Selçuk Period Carpets Found at Fostat

Selçuk Period Carpets Found at Fostat

İn 1935-36 about one hundred fragments some Selçuk in origin were discovered at Fostat and taken to Sweden by C. J. Lamm. Many of these are stili to be found in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; one is in Gothenburg and others are in Lamm’s private collection. A large number have also been acquired by other museums: the Benaki Museum, Athens; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Islamic Museum, Cairo; and the Museum fur Islamische Kunst (Islamic Art Museum), Berlin. Lamm has pub-lished drawings and pictures of twenty-nine of these fragments from the collection in the Swedish museums; the ones in the Benaki Museum, however, are neither exhibited nor published and therefore remain unknown. The other Fostat fragments in the museums of New York, Cairo and Berlin are also unpublished.

The story of the discovery of some of these Fostat carpets by Riefstahl is worth relating. When purchasing some old carpet fragments from a Cairo antiçue market where they were being sold for very Iittie, he learned from the dealer that these were but a few from among many pieces which were constantly coming to light from excavations at Fostat. Soon such fragments began appearing frequently at the markets and of course their price rose steeply   Riefstahl in  his article about this states that “all rug fragments discovered in Egypt are described as coming from the ruins of Fostat. We must, however, admit that many of these fragments may simply have been found in the rubbish heaps to the south and east of Cairo. Unless a definite scientific record of a find is established, we have no guarantee that a rug fragment is from Fostat or predates the destruction ofthatcity, i.e. the middle of the twelfth century.” He further notes, “I have seen such fragments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; in the G. H. Myers Textile Museum, Washington, DC and in a Paris collection.
Seven of the twenty-nine carpet fragments published by Lamm unguestionably belong to the Konya group. They enrich our comparatively slight knowledge of Selçuk carpets, giving evidence of new designs and helping confirm that the production of Konya carpets must have extended into the 14th century. Undoubtedly, other Selçuk examples would surely appear, if as a whole all the pieces that have been discovered so far were available to be studied. The Fostat carpets are smaller than the Konya ones and their knots are tighter and finer. They are woven with the Turkish knot with a warp of mat white or brown wool, and a weft of red wool. Geometric compositions are prevalent, although some have animal figures too. İt is remarkable that though there are many representations of animal-figured carpets in European paintings, there are com-paratively few showing geometric designs, while those of the animal figured carpets of Fostat with complex figured groups are very rarely represented.

Let us look more closely at the seven Selçuk fragments from Fostat which were published by Lamm. The first six are in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

The first example is a small fragment ofthe field of a woolen Anatolian carpet dating from the 13th century and measuring 0.14×0.165 m (Inv. No. 39/1936). The design contains off-set rows of thinly scattered dark red lozenges with a pair of “U“- and “\/“-like fillings turned outwards, all on a dark blue ground. The lozenges are terminated at both ends with a Kufic like hooked motif outlined in dark red or brown on a light red field. İt is very difficult to identify the main composition but other smaller lozenges with blue and green fillings can be clearly identified alongside the main motif.

The second example is a fragment from a woolen carpet measuring 0.26×0.17 m (Inv. No. 220/1939). The main field contains a large polygonal medallion with dark blue inner contours and a brown outline. The medallion is symmetrically filled with four large cream eight sided stars with rectangles in between. The remaining space is filled with squares and lozenge shapes in red and cream. Besides the medallion, small stylized dark purple floral motifs which resemble lilies cover the rosered field.

The third fragment is the border and a section of the main field of a woolen carpet measuring 0.315×0.18 m (Inv. No. 42/1936). Dark olive green motifs resembling lilies, which in the previous example surrounded the medallion, here cover the rose red field . They probably filled the area between the border and the central medallion. The Kufic border is light green on a dark blue ground. The interior border consists of a whitish angular flower design with a dark brown outline. There is a white band on either side of the interior border and a blue band separates the main field from the border.

The fourth fragment measuring 0.40×0.145 m is from the border of another woolen carpet (Inv. No. 43/1936). The composition contains a row of yellowish Kufic motifs outlined in brown on a red field. Depressed green rectangles join the letters (Pl. 19). The inner guard border contains a row of chevrons in brown on a cream field with alternating red and green triangles filling the empty spaces.

