Three prayer rugs, which do not resemble one another at all and have three distinctive compositions, demonstrate the lively Selçuk carpet making tradition. These prayer rugs dating from the 15th century are in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, İstanbul. Their exceptional display of technique and varied coloring pay tribute to the creative skill of the early Turkish carpet weavers.
The first of these rugs measuring 1.28×3.11 m was brought to the Museum from the Şeyh Babayusuf Tekke, Sivrihisar on 10 November 1933. Its composition is formed by sixteen prayer niches aligned one above the other in two rows of eight on a dark blue field. The prayer niche is surrounded by red and has purple edges. İn the center of each niche is an eight pointed star set within a medallion. The main border is decorated with a Kufic inscription.
The second prayer rug also from Sivrihisar and of the same accession date, measures 1.30×5.20 m. İt has a dark blue or green prayer niche on a white ground in each office panels. The overall design is a separate prayer niche created by the so called rows of niches which form a multi panelled prayer rug. From the base and apex of each niche project points like those of Kufic characters and from these are suspended three oillamps, right, left and center. The base of the niche is adorned with various designs including eight pointed stars at the place where the person praying should stand. The purple color used in both of these rugs indicates that they could not have been made earlier than the 15th century. These rugs, compared with other Selçuk carpets, are worked with finer wool and their weft strands are beaten more closely together.
The third prayer rug obtained from the Kılıçarslan Tomb, Konya on 31 March 1930 is 1.29×0.86 m. İt is completely different from the other two in composition and uniqueness of motif and coloring. The purple color of the field, as mentioned above, is typical of this century. The overall pattern of the rug is made up of three motifs, one upon the other, interspersed with three vertical yellow bands. The two spaces so created are twin prayer niches in blue. The inside of the yellow bands and the blue prayer niches are enriched with fillers of characteristic Selçuk motifs. These remind one of arrowheads of Kufic lettering. The outlines of the blue motifs on the outer edges are further embellished with red hook like shapes. The border continues in green on a yellow background with motifs resembling again the tips of Kufic lettering, a typical Selçuk device.
Another group of Anatolian rugs dated from the 15th century through the 16th century exemplify, in quite opulent variations, a continuing and uninterrupted tradition of rug making. These all present a plain triangular niche defined by a decorative band under which lies a second prayer niche (keyhole or reentrant) octagonal in shape and of smaller size. İn some instances the octagonal prayer niche also is repeated in the upper part, thus resulting in a double niche. Sometimes it is placed in reversed order. The octagonal keyhole or reentrant niche (John Mills) has been interpreted in two quite different ways.
Enderlein describes it as a basin for ablution before prayer with a water channel to feed it, and C. G. Ellis describes it as a stylized mountain, as found on Chinese dragon robes, where the worshipper symbolically stands on elevated ground. However, it should be understood simply as an entrance to the Mihrap.
in Renaissance paintings other types of 15th century prayer rugs can be found. Representations can be seen in the works of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Carpaccio and Lorenzo Lotto. The earliest example of these types appears in a painting by Gentile Bellini in the National Gallery, London. İn Giovanni Bellini’s painting entitled “Loredan, Doge of Venice,” dated 1507, which is now in the Munich Gallery, such a carpet is to be seen on the floor beneath the table. İt is identical to a prayer rug in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin. İt contains a simple, pointed mihrab arch outlined by a narrow scrolled band which cuts into the niche field below, forming an octagonal meander. The niche also contains a central medallion and votive lantern hanging from the apex of the niche. The outer border is filled with a Kufic design which is also seen in early “Lotto” carpets of the early 16th century. Apartfrom this fine prayer rug, which must be attributed to the 15th century, the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, has two more of a similar composition.
There is a 16th century prayer rug in the same Berlin museum which has a hooked octagonal niche in the form of a narrow decorative band on the field. The motif of a hanging lamp on the red field of the niche is the same as that found in the first example above, except that an eightpointed star replaces the medallion of the former. Also a distinctive wide border of angular spiral leaves, of which the top edge is missing, takes the place of the Kufic border.
Another example from the 16th century is one in the Ballard Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ne w York, in this rug the prayer niche is almost the same as that of the first one but here the field is enriched by ornaments. The wide border presents a clear example of a design of hooked angular spiral leaves and lotus and palmettes terminating in a crescent moon finial.
