Early Turkish Carpets

Early Turkish Carpets

Scholarly Study Begins

When compared with the carpets themselves the systematic study of them is a newcomer on the historical scene. Attention was firstgiven only in 1891 and then with the publication of the socalled Vienna Book, a most elaborate edition authored by A. Rieg. It was in three folio volumes and contained reproductions, some in colorf of one hundred of the most important carpets in the Vienna exhibition. İn these volumes some of the pieces were given a rather fanciful metaphysical meaning. An additional volume in this series followed in 1907.

Prior to this, in 1882, Wilhelm von Bode had published an article on carpets but it was not until 1901 that it appeared in book form. Later it was revised and republished by Ernst Kühnel in 1914. Also during the early 1900s, F. R. Martin in 1908 produced a monumental work on the art of carpets. This was followed by a large publication on the Munich Exhibition. The grand style and nature of Martin’s book made a great impact on scholars involved in this art and stimulated interest which resulted in an ever increasing flow of serious  works.

With the emergence of these numerous articles in magazines and periodicals, it was obvious that the scholarly consideration of carpets was gaining scientific respectability, particularly in Germany. A few noteworthy examples attest to this: the publications of Kendrick-Tattersal in 1922-24, the complete revision of Bode’s work by Kühnel in 1922 and in 1955, and the work of Kurt Erdmann including his life-long study as well as his numerous articles and shorter books. These works became the foundation stones for the academic approach to carpets.

The history of oriental carpet-making is intertwined with the lives of people, Turkic people who ha ve migrated through the cen-turies from Central Asia westwards. So intrinsic an artistle expression of their understanding and way of life found itself a stabilizing but at the same time a creative force as they encountered new situations and foreign influences. This dynamic is the essence of this history and continues to operate. The history thus becomes a flow of development the development of people in the creation of works of art which speaks of their everyday encounter with realities.

This book begins with a look at early carpet fragments — those prior to the first Turkic migrations. Then the study proceeds to follow the developments as these people moved west first into Müslim lands and then into the non Muslim world. Here we see the encounter with the Abbasids (Samarra) and then the developments which climaxed in the art of the Anatolian Selçuk peri od which covered the 13th to the 14th century. Finally we w ill examine how this process mani feste d itself during the Emirate Period and Ottoman times and up to the present day. The influence has not been localizedf for the worlds of the East and the West have been involved. Paintings and miniatures abound with depictions of carpets produced during the centuries in this history.

Carpets from the Pazirik Grave

İn addition to publications, scholarly field work was also being carried on and majör finds were the results. The oldest carpet in existence was discovered in northern Si be ha in the course of excavations carried o ut between 1948 and 1949 by the Russian archeologist S. I. Rudenko. This carpet which stili baffles the scholars on many counts, was unearthed together with mumymified bodies, a horse, a chariot and other d o m estic objects from an icebound grave (kurgan) in the Pazirik region on the slopes of the Altai Mountains. This find was first published in 1953 and aroused great interest İt was subseguently described and discussed in detail in later publications. The earliest studies conjectured that the Pazirik carpet was woven with an astonishing fineness of 3.600 Gördes (Ghiordes or Turkish) knots per 10 cm2. But later it was proved that though the knots were extremly tight and appeared unusually numerous, the actual knot count was much less. Despite this reassessment the carpet is a masterpiece of unequaled excellence even today. İt is now in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad.

The Pazirik carpet, measuring 1.89×2 m is made of very fine wool. The designs are ele-gant and the colors are predominantly soft shades. The central field is divided into twentyfour small checkerboard type sguares and each of the identical squares is filled with a cruciform palmette and lotus motif. White, yellow and blue predominate on a red ground. Of the two wide bordersf the inner one shows a frieze of grazing elk, while the outer one shows a frieze of horse men. On the two guard borders are depicted griffins.

