), originally in the Schlossmuseum, Berlin, which was painted by an artist of the same school, contains the representation of a carpet spread on the ground. The carpet displays rows of ambulant quadrupeds in sçuares with their heads and tails reversed. One figüre is occasionally turned so that it faces the next one and the corners of the squares are cut off and contain swastika motifs. Despite the popularity of these kinds of representations within the Sienese School, this precise type of carpet has yet to be discovered in the original (///. 15).

Another two bird composition within rectangles appears in Pietro Gerini’s St. Matthew fresco in the Church of St. Francesco da Nicola, Prato. The carpet depicted is a 14th century one used as a table cover. Within rectangles with cut corners the bird composition appears light on a dark ground and then this reverses.

A valuable piece of evidence for the dating of carpets with rows of single animal or bird like figures on öpen or framed grounds, and indeed for categorizing a 14th century group of animal carpets, exists in the damaged fresco of Matteo di Giovanni in the Papal Palace in Avignon. The carpet shown in this fresco contains a white “swan” motif, rather like a peacock, repeated geometrically. A 14th century document in the form of a narrative refers to the existence of such a carpet. it seems that Pope Benedict XII, one of the Popes residing at Avignon during the 14th century, was very fond of carpets and always kept a carpet spread in front of the Papal throne, one which contained parrot and swan like figures. A painting by Giovanni di Paolo of “The Pope Enthroned Attended by St. Catherine of Siena” which is in the Stocklet Collection, Brussels and is dated 1440, records this 15th century legendary carpet and its assumed patron. This carpet of the Anatolian type contains geometric frames, each filled with a single bird.

Carpets within the final group to be described contain motifs somewhat removed from simple isolated animal figures. Each figüre is here incorporated into group combat compositions, varying in complexity and level ofstylization. More carpets of this type actually exist than of any other. The first to be found was the socalled Ming carpet, acquired by Bode in 1890. İt was in the possession of an antiçue dealer in Rome having just been discovered in a church in central İtaly. Bode purchased the carpet for the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin. İt was at that time considered to be the oldest carpet in the world, a theory not to be changed until the discovery of the Selçuk carpets.

The Ming carpet, now in the East Berlin Museum, has a main field divided into two equal rectangularsections. The corners of the rectangle are cut off by a hooked device thus forming two octagons. Within the octagons are identical compositions of combat between a dragon and a phoenix. The figures have become highly stylized to the point of being decorative motifs. The compo-sitional motif of a phoenix and dragon is much used in Chinese art, being associated mainly with the Ming period, when, however, they were not portrayed in combat. The appearance, as in this carpet, of the two actually engaged in combat is the result of a different world view. The field color of the carpet is yellow, the Chinese imperial color. The liberty and creativity used by expert weavers are shown in the great variety of depictions of the figures in the combat scenes within the octagons. Variations of the motif can be seen in the Konya carpet discussed below, where the motif described as a cockerel also contains a highly stylized composite device in which the phoenix is present only in a symbolic form.

The phoenix and dragon combat motif is to be seen also on two of the fragments found at Fostat (III. 16, 17). The motif on the fragment in the Völkerkunde Museum, Basel, has a composition which is identical to that found on a fragment discovered by Erdmann in an antique market. İt is much damaged, but traces of the dragon and the head of the phoenix can be distinguished in red with blue contours. This motif occurs freguently in Florentine paintings of the 15th century.

A representation of this combat motif with­in a field in eight sections in a fresco of the “Marriage of the Foundlings” in the Ospedale S. M. della Scala, Siena, dated 1440-44 and painted by Domenico di Bartolo suggests that the original Fostat fragments may also have been sections of carpets with a main field divided into eight sections (III. 18). This type of motif is also suggested in the painting by Giovanni di Francesco (1420), the Cassone panel and the painting by Bartolomeo değil Erri, “Scene from the Legend of St. Vincent Ferrer ” (III. 19), Mills cites eight other Florentine versions from the middle of the 15th century and two later versions from the same school. İt also appears in a painting by the Flemish school.

With the distorted form of the phoenixand the dragon, the motif of the Ming carpet is seen in the painting of “Dorothy St. John, Lady Cary” attributed to William Larkin, ca. 1600. Here the composition is within long hexagons, an arrangement which did not appear after the 14th century. The phoenix is  depicted larger and its head resembles a hook with the tail cut off. On the other hand the figüre of the dragon is rather small, taking the form of a simplified animal. They are similar to the dragon figures that look like birds on either side of the tree in the animal carpet in the Vakıflar Museum, İstanbul.

Animal Figured Carpets 2