nude figures on rugs
I'm new to the forums and not a rug expert but an admirer and collector of
textiles; so please bear with me if I make some naive assumptions.
I recently purchased what I think is a shirvan prayer rug dating to about 1890 or 1900. The rug has two male figures that appear to be nude or partially nude. One is wearing a hat and boots and both appear to have a phallus hanging down between the legs. I have seen lots of figures on rugs but cannot remember ever seeing a nude male. Is this uncommon or have I just not seen enough rugs in my days. I would post pictures but apparently I am not allowed to do so. Any info on nude figures on rugs would be helpful. Thanks.
Welcome to Turkotek, Brian.
Nudes on tribal/rustic textiles are not uncommon: see the archived salon 90, “Reproductive and Sexual Themes on Warp-Faced Iranian Bands” by Fred Mushkat:
I guess your male figures are like this one, from a Chelaberd:
It’s intriguing, however, to find such a thing on a prayer rug.
If you want to post pictures of your rug, send them to me or Steve. Better to Steve, because today here in Jordan we have problem with the international cable connection.
It happened also last week and it lasted for a dozen hours. I hope I’ll be able to make this post.
Just send the photos to me as e-mail attachments. I'll adjust the sizes of the images so people don't have to scroll horizontally to see the whole thing, adjust the file sizes to maintain decent resolution without having to download huge files, change the file names if necessary (some forms won't work for web display), crop off extraneous stuff, then put them into our server. I'll then send you fairly straightforward instruction on how to make them appear in a message, or I can post them for you (your choice). If you're comfortable with photoediting, please adjust them to file sizes of 100 KB or less, and widths of not more than 550 pixels for landscape format images, not more than 350 or 400 pixels for detail shots or portrait format images, give them fairly simple file names with no odd characters and no blank spaces.
The software would support letting people upload images directly, but we have that disabled. The reason is to prevent anyone from putting in malicious code and causing problems for our server or for our readers, and to better control the sizes of images and files.
I've attached five photos of the rug in question. I believe this is a shirvan but not sure exactly where from, maybe a Marasali. As you can see there is a small amount of synthetic dye used for the pink and orange on the top end of the rug. That is why I think
it dates to the 1890's or 1900. The figures appear to have boots on or off but it is difficult to determine. Of course I could be wrong about everything so any opinions would be appreciated.
Looks very Shirvan, my guess would be first quarter of the 20th century. Village attribution is pretty difficult, but the motif within the arch form looks like it's derived from the peculiar form of boteh associated with Marasali.
Interesting that the two figures (your second and third photo) each have an extra pair of shoes or boots (or feet) just below their feet.
A suggestion about the "extra boots." The weaver started the boots, then realized they had to be shifted a bit to allow for the rest of the figure.
That seems like a reasonable explanation. In our Eurocentric world, the first thing to come to mind could be that they're the guy's bedroom slippers. They do add an interesting touch, I think.
A discussion related to the current topic was held 5 years ago in connection with the Italian carpet.
similar images on a Kazak
The images from the prayer rug remind me of an early 1900's Kazak (about 5'x9' as I recall) that I saw at a dealer's shop in Seattle, WA about three years ago. The men appeared to be Russian military officers fully dressed in uniform but with obvious genetalia. The dealer suggested that the rug was woven around the time the Tzar's troups had moved into the area and that the genetalia were included to suggest how "manly" the soldiers were. Some things never change, do they?
Thanks everyone for the information. The discussion from a while back was very
interesting. It would appear that the real reason for the nudes on most rugs
remains elusive. I have not seen any scholarly discussion on this subject but
I am sure it is out there somewhere.
I agree that the figure designs on this rug were initially abandoned so they could be placed a little higher where they would fit better. It is odd however, that the same mistake was made twice, once on each side of the rug. You would think the weaver would have learned from the first mistake. It would also appear that the weaver was going to get those figures in at all costs considering that one of them is partially obscured by other elements of the design. Perhaps this lends credence to the theory that these nude figure rugs were a dowry or wedding gift as discussed previously.
I forgot to mention the size of the rug is approximately 4 feet by 5 feet 6
inches. Chris, on a side note you may be interested to know that this rug turned
up in a central Indiana estate recently. You just never know where these things
New sheriff in town
It also appears that one of the figures has a hand-gun at their side, and they appear ready to perform a quick-draw of their gun.
