16th and 17th Century Classical Turkish Carpets (Uşak Carpets)

16th and 17th Century Classical Turkish Carpets (Uşak Carpets)

The second great period for Turkish carpets following that of the Selquk era began in the 16th century in Uşak and its surroundings. This most famous and largest group of carpets, although frequently painted by European artists and highly esteemed in Europe until the end of the 18th century, was recognized merely as Turkish carpets in inventory records. The name Uşak for these carpets is a relatively new classification. İn the local sources the Uşak carpets have been identified as such since the 17th century.

A number of references attest to this. For example, in 1633 Evliya Qelebi related that there were 111 carpet merchants in the guild of İstanbul and mentioned the forty shops where carpets from İzmir, Thessaloniki, Cairo, Isfahan, Uşak and Kava la were sold. İn 1674, the name of an Uşak carpet is listed in the inventory of the Yeni Valide Mosque, İstanbul (Evliya Qelebi). The Hırka-i Saadet department of the Topkapı Palace, where the mantle of the Prophet Muhammad is kept as a relic was also covered with Uşak carpets in 1726. Another reference is to an order that was made to Uşak for carpets for the opening of the Laleli Mosque, İstanbul, in 1763. And again, Ahmet Refik describes the Uşak region together with the town it self in the late 17th and 18th centuries (H 12th century) stating that the pattems for their carpets were provided from İstanbul.

İt has been generally accepted that the first two types of the group known as the Holbein type carpets are  regarded as  the original Uşak carpets. İn these, geometric designs are replaced by floral motifs and medallions formed of plant designs.  These two types have been classified as the Medallion Uşak and the Star Uşak. İt is uncertain which predates the other. Although some scholars tend to place the Star Uşak carpets at an earlier date, it is quite impossible with the data available today to determine a specific and authentic date. If we take into account the date that their representations in European paintings occurred, then we must assign them to the first half of the 16th century. The medallion motif we know was used for the first time in Turkish carpets in this same century.

The medallion entered the art of carpet making from the bindings and the gilded pages of illuminated manuscripts, in other words from the art of the book İt has played an important part also in the Tabriz carpets of the 16th century. The conquest of Tabriz by the Turks in 1514 marks the beginning of the use of medallions in Turkish carpets. The wealth in diversity of the medallion types in Uşak carpets represents the supreme power and the creative force of the Turkish artists.

İn the carpets of Tabriz, Kashan, and Isfahan, the center of the carpet is decorated with a large medallion as the main motif and the corners are emphasized by quarter medallions. Following the conventions of miniature art, the medallions and the field are filled with floral designs and with compositions consisting of both human and animai figures. Thus the development of the Persian carpet was hindered because the artists who designed the carpets were the same as the miniaturists and they directly applied miniature design to the technique of textiles.

Medallion Uşak Carpets

İn the case of Uşak carpets we find that the later examples of the 16th and 17th centuries show a natural, continuous development in the changing art and technique of textiles. The Uşak medallion carpets, generally accepted as the more important of the two types, exhibit a further development during the course of the 18th century, that of reaching a length of nearly 10 meters. İn these long carpets the overall composition gives the idea of an endless continuum with a circular medallion on the main axis and a Iine of pointed lobed medallions on both sides of it. This makes them quite different from the Persian carpets where the composition is closed within definite borders. İn this schematic use, the medallions only differ in shape by being either oval or circular, and the alignment remains constant even when the field varies in size.

The best quality medallion Uşak carpets which were produced in quantity until the middle of the 18th century are the on es with yellow floral designs on a dark blue ground and with rich red and blue medallions. The on es with a red background always have dark blue medallions and are of higher quality. They are usually made of wool, but sometimes cotton is also used. Deep red, dark blue and yellow are the predominate colors; green and blue appear as secondary colors and black is used on the contours. Amazingly magnificent decorations were achieved by using these three primary and two supple mentary colors.

These carpets attained their classical form in a very short time so that, beginning with the 16th century, the Uşak medallion carpets were being directly exported to Europe. Paintings of them in this period demonstrate this. For example, in a family portrait copied during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1570, a medallion Uşak carpet is depicted under the feet of the English King Henry VIII.

İn the Flemish intehor paintings of the 17th century we also have some extremely accurate representations of medallion Uşak carpets which were used as table covers. We can also cite, among many others, paintings by Vermeer in Buckingham   Palace   and  the Gallery of Dresden and by Terborch in the National Gallery, London. The medallion Uşak carpets, one bearing the Polish Wlesiolowski coat of arms (at present in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin), and one in Wavel, Krakow are clear evidence to support the contention that these carpets were made both on order and also were sold commercially in Europe.

İn the 17th century various types of the medallion carpets appear. One of them strongly emphasizes an infinite pattern with eight lobed medallions placed on various axes. An older example of this in the Berlin Museum was destroyed d u ring the last war but other examples have been found.

İn the last half of the 18th century very different patterns of the Uşak carpets  with medallions were stili being depicted in European paintings. The Swiss painter Liotard (1702-1789) in his painting “The Portrait of the Countess of Conventry” has depicted an Uşak carpet with medallions, the origin of which is unknown. The light brown medallion is on a dark blue ground and above and below it are lotus forms. The medallion is framed by palmettes on either side. Here  the medallion almost occupies the whole width of the carpet with only a short distance to the border.