Rudenko dates the carpet to the 5th cem tury BC and attributes it and the other objects unearthed in the burial chamber to the Scythians. M. Ghirsman and M. Bussagli in later publications assigned a date of the 4th or 3rd century BC and finally A. C. Mongait, relying on the research of various historians, prefers a date between 300 BC and the birth of Christ. Speculation as to the date and origin of the carpet was carried further by Johanna Zick Nissen who proposed that the design fits the artistic tradition of northwest Persia and could have been woven in any one of the great centers ranging from Phrygia in Asia Minor to Susa in present day Iraq. When one takes into consideration the history of the Altai region, the artifacts recovered in neighboring burial mounds, the physical types of the mummified bodies and the funeral rites connected with these burials, the facts point to the conclusion that the Pazirik carpet was produced by Asian Huns in the 3rd or 2nd century BC.

Further evidence verifying its broad heritage is the variety of stylistic influences visible in the carpet. The cruciform lotus flowers are reminiscent of those carved in stone on the interior walls of the Assyrian Palace of Sennacherib (705 BC – 681 BC) in Nineveh. The griffins and elks — nonexistent in this geographic area — and the garments of the horsemen are very similar to those appearing on the Achaemonid reliefs in Persepolis. It is the Asian Huns, the dominating group in the Altai Mountains, who were most successful in incorporating in their art, and particularly on their metal work, motifs originally associated with the Scythinans and the Achaemodnids.

In summary one must conclude that the Pazirik carpet, a masterpiece of integrated technique and artistic representation, could only have been produced some place within the extensive Hunnic Empire Most probably it was woven for a Hun nobleman. This historically and artistically important piece is the unique find from this period.

Carpet Fragments Found in East Turkestan

Some forty years before the discovery of the Pazirik carpet (1906, 1908) Sir Marc Aurel Stein and Alfred von Le Coq found some knotted-carpet fragments during their excavations in a grave shaft in Lou-lan and in a Buddhist stupa shrine at Lopnor in East Turkestan. These pieces date from the 3rd to the 6th century AD and are another link in the history of carpet development.Tie Lou-lan woolen carpet fragment an approximately square piece which measures 22.2 cm on each side (Pl. 1) is now in the pos-session of the Antiquity Section of the British Museum, London. (The Museum of New Delhi India also has other samples from this source.) This square fragment was woven with naturai tough and hardspun wool with a single warp knot and sometimes five shoots of weft between each row of knots. İn design it consists of diamonds and border bands with strongly stylized flowers of bright and vivid colors in three shades of yellow, dark blue, mat green and brown.

Later, in 1913, Le Coq brought to light other carpet fragments in a domed shrine chamber during the Turfan excavations in the Tarim basin at Qyzil near Kutsha in Chinese Turkestan. These fragments appear to have the same kind of wool and knots but contain additional single warp knots in single-ply wool on alternate warps. One fragment from the 5th or 6th century measures 16×26 cm and contains a motif of a twisted stem or a dragon’s tail in yellow which is outlined in black on a red field. İt is now in the posses-sion of the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin.

The evidence of varying techniques and designs implies that extensive development had taken place between this period and that of the earlier long-pile carpets of the steppes.

A direct link can on/y be established with examples from the first century BC and not with earlier pieces like the Pazirik carpet One must also assume however that the carpets found by Stein must ha ve been imports sent from West Turkestan to East Turkestan since the traditional carpets used in that area were made of felt.

9th Century Carpets from the Abbasid Period

An association between the period of the early development of carpet art during the Abbasi Period in the 9th century and Turkish involvement seems obvious when we recall that the capital city of the empire, Samarra (838-883) was in fact a Turkish city inhabited largely by Turkish guards in the service of the Islamic state and army.

Turks were entrusted with a unique and honoured role in the Islamic governing and administrative structure beginning in the Umayyad reign. They were respected for their military prowess and even attained such high positions as commanders and governors under the Abbasids. Under the Caliph Mutasim they became the most powerful single group within the military staff both in number and authority. They were commanded only by their own noblemen and rulers, not by foreignersf and their uniforms of silk wth siİver girdles made them distinctive. The city of Samarra which was established to accommodate them was constructed under the command of Turkish architects and engineers.