I know that the Navajo were given oriental rugs to use as a template for commercially viable weaving designs, but I was unaware that a naked Marshall Dillon was one of the models!
To think that some upright Hoosier household had a rug like that lying around ruining the minds of our young. It shocks me to no end.
OK seriously, we don't have a lot of great rugs in this state besides what some wise dealers and collectors hold. Maybe you should send it back. I'd be happy to hold onto this part of our Indiana heritage.
Congratulations on getting to it first.
I've been waiting for someone to step forward with the information that the
Caucasian rugs displaying the human figures on them, nude and otherwise, are
Armenian, but since none have done so , it appears that I must reluctantly enter
The depiction of men, women and children portrayed either as shepherds, soldiers, in national costume or in the nude is commonplace on the inscribed carpets in the Armenian Rugs Society Data Bank. As Christians, the Armenians were not precluded by religious dogma against this practice.
Numerous examples such as those cited may be seen in the "Weavers, Merchants , Kings" and " Passages " catalogs, as well as in other publications such as Jim Keshishian's "Inscribed Armenian Rugs of Yesterday "and Arthur Gregorian's" Armenian Rugs From the Gregorian Collection."
With best regards to all,
Welcome to Turkotek, Loretta.
The two links posted above show that the depiction of humans wasn’t extraneous among a wide range of (supposedly Muslim) tribal/rustic weavers, so I do not see why it should be different for the Caucasus.
While I agree that a lot of Armenian rugs display human figures, supposing that ALL the Caucasian rugs with human depictions are Armenian sounds a bit far-fetched.
The only trouble is in demonstrating that a Caucasian rug with a human representation is not Armenian.
A sure way could be finding a rug with a non-Armenian weaver’s signature.
I’ll have a look, but don’t hold your breath.
Well, I think this could do.
No signature but weave, colors and composition are characteristic enough to be considered as a signature.
Here’s a detail of a kilim from Daghestan.
This kind of kilim is generally attributed to the Avars but it could be woven also by neighboring Kumiks or Darghins.
No connection whatsoever with Armenians.
perhaps the matter is more complicated than it looks at first sight.
I have a few rugs with human figures on them, a Chileh from Baku, a Shirvan, one Shasavan, three Herki soumacs. One of the Herki pieces dates around 1990 and shows dressed figures; its 19th century ancestor, same type, shows the same arrangement with apparently nude figures - all reliably attributed, none of the rugs in any way Armenian looking!
Sunni, Alevi, Shiite Muslims, Armenians or Nestorians, among none of them it would have been permissible to depict nude figures. It is not a question of what is written in the Koran - yes, Muslim society may have been more outspokenly acting against representations of 'living things', but there was some leeway usually, more so amongst Alevis and Shiites and of course in still tribal communities. Koran only forebids the 'worshipping of idols'.
I sometimes think, those human figures with all sorts of tame and wild beasties around them are or were representations of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden being visited by Noah's crew. A Christian origin after all? Maybe, but then a very long time back. Before jumping on this conclusion, one has to consider, that Muslims as well as Jews and possibly others before them knew this mythical theme.
There is no denying though, that representations of human figures and other living beasties occur significantly more frequently in the Trans-Caucasus than anywhere else. There are the Luri of course, the Afshari, the Khamseh, the Kashgai - we should not forget, that they all have some roots in the Trans-Caucasus region and may have taken the design idea with them on their migration.
Are those figures naked at all? Only if they are human figures, not if they are symbols - there is no such think as a naked symbol!
Maybe this is the frame of reference, the auxiliary concept, that contains desires and has exceptionally made it permissible over time, to weave those pictures whilst dreaming along of ones wedding night and what may be in store.
Years later other thought may have crossed the weavers mind, as on this rug from the Shirvan region (upper left quadrant; sorry for the poor image): an apparently male figure headless - piety or wishful thinking?
Then, there is the fact that, generally speaking, Shi’a Islam is not so strict concerning human representation (most of the Caucasian Azeris are Shi’a).
For example, there are plenty of pictorial Persian workshop carpets. No nudes, of course.
However, every rule has his exception.
Which brings to my memory a rug posted years ago by Stephen Louw:
His comment: This was offered at Nagel in Germany a few years back. I am not sure if it sold. I seem to remember it was attributed to Kerman, although on what basis I cannot say.
and this before breakfast to a man whose sweetheart having been away to the US for the last four weeks.
Loretta, is there a chance that you can provide a few images to illustrate what you are saying - I would be very interested.