İn the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, İstanbul, and in the Mevlana Museum, Konya, there are a large variety of exquisite and valuable examples of Medallion Uşak carpets, some of which are whole and some fragmented. İn the Kuwait National Museum, a museum founded recently by the Emir of Kuwait, there is an example (3.25×7.23 m) of a very fine Medallion Uşak carpet. Also in this museum are a sewn together small Type I Holbein carpet (1.4×2.87 m) and a Star Uşak carpet.

Star Uşak Carpets

These carpets of which we now have few original specimens, constitute a smaller group. İn this type, eightpointed stars alternate regularly with diamond shaped medallions in offset rows. These carpets were of medium size, very few examples in hand being more than four meters in length. They never postdate the 17th century. The field is always red with eight pointed stars and small star shaped lozenges in blue. İn this type of Uşak carpet the center of the carpet is never emphasized because of the profusion of lozenges. Occasionally medallions in red lie on a field of blue. The field is decorated with angular stems and multicolored floral designs with the medallions being filled with palmettes and twin rumis in red and yellow.

We can date the samples in this group with more certainty. Two carpets in a group of three Star Uşak carpets which bear the crest of the Montague family are dated inside the cartouches on the border. The dates are actually woven into the narrow edge of both these carpets, which are part of the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch. The third one of the same group has no date. The larger carpet, dated 1584, has alternate rows of three stars with two medallions and two stars with three medallions. The other one, dated 1585, is of smaller size and is decorated with rows of three diamond shaped medallions.

Since 1914 these examples were attributed to an English origin but in later years they were accepted as actual Turkish carpets by such authorities as Kühnel and Erdmann Dr. May Beattie, on the other hand has recently examined the technique and matehals used in these carpets and claims that they were woven in England or Antwerp. İt is difficult to accept the probability that these magnificent Star Uşak carpetscould have been produced at such an early date in England or Antwerp, centers which were devoid of any traditions in carpet making and weaving. This supposition having no sound foundation can only be explained by the fact that copies of Turkish carpets were woven in England at later dates. We have no evidence to prove that Turkish carpets were produced in England in the 16th century.

Authorities agree that these carpets were commissioned according to a desired technique and quality to be woven under the control of and on the looms of weavers in the Uşak region. The Roman numerals of the date 1584 in the field of the larger of the two dated carpets mentioned above were in error reversed in the weaving. This shows that the ones who did the weaving were unable to read it correctly.

The first classical depiction of the Star Uşak carpet in a painting was portrayed in the first half of the 76th century by Paris Bordone, in a painting dated 1533 which is now in the Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice. Another example is a magnificent Star Uşak carpet under the throne of the Doge in the painting entitled “A Fisherman Bringing the Ring of St Mark to the Doge”. However, these kinds of representations do not appear in England prior to the 17th century. To date, no miniatures have been found which show representations of Star Uşak carpets.

Although the Star Uşak carpet seems not to have been produced beyond the 17th century, its development had been perfected in a very short period of time and without ever showing any signs of decline before its sudden demse. We have about twenty or twenty-five carpets of this type dating from the 16th century. Their sizes a re not more than four meters in length. A small example, one in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, İstanbul, is noteworthy. İn its present condition it consists of only a central axis with halfstar medallions above and below and a complete one in the middle. Some other interesting examples of the same group from the 17th century are keptin the Vakıf Museum of the Sultanahmet Hünkâr Kasrı, İstanbul. Among these, a very severely damaged Uşak carpet is unusual with its red star medallions on a field of blue.

According to Donald King: “There is a clear relationship between this pattern and Persian designs such as that of the Ardabil carpet, with its floral ground and its arabesgul filled medallions and ovals. Even though the Ardabil carpet, dated 1539, is slightly later than the first Star Uşak carpets, there can be no doubt that the latter were devised under Persian influence. This influence could well have arrived through peaceful channels, but it was quite probably reinforced by Ottoman occupation of parts of Persia, including the important carpet weaving centre of Tabriz in 1514 and from 1533 on wards.

Although it may be difficult to establish a relationship between the Ardabil carpet and the Star Uşak carpets, it is possible to see such a relationship between it and the decorative tiles of the Gök Mescid in Tabriz. The reign of Timur in this area was followed by that of Türkmen rulers. İn H 870 (1465) the Karakoyunlu Türkmen ruler Muzaferiddin Cihanşah (1436-1467) had the Gök Mescid which he built decorated with tiles containing a continuous pattern of lozenges from the four sides of which extend palmettes, a design quite adaptable to carpets. İt reminds one of the filler designs on carpets, and certainly the influence on the Star Uşak carpets comes to mind. This is seen in the example shown.

The designs of the tiles of the Gök Mescid in Tabriz from the 16th century might have been a source for the development of the patterns of the Star Uşak carpets. The close affinity of the Türkmen with the art of the carpet is known. On the other hand there is another example that shows a close similarity between the Star Uşak carpets and an architectural decoration that comes from the same period.

During the recently completed restoration work of the Selimiye Mosque, Edirne, the ceiling above the windows was cleaned. Black pen designs originating from the same period (1575) came to light under the plaster. They show a close affinity with the patterns of the Star Uşak carpets. These motif s developed in various branches of Turkish art starting with the Karakoyunlu Türkmen. This has created an original richness of decoration with various forms of application depending on the place they were used or on the material.