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Old March 15th, 2011, 04:03 PM   #1
Filiberto Boncompagni
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Cyprus
Posts: 92
Default Another Tibetan fragment

Hi Pierre,

Your mention of the Tibetan fragments is a perfect opportunity to post another of those fragment that was published on HALI (May 1997, Issue 92, page 86) with an abridged version of the related article: “Pregnant with Meaning” by John Eskenazi.
The emphasis (underlined text) is mine.

...This fragment has been radiocarbon dated to 1276 +/ - 45 years,
a result in line with those obtained for the other early animal rugs.
The 'Tibetan' group of rugs raises questions that may never be
answered. We know nothing of their origin. They were found in
Central Tibet by pure chance. What is known is that they did not
come from one or more specific monasteries - a source that might
have helped in tracing their origin, since most Tibetan monasteries
have a well documented history.

It seems to me that the rugs of this group were cult and/or burial
carpets, perhaps also used in secular ceremonies. The mythical
beasts speak a very ancient totemic language typical of the 'animal
style' art that flourished from China to Ireland during the Iron Age
and later among the 'barbarians' of the Migration period. The animal
style is that peculiar manner of ornamentation, primarily zoomorphic,
used by the early, mounted warrior-herdsmen of Eurasia
whose economy depended on animals and plunder. This form of
art is mainly focused on the representation of confronting animals:
birds, felines, horned beasts or, often, a mixture of all three.
Their art is characterised by regional and tribal styles. They did
not create these styles, but formulated them using motifs derived
from the subordinate animal representations of the particular urban
civilisations with which each group came into contact directly or
indirectly. No single place or origin for animal style cultures
and their art has been identified. Animal style art results from
a cultural unity that endured for a long period over a large area
among diverse ethnic groups.

In China, animal style art occurs as early as the Shang dynasty
(ca. 1500-1050 BC) in the design of archaic bronzes. It flourished
during the Warring States period (475-22I BC). Bronze and gold
plaques from the same epoch have been found in Mongolia and
in the more southerly Dian culture. Animal style artefacts occur
and Ordos metalwork, Luristan bronzes, Mesopotamian ivories,
Sasanian silver, Central Asian woodwork, Sogdian textiles, Byzantine
art and Seljuk decoration.
So why not in this group of carpets?
It was fascinating to compare the two Kirchheim rugs with the
well known Seljuk rugs from Anatolia in the extraordinary exhibition
at the Turk ve Islam Eserleri Museum in Istanbul last autumn
(HALI90, pp.B6-9I).
It was clear to me that these groups speaka different language.
The strong totemic flavour of the 'Tibetan'
group contrasts greatly with the pattern-oriented carpets of Seljuk
Turkey. The palette is also different, especially in the reds which
tend to be darker and bluer in the 'Tibetan' group and yellow/red
in the Anatolian group. The pictorial evidence of Sienese paintings
is insufficient for the attribution of the 'Tibetan' carpets to Anatolia.
One direction future research into these rugs might take is to
compare them chromatically, technically and stylistically to later
products. A few 17th to 19th century fragmented rugs have also
come out of Tibet, some of which have abundant goat hair in the
warps and a darkish palette that includes the bluish-red of the
'Tibetan' group. Their designs do not relate precisely to a specific
known production and are generally a quite coarsely rendered
mixture of Turkish, Persian and Xinjiang elements. Perhaps we
are dealing here with a Central Asian tribal production about
which we know absolutely nothing.
I shall hazard another guess. In my view there are strong simi-
Iarities between the'Tibetan' group and'Avar' kilims from northeast
. They share the same shamanistic animal style
vocabulary and are also generally decorated with large, stylised
superimposed mythical beasts (HALI 89,pp.79, 81). Usually
termed dragons, these are in reality composite animals characterised
by complex tails and unusual protuberances, as in the
'Faces' carpet and the present fragment. Further analogies can be
found in the zigzag lines adorning the animals, and, in the present
fragment, the eight-pointed stars. Both groups are also randomly
decorated with stylised birds and two-headed quadrupeds
typical of later Caucasian and Azerbaijan tribal weaves.
The'Tibetan' group and the kilims share a very similar palette,
especially in the cold bluish dark red, the blue and the green.
Interestingly, the Avar were an eastern Mongol tribe who reached
Europe in the 6th century and who certainly produced animal
style works of art. How 'Avar rugs found their way to Tibet
is another question, and one I cannot attempt to answer.
For the time being we can let our imaginations wander and fantasise
that they were made in a great workshop in Merv for the meeting of a
local ruler with dignitaries from Khorasan, or in Balkh for use in
local mosques. Perhaps they were woven as burial carpets for a
Tibetan or CentralAsian chieftain, or were donated to the new
Lhakhang Chenmo monastery at Sakya in Central Tibet ln 1256 or that
of Rinboche in Khams, founded in 1276. Maybe they came from the Qinghai
burial caves or were given as gifts by Kubilai Khan's younger
brother Hulagu to the Tibetan monks he invited to Baghdad after
1256 in the hope of making Buddhism the official religion of the
new Il-Khanate. Sufi masters might have meditated on them, Omar
Khayyam could have composed poems lying in a drunken stupor
on one in Samarkand, or perhaps Marco Polo tripped over one on
entering the great hall of the Governor's palace in Tiflis, Ceorgia.
Indulging in such fantasies is as much as we can do for the time being and perhaps is the
Wisest thing we can do anyway… and, of course, as the American say, enjoy!
The same from me!

Filiberto Boncompagni is offline   Reply With Quote