Old Turkish Carpets
It seems quite apparent with the discovery of the carpets during the excavations of the Pazırık tombs in the foothills of the Altai mountains in Siberia that the Turks were acquainted with the Turkish knot carpet technique during the time of the Huns, that is the 3rd or 2nd century BC. The next discovery of early carpets was made by Sir Marc Aurel Stein in 1906-08 in East Turkestan east of Lake Lop at Lou-lan. Then later A. von Le Coq in 1913 found small woven pieces of carpets dating from the 3rd to 6th century AD at a shrine in Qyzil near Kutsha during excavations in the Tarim basın also in Turkestan. These latter were woven with a simple knotting technique on a single weft and indicate that per-haps during this long period the advanced technique of the Pazirik carpet may have been forgotten or lost.
The simple knotting technique of East Turkestan next appears in some carpets found in Fost
Fostat (an ancient site near Cairo), carpets of the Abbasid period reflecting Islamic influences with their geometric designs.
It is known from historical sources that carpets during the 10th century were woven in Bukhara and other places in west Turkestan and that they were exported to other countries. This continued until the period of destruction by the Mongols in the 13th century.
There is in the Islamic Art Museum, Cairo a wool carpet (from Fostat), one woven with palmettes on a red field and tied with the Turkish knot which J. Zick Nissen after careful examination has suggested is among the first of the knotted carpets to have been woven in the Islamic world d u ring the Middi e Ages. This carpet has a band of Kufic writing in the border Further speculation is that it was imported in the 7th to 9th century during the Abbasid Period from West Turkestan (Maveraünnehir). This indicates that Bukhara, not East Turkestan was the first weaving center.
Another fragment, this time with intricate designs and different border motifs which is in the National State Museum, Berlin, was acquired by Kühnel and is believed to have been imported to Egypt from West Turkestan (Transoxiana) and Bukhara. Since there are no other extant examples from this area other design variations cannot be cited.
There are however other early carpet frag-ments which were found in Egypt. These employ the knot on a single weft as used in the carpets of the East Turkestan group and usually they have a dark blue field. Two frag-ments from Fostat are in the Benaki Museum, Athens and have been carefully examined by J. Zick Nissen. Another recently found in the town Tulunlu el-Katai (near Cairo) and now in the Cairo University Collection carries the same characteristics, Kufic borders and pearl-lined connecting motifs.
It seems apparent that when the Tulunids un der Humaraveyh spread o ut from Egypt into Syria and the Adana region their weaving and carpet art developed. However it is a pity that there are no examples of carpets from Iran during the Selçuk Sultanate. The oldest carpets which we can examine carefully from the Anatolian Selçuk period are those with Turkish knots of the 13th century woven in Konya.
After F. R. Martin’s discovery of eight Selçuk carpets in the Alâeddin Mosque, Konya in 1905, R. M. Riefstahl found three more in 1930, and in 1935 and 1936 seven others were found in Fostat bringing the total of this collection to eighteen.
The art of carpet weaving which the Turks brought to the Islamic world extended the technique of single knotted wefts as far west as Spain. These pieces were greatly admired by the Europeans as can be attested by the frequency of their representation in the paintings by artists of the period.
Iranian carpets as such only appear after the 15th century, for in the 14th and 15th century miniatures we find representations of carpets with borders of the Kufic design and motifs in common with those used on the 13th century Selçuk carpets. It is obvious that the development in Iran was influenced by the Turks. Original Iranian carpets only started to be produced in the 16th century. The Kufic borders of the Selçuk carpets which later developed into intertwining and floriate borders became an enriching element of Spanish and Caucasian carpets.
The animal-figured Anatolian carpets predominately appeared in the 14th century and have their origins also in the Selçuk Period. İn order to have achieved the fame and popu-larity they seem to have gained in Europe based on the frequency of their representations in the paintings of this period, the carpets must have been introduced into Europe during Selçuk times. One of these original carpets was brought to the Berlin Museum by W. von Bode from Rom e in 1890. It has a dragon-phoenix combat composition (Ming). Another with bird figures flanking a tree was found in 1925 in a village church in Marby, Sweden. Later more examples of animal-figured carpets have come to light in Fostat, İstanbul and Konya.