Have a good start into a glorious day.
I just realized that Loretta is a board member of “The Armenian Rug Society” http://www.armenianrugssociety.com/menu_armenian_rugs_society.html
(also listed in “Turkotek’s Links).
I have also an article of her: “Weaver, Merchants & Kings – The Inscribed Rugs of Armenia” published on HALI #25, January 1985.
At the risk of introducing yet more Baluchophilia into Turkotek discussions, I would add that I have seen a few Baluch-affiliated rugs that also have human figures, including one pictured in Opie that clearly demonstrates the masculinity of the figures. He identifies it as "Timuri" (plate 13.24) (asymmetric left??) .
I have also recently seen a wonderful "Arab"?? Baluch from the Ferdows region?? with exquisite floral design a camel-coloured ground and lovely pinks, that had human figures. I think they are fully clad. Then there are those "block-head" "Arab" Baluch rugs, too, that are a different story altogether....
Horst, You wrote :
"Loretta, is there a chance that you can provide a few images to illustrate what you are saying - I would be very interested. "
I'll be happy to scan in some examples which I have available , provided someone can tell me how to post them on the board for viewing.
Could you post an image of this Arab-Baluch rug?
The easiest way to post images is to just send the image files to me as attachments to an e-mail message. I'll put them into our server and send you back straighforward instructions on how to make them show up in a message that you post.
Unfortunately I was traveling and didn't have a camera when I saw the rug (I wish I had!). The closest analogy I have seen is this one from Barry O'Connell's website (http://www.persiancarpetguide.com/sw-asia/Rugs/Baluch/Bal975.htm). The one I saw had two exquisitely drawn small animal figures and two small humans in the camel ground. As I recall, the border system was simpler than in this example, with a main border that had a luscious blue ground and an extremely well drawn Herati type pattern with pink flowers.
Too bad. I have a rug which could be Arab-Baluch, which copies a Kurdish design, and am still looking for analogies. It also has a camel-coloured ground and lovely pink, a color that is quite unusual for Baluch.
I have seen pictures of your "Arab-Baluch" -- very unusual and nice. I would say that the colour palette is similar to the one I saw, but the scale of drawing on yours is larger and overall it has a less precise and restrained drawing.
Regarding the pink, I also have a different type of Baluch from NE Persia (I think) that has a lot of rich pink (see photo). A noted expert and published author on Baluch weaving communicated to me that the pink on my rug was probably derived from Canary Island cochineal, and therefore dated it to around the 1880 time period.
This thread was about “nude figures on rugs”. Moving from that to “figures on rug” is rather pertinent but "Arab-Baluch" without figures is not, in my opinion.
Would you mind opening a different thread if you want to discuss about "Arab-Baluch"?
Here are some images, in response to Horst's request.
A composite of some images on the inscribed Armenian carpets in the "Passages" exhibition , San Francisco, 2002
A 'Cloudband' Karabagh carpet formerly in the collection of the late Berg Garabedian, a well known New York importer. This carpet is illustrated as Plate #10 in the catalog , "Weavers,Merchants, Kings."
A Karabagh kilim and a detail from same. Inscribed and dated 1896. Also seen as Plate # 91, "Passages"
A Karabagh carpet inscribed and dated 1896. ..."Passages", Plate #40. ( Note shared design features with the kilim.)
Detail from a Karadagh , inscribed "Mariam and Family" , plate # 62, "Weavers, Merchants,Kings."
Two nude figures on two small mats housed in the State Historical Museum of Armenia, published ,"Armenian Folk Arts,Culture and Identity", 2001, with the following text:
" Mats woven in memory of the 1915 Genocide victims from strips of clothing worn by Armenian survivors of the march into exile through the Syrian Deir-ez-Zor desert. The mat with the male figure is approximately 54 inches ( 136 cm) long, and the mat showing the female figure is 49 inches (123 cm) long."
With best regards,
Ask and ye shall receive
The topic of Baluchi figures was raised ? Here an interesting one, from a Taimani bag. I am discarding the notion that this bag was made by the mother of a Baluchi engineering school graduate, and that this figure represents a bow caliper. Rather, I choose to go with the more pedantic interpretation; that this is the figure of a female giving birth to a youngster:
Also, someone mentioned Ferdousi rugs. Sorry, no naked ladies (although the legend behind the figures would imply differently, as Khosrow was to have observed the lady while bathing in a stream..):
Cotton warps, asymmetrical open to the right.