Another prayer rug, this one from the 17th century has an elongated prayer niche, a central medallion and a triangular prayer niche with a zigzag pattern reminiscent of the Berlin original. Its border with cloud motifs is a classical Uşak one. İt is preserved in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
A prayer rug of this period is also found in the McMullan Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. İt measures 2.69 x 1.6m. The design features two octagoral prayer niches facing each other and a central eight pointed star on a red field. Stylized floral motifs are scattered casually among the bold-ly contoured, huge dark brown Chinese clouds on the border. This is large fora prayer rug. A smaller example from this same collection measuring 2 x 1.57m has again a red field, but this time there are two opposing plain triangular niches in the form of a mihrab and a large medallion in the center surrounded by various decorative patterns. The border has a somewhat coarse composition of highly stylized angular flowers and leaves in red outlined in yellow, blue and white on a dark brown field.
Other prayer rugs of this period also found in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, istanbul, should be noted. One of these has a red niche and resembles slightly the one described above from the Museum in Berlin. But here the lower octagonal indentation is filled with a medallion of flowers and leaves; the hanging lamp has turned into a long decorative motif; and arı eight-pointed star is placed in the center with quarter motif s on the four sides. The same quarter motifs are also repeated on the outer corners of the prayer niche on a field of yellow.
The border exhibits quite a harmonious composition of lined, slim white contoured palmettes interspersed with flower fillings in different alternating colors. The corner shifts are not clearly elucidated. The right edge of the border is completely missing.
Another prayer rug in the same museum, again from this period, displays two octagonal prayer niches in red, but here they are opposite each other Small rosettes are placed around the octagonal medallion in the center and guarter motifs of decorative rosettes fill the four sides and the octagonal niches and sides. The wide border is lined with various colored delicate motifs derived from Kufic inscriptions. One of the edges on the narrow side is missing.
A different prayer rug in the same collection gives stili another unique example from this group. The yellow niche is minimized by a long and narrow mihrab with brown dots, a pattern derived from an animal skin. At the bottom of the rug is a diamond shaped indented motif with a crescent moon finial. The hanging lamp has been replaced by a longish spray of flowers suspended from a huge palmette capital which is crowned by a decorative lotus leaf. A much wider field around the mihrab surrounds it almost like a border and the brown ground is filled with polychrome motifs reminiscent of some examples of those seen in the Caucasian dragon carpets. The border is completely indistinguishable as it intermingles with the field of the rug.
We turn our attention to examples of later period prayer rugs. The first is in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, İstanbul, and epitomizes the last stage of development in this group of prayer rugs. İn this rug the prayer niche is formed by a series of six stepped broken lines which proceed up from the bottom and culminate with a crescent on the top. All of the six are in different colors and the square spaces on both sides are all filled with different colored medallions. The border of this somewhat peculiar prayer rug is a repetition of geometric lines in small squares. On the rightside is a different composition which alternates with large stars. Another variation of this prayer rug with niches lined up, one on top of the other, is in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin.
For another prayer rug from the same group of this later period we turn to an example in the Ballard Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. İn this rug the prayer niche has a depressed and triangular appearance and is circumscribed with a brown band decorated with rumis in geometric forms and hooked lozenges in red and yellow on a red ground. The octagonal indentation at the bottom is broadened in order to bring it in harmony with the triangular shape, and a lozenge medallion is placed in the center. This prayer rug from the 18th century exhibits an enriched example of the type of rug with a crescent like finial at the top of the mihrab. This enrichment includes a huge lozenge medallion in the center of the field, two wide brown triangles placed symmetrically at the lower edges, and steps on only one side (symbolizing the mimber as seen from the profile). Three hanging lamps of which the middle one is green and the other two blue are also found in the field. Furthermore, the outer corners are each filled with green hanging lamps. The broad border of the rug has a clumsy geometric appearance with its yellow and red angular spiral leaves and highly stylized rumis and palmettes on a brown field
Another prayer rug of stili later date in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, İstanbul displays a degenerate example related to this same group. İn it a depressed triangular prayer niche in the form of a wide band on a red field curves upwards at the lower edge and terminates with carnation bfilled octagons. The space in between is left empty of motifs but here is depicted an ewer with double handles. The field of the niche is filled with symmetrical and reversely placed Kula land-scapes in two rows. The fourline inscription on the top of the rug is so worn that it is in decipherable. The spandrels are decorated with schematic and stylized motifs of flowers and leaves.The broad border with blue, green and red colored flowers and buds on a white field displays an incongruity with the main pattern of the rug. This last example from this group is dated the middle of the 19th century.
İn concluding our discussion of Turkish prayer rugs we will examine more in detail the development of ten different groups of prayer rugs which are specifically identified and most have become labelled with the name of the region in which they were woven: Uşak, Palace, Gördes, Kula, Konya, Ladik, Kırşehir, Mucur, Milas, and Bergama. The distinct characteristics which delineate each group are sometimes clear. At other times to classify an individual rug as to origin is difficult. There was a great deal of crossfertilization of motifs, composition, and techniques. Each has its unique history of development but all have added to the richness that makes Turkish prayer rugs so renowned and famous.