After finding the three Selçuk carpets in Beyşehir, R. M. Riefstahl found a fourth carpet of the 15th century which can be designated as the beginning prototype of the later famous Holbein group of carpets. These carpets with geometric and intertwining floriate designs and Kufic-like borders originated during the Ottoman Period. Beginning in 1541 with the reign of Su/tan Mehmet the Conqueror and through the 16th century, these appear in paintings executed first by Italian and later by Flemish and Dutch painters. They most frequently were used by Holbein in his works and thereby as a group, bear his name. Though not all are typical of Holbein representations, these carpets have been classified into four groups. The oldest and most characteristic group has small patterns of octagons and diamonds with submerged contours alternating in offset diagonal rows on a background of rumi palmettes. The second type, which in fact was not used by Holbein, consists of diamonds and cruci form like devices of floriate motifs and octagons without contours. Since these are seen frequently in Lorenzo Lotto’s paintings they are also called “Lotto” carpets. These two groups were especially important elements in the development of the later Uşak carpets.
The third and fourth groups of Holbein carpets have simple designs consisting of squares and rectangles with fillings of octagons. These designs which are related to the animal figured carpets became perfected during the 15th century and have continued in use until recent years.
The Holbein carpets consisting of squares and rectangles with two small octagonal devices above and below, relate back to the carpets with border motifs of the Selçuk times. The large-pattern Holbeins are a transitional development leading to the Bergama carpets. In these, the geometric and sometimes strongly stylized floriate designs pre dominate. The oldest group of these carpets dates to the 16th century. In the 18th century animal figures were again introduced as filler motifs thus establishing a link to their predecessors, the animal-figured carpets.
Alongside the development of the geometric-type carpets of the 16th century there was at the same time the beginning of a new and exciting period in the art of Turkish carpet weaving. This started in Uşak and grew out of an interest and resurgence of other aspects of classic Ottoman art, particularly that of architecture. This rich and varied group of Uşak carpets has been collected and thoroughly studied. From the two typical classic forms, the Star and Medallion Uşak
the Star and Medallion Uşaks, variations with rich motifs mark the beginning of a new period. These include carpets of the medallion type of up to ten meters in length in which the central medallions are flanked on each side by cut-off medallions thus signifying an endless expanse of composition.
The Tabriz medallion carpets are inspired by the decorative motifs on book, book bindings and covers. But the confined, static quality of this design has been given a new expansiveness by the use of these motifs on Turkish carpets. The Turks, not confined to the art of the book, preserved in this endless continuum the essence of the plasticity of the textile medium. The creation of Uşak carpets continued from the 16th century through the middle of the 18th.
The eight pointed star motif alternating with diamond-shaped medallions in offset rows, the composition of the Star Uşak carpets, is the best expression of this feature. Excellent examples of small carpets of this type from the early 16th century can be seen, but later examples are not available since they ceased to exist by the end of the 17th century.
Simultaneously with the development of traditional Anatolian carpets a completely new type of carpet using naturalistic motifs emerged in the 16th century, the Ottoman Palace carpets. Using the Persian (Sine) knot instead of the traditional Turkish (Gördes) knot these weavers were able to produce a close woven pile which had a texture similar to that of soft velvet. This was the beginning of a naturalistic style which pervaded all phases of Ottoman art. The ornamentation using all forms — tulips, hyacinths, roses, carnations, budding flower stems, graceful twisting leaves —continued to an increasing degree until the end of the 18th century.
The conquests by the Ottomans of Tabriz in 1514 and later Cairo in 1517 are important dates in Turkish carpet history. Under the influence of the Mameluke use of color and techniques in their carpets, the naturalistic and flower motifs became more evident and gave way to a new form of expression.
It was first thought that these carpets were produced on Mameluke looms and snipped to the court in Istanbul but from examination of sample carpets sent from Istanbul, E. Kühnel later modified his theory acknowledging that because of technique it was quite possible that some of these carpets were produced in İstanbul and in the famous silk center, Bursa. There is data to support this.
Sultan Murad III by Imperial Edict in 1585 had ordered eleven Egyptian weavers (one was Turkish, Arslan by name) to come to Istanbul together with their silk like fine wool for weaving. This included the beautiful red, yellow, deep blue and fresh green yarns used in Mameluke carpets. Customarily the warp and weft of these carpets were of natural white wool or the warp was sometimes of red wool, whereas the Ottoman Palace carpets woven in Istanbul and Bursa used silk in the warp and weft.