My first post WAS about figures on Baluch-type rugs, including nude figures.
Sorry about the diversion, and thanks for the redirection back to nude figures. I don't have anything more to add on the Arab-Baluch front, and if I think of anything I'll start a new thread.
Any thoughts on nude figures on Baluch-type rugs. Could I hazard an opinion that this is more common on "Persian" groups?
I know that your first post was about figures on Baluch-type rugs but the following weren’t.
You see, as we have more server space, we are archiving more Show and Tell threads, if they are interesting. This could be one.
But if deviates from the subject and becomes a potpourri, as it happened to other threads, it will be deleted.
Thank you for the interesting images, Loretta.
I couldn’t find a Caucasian rug with human figures and Islamic signature, but I found at least a couple with an Islamic date and one with Arabic inscriptions (besides the figures). If you are interested I can scan and post them.
Filiberto, please do.
Loretta, also thanks to you for those interesting images and for letting us know the sad legend behind the last two.
My understanding of the cultural history of the region is, that different ethnies and religions got along all right for many centuries, until the Ottoman empire begun to weaken and its government turned increasingly nationalistic in response to the threat posed on it by the European powers in the period between the Crimean wars and WW I. Not only Armenians were promised independence as part of the strategic sceme that aimed to draw them in as allies, also the Kurds. The repercussions of those lip-services are still felt today.
Back to rugs: One of the questions I am interested in, is, to which extend Armenian or Syrian Christian traditions were continued and/or assimilated by others on a village level. Do for instance rugs from the Van and Hakkari area still show some Christian design influence? The 'rug of the month' on your societie's website for instance, that was purchased in Van, looks distinctly different to any rug of the region I know of.
Just to see what comes of it in the discussion, here I send three images of the same generic design (soumak, weft-float brocaded) by the Herki tribe in the Hakkari area; the oldest being 19th century, one mid 20th century, one of the 1990'ies.
Bye for now,
All right Horst, I’ll do it later.
Loretta, that Karabagh kilim looks very nice and in mint conditions too. Like it spent most of its life in a trunk (see the folding creases). A dowry item? Could you elaborate?
Thanks and regards,
That rug in the middle from the Herki tribe, middle 20th century, looks suspiciously Qashqai to me. And with no nudity, either!
Yes, Horst, in the second image you posted I see critters but not human figures…
Here are the scan I promised. But first, a foreword:
In looking at a Caucasian rug, kilim, bagface, etc… how do we distinguish the Armenian ones from the others?
Generally we don’t.
Designs where copied or exchanged between different ethnic groups.
Weaving structures were homogenous among different groups of the same region and tended to change only geographically (as Kazak rugs having a different structure vs. the ones of Eastern Caucasus, for example).
Luckily Caucasian folks had a penchant for inscriptions and dates, especially the Armenians. So, if we found a rug with an Armenian inscription we can safely assume that it was woven by Armenians. If the inscription is in Arabic script, we assume it isn’t.
About dates, if they are written using letters of the Armenian alphabet (which have also a numeric value) it’s Armenian production. If a date is 1800-1900 something and it is written in western numerals, we could presume it was written by a Christian weaver – who could have been an Armenian or - say - a Georgian.
Or maybe not: the date could have been woven upon request of a Christian customer.
I know an example of a Kazak Lambalo dated 1887 (A.D.) with the inscription tarikh roussia (Russian date) in Arabic.
On the other hand a date of the Hegira written with Arabic numerals would point to a Muslim weaver. No?
But I don’t know what to make of this “pictorial Karabagh”, dated 1917
The weaver used the Arabic script also for the date – but the date is 1917 AD!
Well, in this case the design was likely copied from a cartoon in a workshop (Note: this rug is on sale and it’s presented here only for the sake of this discussion – any comment about it must be related to this context, please). Let’s look for something more “authentic”.
This is another Karabagh, a Chelaberd dated 1297 A.H. (A.D. 1879/80) form Bennett’s “Caucasian”, plate 88:
Bennett: “…these figures seem to be wearing Azerbaijan festive costume which suggests that this piece was woven to commemorate a special event, probably a wedding, an interpretation enforced by the fact that the rug is dated.”
And this is a Bordjalou Kazak, dated 1320 A.H. (A.D. 1902-03) from Bennett and Bassoul “Rugs of the Caucasus” plate 18:
Notice the triangular muska motif, a good-luck talisman of Central Asian origin, “derived from the shape of a pouch used to carry Koranic inscription or shamanic relics” (quoted by Peter F. Stone).