The fifth example dating from the 13th or 14th century is a small fragment from a woolen carpet measuring 0.33 x 0.95 m (Inv. No. 222/1939). The field in this fragment consists of a row of dark blue and red rosettes with angular stylized flowers outlined in brown on a belge ground (Pl. 20). The flower like design alternately faces downwards and upwards.

The sixth fragment is a small part from the field of a carpet dating from the 14th century (Pl. 21). İt measures 0.275×0.105 m (Inv. No. 221/1939). The design contains a device derived from an eight pointed star with arrowheads projecting from the four sides and is outlined in brown with red and green fillings.

The seventh fragment which is kept in the Röhss Museum, Gothenburg is severly dam-aged and very small, 0.31×0.255 m (Inv. No. 321/1935). İt consists of a section from the field and border of a woolen carpet from the 14th century (III. 2).

Though it is impossible to establish the relationships between the Fostat fragments and the Konya and Beyşehir finds, certain additional facts about them give us clues in the dating and composition of the total group. The Kufic inscriptions, for example on some of the Fostat fragments bear the date H. 202 (817-818), that is, during the Abbasid Period. As mentioned earlier this shows that those carpets were pretulunid. These carpets are knotted on a single warp with a technique bearing some similarity to the one traditionally identified as the Turkish knotting technique. (This single warp knot is also

 seen later on Spanish carpets.) However, a possible link of relationship is seen in the fragments in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm containing offset rows of octagons. These do resemble the Konya carpets, but a vertical link between the octagon and the hexagons flanking them has been added to the composition. The filling devices are also different. The border resembles that of the Beyşehir carpet belonging to the proto Holbein carpet. İn short, the evidence of relationship remains inconclusive.

Before proceeding to a general discussion of compositional design and historical perspectives, let us turn to one last Fostat frag­ment.
A Fostat Konya carpet fragment purchased by the late Richard Ettinghausen in Cairo and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is a piece belonging to the late 13th or early 14th century. İt measures 0.31×0.225 m and bears the same color characteristics as the Konya carpets, that is red, dark blue and light blue. The main composition consists of dark blue hexagons on a red field with light blue symmetrical hooked devices. Octagons with hooked devices project from their corners and thick double stemmed floral motifs appear above and below the main device. The hexagons are linked on each side.

This composition is not to be found in the Konya Alâeddin Mosçue carpets, though the hooked devices issuing from the corners of the motif show a considerable similarity of style to two of the Konya carpets. Both have a geometric framework derived from cloud devices, something which is also characteristic of the Damask silks belonging to the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). İt is impossible to state with certainty whether the origin of the device in the Fostat fragment was a cloud motif of the Chinese silks and damasks or an ogival lotus motif. These Chinese prototypes, if indeed they can be called that, are to be seen on medieval silk fragments belonging to the Mameluke Sultan Muhammad Nasr bin Kalavun (1309-1340) which were discovered together with other date-inscribed silks in excavations in Upper Eygpt.

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A great deal can be learned about carpets in general and these in particular by turning to some literary references. İn writings of the period, Anatolian Selçuk carpets of the 13th century were highly praised. The Venetian, Marco Polo on his journey from Anatolia to Iran between 1271 and 1272 passed through Sivas and Kayseri. İt is not certain that he visited Konya. We have no conclusive evidence, either, that he was able to observe the magnificence of the three architectural monuments in Sivas whose dates of completion were the same year as his visit. They were the Gök Medrese, the Çifte Minareli Medrese and the Buruciye Medrese. All of them are situated on the main street of the city so it would have been very difficult for him to have missed them. İt is recorded, however, that because of language he was not in contact with Müslim Turks but made contact with the Christians in the area. The following quote records the event. “İn Turcomania three types of people are found. Of these the Türkmen live by raising animals, the Greeks and Armenians are engaged in commerce in the cities. Here the world’s richest carpets are woven.

Selçuk Period Carpets Foundat Fostat2