Animal Figured Carpets – Part 2

Animal Figured Carpets – Part 2

About fiftyfive years ago a rug was discovered in Sweden in a church in the village of Marby in damtland province. The rug is divided into two octagonal sections, each containing a pair of facing birds flanking a tree. But in this composition the octagon is completely filled with the branches of trees and the ir reflection below, each tree appearing as if in water. The wide and narrow borders fit the characteristic patterns of the Konya Selçuk carpets and the old Turkish carpets.

This Marby rug is of a type seen in the 15th century paintings by such artists as Baldovinetti, Morone and Hans Memling. İt has been suggested that the compositional arrangement of the Marby rug may also suggest a possible vahation of the combat motif within the classical octagonal framework.

İn the National Historical Museum, Stockholm,  on two of the three fragments from Fostat are displayed different and varied stylistic compositions of this carpet’s decorative form. The two show a vahation on the Marby carpet of two birds flanking a tree. This is an example of the endless diagonal composition which does not have geometric sections.

On the third piece between a geometric motif of eight pointed stars and hexagons is an opposing four legged animal figure. The originals of the three animal figured carpets have not been found. The two fragments originally in the Lamm collection in the same museum are dated to the middle of the 15th century. The bird figures on these have completely disappeared.


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The difference between the third piece and the other two is that the birds are a pair facing each other and the geometric sections are separated with the birds between and outside of them. This carpet fragment is also older than the other two and dates to the early 15th century.

Yet another interpretation of this theme can be seen on a carpet now kept among the collection of the General Directorate of Pious Foundations in the Vakıflar Carpet Museum, İstanbul. İt was collected from Foundation premises in Ankara but from which particular building is not known. The carpet measures 2.21×1.53 m and, like the Marby rug, has a field divided into two rec-tangular sections containing depressed octagons. The octagons each contain a pair of stylized figures facing each other with a tree between. The figüre is a quadruped, some what like the figüre on the Konya carpet, although its stylized wings and trefoil crenel-lation are larger and more detailed. On a field of red are placed white figures studded with red and dark blue crescent shapes. Wings stretch out from a rectangular lozenge on the back of the figüre. The medallions are framed by a band of alternately placed hooked and plain lozenges in red, white and yellow on a green field. The border contains eight pointed stars and hooked “flint” motifs on a white field. The same border continues across the center of the carpet cutting the field between the two medallions. The inner and outer guard borders are filled with floral motifs in two alternating colors on a purple ground. At each end of the carpet are two extra narrow bands with dark fields in which naturalistic foliate scrolls alternate in pairs or singly in three different colors.

The figüre and border motifs are comparable to those on a carpet in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, İstanbul (Inventory No. 1036). The carpet in the Vakıf Museum, however, displays a more complex and highly deveioped composition than that of the Marby rug, and the combination and complexity of motifs in the Vakıf carpet indicate that towards the end of the 15th century importaot changes were occurring in the device and its use.

Another carpet from this group, the surviving part of a carpet which was once cut in half, is now in the Ethnographic Museum, Konya (Inventory No. 841). İt was brought from the Medrese of Mevlana on October 9, 1926 to the Mevlana Museum and subsequently transferred in 1978 to its present location. The carpet measures 2.15×1.08 m and contains ten rows of stylized figures described as cockerels on a red field. Each row of the motif contains four figures, their colors changing as they descend diagonally from green in the upper righthand corner to white, purple, white, blue, white and purple. A rectangular device on the bird’s back fıom which wings appear to extend, bears a floral motif and fillings contrasting in color to the main motif. The body is also stippled in contrasting colors. Two stylized motifs, one foliate and the other animal like, fiil the border in alternating rows of dark blue and red on a cream ground. A row of red linked leaves outlined in blue fills up the dark blue field of the outer guard border. The large hooked wings of the main motif would suggest that it is a stylized form of the motif of a phoenix and dragon in combat, the phoenix being represented only in a very symbolic form by the wings.