What do you think?
Full Figured Nudes
In his book "Kings Heroes & Lovers", Parviz Tanavoli provides two interesting examples rugs depicting less than fully clad females (from the Khosrow & Shirin legend, mentioned previously). They are not stick figures as are most of the examples above; rather, they are from the "Baluch figure rug" genre, full figured folk.
The first is being from Arak province, the village of Lillihan. Tanavoli notes that "This rug was woven in a vliiage that for a long time was populated by Armenians", and in a section on Armenian picture rugs, he states that he believes this piece was woven by an Armenian weaver. Attributed to late 19th - early 20th century:
On the next page, he shows us a mid-20th century piece which he believes is "probably the work of nomadic tribes (probably an Arab group)", or possibly from the villages around Shahreza (about 85 km south of Esfahan). If this is correct, this is not the product of a Christian Armenian weaver:
Let's get back to Nudes!!!
The last photo of the nude guy with only a belt and boots on is proof positive that aliens had landed in the Caucasus in the 19th century. His features are quite similar to aliens as seen in modern versions, with the big hands, the big eyes and the nakedness.
But the thread is digressing from the original concept of nudes in rugs. Here is a REAL nude, well mostly nude:
What type of rug is she laying on?
It is from an ad in Hali 114, The Oriental Carpet Gallery, p113.
It is an Arabzadeh Tabriz rug, circa 1975, 1'11" x 2'10" from the M. Bina collection and George Gilmore says "We are interested in other rugs from this master weaver workshop."
So, if you have any of these, send Filiberto a photograph!
For the terminally curious, here's a closeup of the back of the Firdous pictorial rug in my earlier post (a scene from Khosrow and Shirin):
As mentioned previously, white cotton warp. Also, brownish gray cotton wefts. Asymmetrical open right pile, 6H x 9V = about 54 knots per square inch.
What type of rug is she laying on?
It looks to me like she's lying on a blanket or bedspread.
You're quite correct...the Karabagh kilim, inscribed and dated 1896, was a well preserved family heirloom, a dowry piece. Hundreds , if not thousands of inscribed carpets and kilims were sold by refugees from the region who were fleeing the conflict during the war for independence in Nogorno- Karabagh. However, the crease is my fault and the trunk it is stored in, mine. Robert Nooter illustrates a similar kilim as fig. 104 in his book, "Flat Woven Rugs and Textiles from the Caucasus." It is identified as from the village of Avetaranots in Nogorno- Karabagh.
Perhaps I should add that I have just learned that the composite photo of images on the carpets in the "Passages" exhibition , which I posted to this thread,was doctored prior to publication in the catalog. Apparently, two members of the committee insisted that the penuses be removed ! Personally, I believe that was a mistake since Armenians often differentiated males from females on the carpets in this manner.
Thanks for your interest, and best regards,
Hello, again, Horst,
Your observation that different ethnicities and religions got along well for many centuries other than during periods of conflict resulting from government interference may be a simplification, but is true in many respects, at least as it applied to my own family's history (Armenian) in the region. (Mother from Tabriz, father from Van, and a maternal Assyrian grandmother from Maragha whose sister married an Assyrian from the Baz clan in the Hakkari mountains) Now, back to the subject at hand....
One of the questions you are interested in, namely to what extent Armenian or Assyrian Christian weaving traditions were continued or assimilated by others is of interest to me , as well. The rug of the month on the ARS website that was purchased in Van doesn't look like a Van piece to me, either, and wasn't necessarily made there. The Karadagh runner from NW Iran, whose detail I posted, was also discovered in Van. Years ago, when I asked my father what Armenian rugs from Van that his family made looked like , he replied that they were like Kazaks and were marked with the sign of the cross. ( He was seventeen years old when he left home in 1913 to join his eldest brother in America to establish their oriental rug business in 1914) Now, in later years, I wish that I had pursued the subject.
In recent years, Armenians have been discovered living as Kurds in the Hakkari mountains and elsewhere. I have one such family of personal acquaintance here in Texas. As I learned, to my astonishment, their ancestors were Armenians from the Sasun district who had survived the Kurdish massacres of the WWI period by being forcibly converted to Islam. They lived as Kurds among the Kurds, however they secretly retained their Christian faith, passing it down to their children. Apparently , they finally let this be known to Assyrians living nearby. When an Assyrian priest visited the region, he was informed that these people , these "Kurds", were Armenian. Visiting the community secretly, and determing for himself that they were indeed Armenians, he notified the Armenian Patriarch In Istanbul who then took steps for their removal and reintegration into the Armenian community.