Except for two rather damaged large carpets (8.8×4.65 m and 4.28×4.8 m) and one prayer rug in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, İstanbul, and another prayer rug in the Topkapı Palace Museum, Istanbul, no other examples are left in Turkey. These carpets having been generally exported are now in museums and private collections around the world. The two museum carpets were found in the Seyyid Battal Gazi Türbe, Eskişehir and were brought to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul in January 1911 (10 Kanunusani 1329) where they were inventoried as Nos. 768 and 153. The large one, No. 768 has a composition of five rows of diamond devices alternating in color from yellow to dark blue. The diamonds are connected to each other by two winged extensions. This baroque composition of connected diamonds is very common in Ottoman Palace carpets and can be found in another carpet, for example, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London with exactly the same field composition as the one above except that medallions have been added.
From the middle of the 16th to the end of the 17th century these Ottoman Palace carpets continued to be woven though they were constantly declining in quality. The traditional compositions were carried on in a rather poor group of Uşak carpets, a group which became known in the 19th century as the izmir carpets.
On the other hand the vigorous character of the Ottoman Palace prayer rugs continued to live on in the 18th century in the wide variety of prayer rugs from Gördes, Kula, Ladik and Uşak. There is an excellent example of an original palace prayer rug, one belonging to Sultan Ahmet I which is now in the Topkapı Museum, Istanbul. In spite of the fact that it was probably used under a brazier and has some burned areas in the center, it still is fit for the use of a sultan.
One other palace prayer rug is in the Berlin Museum. On the upper border the date of H 1019 (1610) has been woven as a chronogram which helps both to establish the fact that these rugs may have begun to be exported at the beginning of the 17th century and also to date the Sultan Ahmet piece.
The oldest known group of prayer rugs unique in Turkish carpet weaving is from the 15th century. The three rugs of completely distinctive composition now found in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul attest to the lively creativity shown by this group. Other examples of this period can be seen in the Renaissance paintings of the Bellinis, Carpaccio and L. Lotto. In the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin is a prayer rug which is identical to one found spread under the table in Giovanni’s 1507 painting of the Venetian Doge, Loredan. One of the earliest representations is in a painting by Gentile Bellini in the National Gallery, London. There is an exquisite Uşak prayer rug of the early 16th century in the Berlin Museum which has in the depressed area at the bottom a very large palmette device not unsimilar to the one in the Bellini prayer rug. In the Bode Collection an Uşak prayer rug of the 1600s is one of the examples of those woven with a very wide border and a single medallion in the middle of the field which contains a double mihrab. It is unfortunate that we have so few examples of the 15th and 16th century prayer rugs.
In the 17th century there was a sudden resurgence both in number and in variety of prayer rugs, most notably being those from Gördes with finely stepped mihrabs and undulating contours which at the same time reflect a continuation of the Ottoman Palace style. North of Gördes in Kula similar rugs with similar mihrab niches and borders containing up to as many as ten thin stripes should be noted. Kula also nmduced land scape patterned rugs which included a composition of small houses and trees. Third in importance came the prayer rugs of Ladik. These were striking because of their soft texture and vivid colors and characteristic rows of long-stemmed tulips above and below the mihrab. There are rugs with two or three contoured mihrabs in two or three colors of red that are products of Kırşehir and nearby Mucur. Milas prayer rugs on the other hand using motifs from the Gördes rugs are bright and many colored and have been influenced by the Uşak and Bergama traditions.
The Transy/vanian church carpets found in museums and collections around the world mostly date from the 17th century. These sin-gle-and double-niched mihrab rugs are related to the Uşak and Bergama groups. Besides these, there are numerous other types of prayer rugs which, though unique in their own way. reflect various influences. The development of Turkish carpet weaving continued until the end of the 19th century. In 1891 Abdul ha m id II added a hundred carpet looms to the fabric-looms which were set up in 1844 by Abddlmecit in Hereke, and started the production of the well known Hereke carpets. Today in the same place, carpets are produced in the same style under Sümerbank management.
In the Konya, Kayseri, Sivas and Kırşehir regions, and in İsparta, Fethiye, Döşemealtı, Balıkesir, Yağcıbedir, Uşak. Bergama, Kula. Gördes, Milas, Çanakkale and Ezine in western Anatolia and in Kars and Erzurum in eastern Anatolia there are other creative endeavors at revitalizing the art of Turkish carpet weaving. The epitomy of the unique contribution of Turkish carpet weaving lies in a continuity, one which builds and discards as it develops. In the process of giving and taking, the uniqueness is matched by a firm grasp of the traditional. This freedom of expression has given rise to the vast variety which is the essence of art at its finest.