A replica of a bir d motif with some resem blance to the one in the Konya carpet described above can be seen in a painting by Jaume Huguet (1455-1456) which is now in the Catalonia Museum, Barcelona The tail and claws of both motifs are almost identical, although there are differences in some of the elements of the body, wings and neck. The birds in the replica face right, whereas those in the Konya carpet face left. On the other hand, the border bears no resemblance to the Konya original, but contains many pointed stars in squared divisions (III. 20). However, as it seems to belong to the same figural group, this painting helps date the Konya carpet to the first half of the 15th century.

An animal-figured carpet similar to the Konya carpet is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with the profile head of a bird reminiscent of the figüre in one of the Fostat fragments. İt is similar also to that seen in Buonacorso’s painting in the National Gallery, London, of the “Marriage of Mary”.

An animal-figured carpet in the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, İstanbul (Inv. No. 566) which had come from the Alaeddin Mosque, Konya, shows the highly stylized figures in a geometric form of the late 15th century. İt is in poor condition. İn the middle of a 90×90 cm section of the red field is a large deep blue octagon while on the two borders are “S” motifs, inside blue on red, and outside brown on yellow.  These are separated by lines, red with white accents.

The Konya animal carpet has used the motifs of the Ming and Marby carpets in a different and highly stylized composition within a completely geometric framework. The Kufic like border decorations here are reminiscent of those in Carlo Crivelli’s painting of the large pattern Type III Holbein carpets.

Another carpet showing a composition of a series of hexagons filled with eight pointed stars is seen hanging from the corner of the balustrade in a second Crivelli painting dated 1486, aIso in the National Gallery. A Crivelli type composition can be seen on half of an original carpet preserved in the Decorative Art Museum, Budapest. These stunning examples are reminiscent of the Marby or Ming rugs but here the geometric areas are not delineated. The compo sition of a large star appears twice on the main yellow field. The areas around the stars are filled with birds and four legged animals much like the first animal figured carpets.

The stylized border of yellow and red oak leaves on a dark blue field was to appear on Holbein (Type III) carpets, and then even later, on the Bergama carpets. The stylized bird and animal figures and other details are typical of those found in Crivelli paintings in London and Frankfurt, thus giving it a dating to the end of the century. These carpets have taken on his name because of their frequency in his paintings.

Nejat Diyarbekirli at the First International Turkish Carpet Congress (İstanbul, 1984) pre-sented a Sivrihisar prayer rug ofthis type. But on itin place of the ground of yellow is one of pomegranate red with a single Crivelli medallion containing an animal figüre. Also the border and fillings in the corners are quite different and the medaillon composition is distorted.

A cushion cover, dated to the late 15th or early 16th century and now in the Nordenska National Museum, Stockholm, bears a similar device which suggests that the use of such a motif became widespread. İn the Vakıf carpet the motif had begun to show signs of extreme stylization; in the cushion cover the phoenix element has begun to disappear completely, the dragon simply changes shape by becoming even more stylized. The figüre which has been described as a dragon or cockerel on both the Vakıf and Konya carpets can be seen here in all its detail, including elaborate crests, hooked devices and claws. The dating of such pieces as the Marby and Ming carpets to the first half of the 15th century is generally confirmed by a parallel trend in their painted representations. This type of carpet appears less frequently in the paintings of the second half of the 15th century than the first half, and no new types seem to occur.

İn summary we must conclude that artists of the 14th and 15th centuries adopted the animal-figured carpet more than any other type of carpet as a favorite to paint. Paintings of carpets with geometric sections filled with totally geometric motifs do exist, but they are in the minority. (Actually they may have been the commoner type of carpet used by people of this period.) With the help of paintings, we can date the existing carpets and trace their apparent disappearance from the market. As examples of animal-figured carpets began to disappear from Western paintings in the second half of the 15th century to be replaced by carpets with geometric compositions, so also probably did the carpet designs change.

The group of animal figured carpets as a whole was faithful throughout the 14th and 15th centuries to the fundamental techniques and design concepts of the Selçuk carpets as were the possibly more numerous geometric carpets of the period. And yet, at the same time, the weavers were gradually beginning to possess a compositional sense and to use a group of motifs which were to lead to the major developments in Turkish carpets during the 16th and 17th centuries. This was, basically, the scheme of geometric filler motifs within a field divided into square sections.

Schematic drawings of 15th c. animal figures