I notice that Horst posted a scan of a Chelaberd , dated 1879/ 80, from Bennett's book on Caucasian carpets, plate 88. This carpet is also illustrated in "Ancestral Rugs of Karabagh" by Vahram Tatikian, published in 2004 in Yerevan. Tatikian identifies this piece as originating in the province of Dizak. This is such an important book on Armenian rugs that the Armenian Rugs Society is sponsoring an English translation .
Thanks , Horst and Filberto , for your continuing interest. I hadn't expected to be engaged in this discussion ...
Hi Filiberto et al--
Interesting site! As to Daghestan having no Armenian connections:
Shamil the Avar, leader of the battles against the invading Russians in around the 1860s, had several wives, but his favorite was said to have been an Armenian woman. His eldest son, Djemal Edin (as I remember the name), was taken by the Russians and raised in the Russian court in St. Petersburg, so he, too, had Christian influences--in fact (as I remember reading), when he was finally able to return to his people in Daghestan, he totally rejected life in the Caucasus and soon returned to court life in St. Petersburg.
Actually I was the one who posted Bennett’s plate 88. So, I take, it’s considered as an Armenian. What about the other two?
P.S. Your kilim is much nicer than Nooter’s fig.104!
I wasn’t clear enough and you misunderstood me. I did not mean that there are no connections between Daghestan and Armenians.
I was saying that this kind of kilim has structural weave and design typical of Avars, Kumiks and Darghins. Hence it was woven by one of these people.
And these ethnic groups are pretty much distinct from Armenians.
So, if you have any of these, send Filiberto a photograph!
Yes, you are right.
There is generally a lot more lying about than laying about on rugs.
Sad, but true.
Lest we forget
I seem to recall Fred Mushkat having some human figures on one or more of his bands, although I can't find a reference right now. It's less common to find complex human figures in warp faced flatweaves and jajim flatweaves, but here's one from an Uzbek jajim I recently came across:
Yep, it's a guy.
This technique will never be able to match what Pat found. Sigh...
[edited post] I found the reference!!:
Shamil of Dhagestan, Kasghai "Göl"
Hello Lorraine, I would be very interested to know more about Shamil and his
family relations – where did you read about it?
Pat, you are absolutely right, numbers 1 and 2 of those Herki pieces look suspiciously like Kasghai rugs in their "göls". I have some ideas about it and shall come back to it tonight (hopefully).
I first learned about Shamil from the book "The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus", by John Baddeley. Hard to find, but a great story! Also gives some perspective about the ongoing unrest in Chechnya.
Hi Lloyd -
There are nine copies available at the moment on ABE.
It's not cheap, but with the internet it's no longer hard to find.
R. John Howe
Loretta, thank you for your very interesting and personal perspective on events around 1915. It sounds very plausible, that some Christians should have survived covertly, sheltered by well-meaning neighbours.
But this is a glimpse of light only in what otherwise is a sad example of the perpetual horrors of war resulting from failed plots and egoistic politics affecting ordinary people, who get caught up in it and ground, usually without even knowing for what they may have done wrong.
If rug #1 could speak, it being old enough to have witnessed things, it may had a story to tell. I will try instead. Since our joint history is only 26 years old and the records of the time before are patchy, I have to fill in a few hypotheses.
Things had been going from bad to worse in Turkey in the second half of the 1970’s. The country was on the brink of collapse when the military ceased control in September 1980. The railway line between Istanbul and Teheran was interrupted due to events around the Islamic Revolution, and view visitors had come to Van that year. All the more military though. I came at the beginning of October, visited old places again and purchased three Herki sumacs, one from a friend and two from Mustafa Cantürk, who was the principal rug merchant in the Van-Hakkari region in the seventies and eighties. A Turkish proverb has it, that a stone weights heaviest where it sits. This could have been quite adequately applied to his prices, after Anthony Landreau had acquired several pieces from him in 1974 for the Textile Museum. In 1980, for the first time Herki flat-weaves emerged in Turkey. Formerly, they were unknown. A few pieces had surfaced in Iraq before (W. Eagleton). Responsible for this development were Turkish army operations in the Iran / Iraq border regions in pursuit of PKK fighters.