The whole lifesiyle of the city like that of its architecture was Turkish as were their house hold effects, and tents and private belongings which they brought with them. Naturally, carpets were among these. İn fact the Turks introduced the carpet to Egypt in the last quarter of the 7th and in the 8th century. Prior to this the carpet was considered inappropriate for and alien to the hot climate of the desert regions. The legendary “Flying Carpet” of The Thousand and One Nights was introduced by the Turks and highly admired, assuming magical properties in fairy tales

This thus helps verify the fact that the date of the carpet fragments of the Abbasid Period which were found in Fostat the next chronological evidence in our history, coincides with the times following the arrival of the Turks in this region.

The next links in the historical development are the carpets found in Fostat Egypt. The study of them points out the fact that some had been brought to Egypt from Samarra where Turkish guards were in the service of the Islamic state. Of this total find, twenty nine fragments were published by Kari Lamm. Some of these are from the Abbasid Period (9th century); the rest range över seven centuries. Two carpet fragments which he published and gave to the Röhss Museum, Gothenburg and to the National Museum, Stockholm are still in their possession. İn both we see a single warp knot technique, one which is similar to that used in the 3rd to the 6th century fragments from East Turkestan.The first fragment in the National Museum, Stockholm, (Inv. MM 38/1936) measures 29×32 cm and has both a linen warp and weft, and woolen knots, on alternate warps (Pl. 2; D. 1). The brownish red field contains a composition of interlinked hexagons framed with triangles in fawn, dark blue, pure green, olive green and buff. The border composition consists of large lozenge motif s surrounded by smaller ones.
the second fragment, the one in the Röhss Museum, Gothenburg is from the same period. İt measures 30.5×13 cm (Inv, RKM 320/1935) and has a warp and weft of cotton with rows of knots between two shoots of weft. There are 2,145 woolen single warp knots to 10 cm2. The five most frequently used colors are dark fawn, brown ish red, blue, dark brown and the natural color ofthe undyed wool. The compositional seheme within the main fields is a lozenge design.An interesting feature of this fragment, one also found in many of the early carpets from East Turkestan, is the appearance of a pile on the wrong side, probably to prevent the carpet from slipping, or perhaps to make it a better proteetion against the cold.

As mentioned earlier, both of these frag­ments employed a technique resembling those used to weave the fragments found in East Turkestan; they were knotted on the warp and given a short pile on the wrong side. İn addition it should be noted that the geometric composition of lozenge and hexagon devices was extensively used in Turkish carpets.
Three other carpet fragments of the Abbasid Period also found in Fostat further exemplify the reIationship between the East Turkestan finds and their Turkish origins. These were also published by Lamm but are now found in the Arabic Museum, Cairo (probably dated H 202 [817-818]), the Textile Museum, Washington, DC and in the National State Museum, Berlin. (The one in the Textile Museum, Washington, DC has a Kufic border.)
Other fragments of interest from this same fin d and period are now part of the collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (III. I). These present a crenelated decoration against a red field and have triangles, a band of cirecIes in blue, yelIow, green and brown and a border with a Kufic inscription on a deep blue ground. The form of the inscriptions is more highly developed than those on the Abbasid fragments which possibly were attributed to the early Turkish lslamic nations such as the Tulunids and Ikshidids, or to the period of the Fatimids.

Whether any of the Fostat fragments were produced in Egypt or instead imported from the provinces (lraq-Mesopotamia) is a matter of speculation, but in either case there is Littie doubt that Turkic design elements on these fragments from various historical periods reveal their origins.
The history of the development of the art of carpet making from the 3rd century BC through the 9th century AD thus seems to rely heavily on three resources: the Pazirik carpet of the Huns in Asla from the 3rd century BC; the fragments found in East Turkestan, the dates of which span 400 years, from the 3rd to the 6th century AD; and two fragments with geometric designs found in Fostat and of the Abbasid Period, during the second half of the 9th century.

Selcuk Carpets