Two of those rugs, #1 amongst it, were traded in by a Turkish Army Officer, the other one by a peasant who had his house shelled. When a formerly unknown group of rugs appears on the market, this is often related to some catastrophic event: warlike action as mentioned, earthquakes (Van / Caldiran 1976).
The rug is the left panel of two, that were originally sewn together; they were very ill-matched. There was an Istanbul businessman who was interested in just one panel, and as the price was unreasonably high and my grant pretty low, I grudgingly let go of the other half (if I hate one thing, it is taking panels out of Mafrashes to sell them separately). The rug shares several features with other Herki rugs and at the same time is distinctly different. For instance, even both panels together are smaller than what seems typical for other Herki rugs of the kind. The weave itself is finer, it is thinner and has a cool, metal-sheath like quality on the surface although being still pliable. I put this down to a high proportion of goat hair. The colour palette is very limited, no small applications that give other Herki rugs at least some sparkle. This overall impression should not be mistaken for a late origin, signifying a progressed state of deterioration of weaving art; it instead signifies production under the poorest and most aversive conditions imaginable. The Sat and Cilo Mountain range must have been until recently amongst the most inaccessible and remote areas in the Near East. Fields at an altitude up to 3.000 m and villages up to 2.500 m made sure that all terrain was covered under snow for six months in a year.
The map is from my old research notes and shows were the Herki then settled and in earlier times, seasonally migrated until borders were closed.
The rug bears a Ghasgai medallion and may have a Christian background.
Now, you folks have me curious about something. This rug is said to be from Dhagestan, but I always discounted that contention figuring that Dhagestan would be the last place one would go to find crosses on a rug. Do any of you have an opinion about this one (20th century for sure, but origin...) ?
I'm not at all convinced that every motif in which the eye can pick out lines or bands that intersect at 90 degree angles are intended to be Christian crosses.
I agree completely. Indeed, this is the first time I've ever spent any effort looking into the cross design, for the reason stated previously. Nevertheless, when I looked into Coptic crosses I found quite a few that look like this:
...which leaves me scratching my head about this rug, and the presence of low profiile Christian communities in the dominantly Muslim Caucasus. One could argue that these cruciform design elements are very similar to a subset of the standard St. Andrews cross design in Zeichour rugs.
That is a pretty striking similarity, but each of the four arms is also a lot like what are probably stylized lilies or tulips. Is there some reason to believe that the "St. Andrews cross" motif on some Zeichour rugs is a Christian cross? I've long believed that it was just a convenient descriptor. Should I change what I believe? Doing that makes me uncomfortable, you know.
you are saying, the rug is said to be Dhagestan. It sounds as if you have some doubt about it - so have I.
I wouldn’t pay much attention to your carpet. This is not a critic to the rug itself. What I mean is that I doubt it contains ethnic or religious elements anymore.
I saw many of the same kind and they have the same palette, more or less the same size and borders, aged 30-40 years, all with similar variations of Caucasian-like design.
To quote P.R.J. Ford, such rugs were probably made “in factories through the Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Daghestan… under controlled conditions in rather stereotyped re-interpretations of the old design”.
This particular style must have been woven in the same factory. I found two more examples on the net, one of them is still on sale. Said to be “Derbend” and “Azerbajan”
Right, so, first
Yes, I understand, and I'm not trying to put any real emphasis on design beyond that of the cross itself, which has a different configuration than those you refer to. Aside from the garish red I don't see too many similarities with the other rugs you posted. That said, I have no reason to believe this rug is any more than 50 years old and it fits with your thesis. Up close though, and in the hands, it doesn't have a regimented workshop look or feel, but I never thought it was anything more than a village rug made for sale. You may well be correct.
Right. It's a 20th century rug, so structure probably doesn't help much. You have doubts, but do you have ideas beyond those Filiberto advanced ?
Is there some reason to believe that the "St. Andrews cross" motif on some Zeichour rugs is a Christian cross?
It does, indeed. And not really terribly different than that in the cross motifs in the field of this well-known rug, which predates Jesus' birth by about 500 years.
Aside from the garish red I don't see too many similarities with the other rugs you posted
I guess I need a better pair of glasses. You're certainly right about the little white border detail; that's a little too close to ignore, isn't it. Like I said, you may well be right. But I have seen Soviet era factory production from Azerbaijan; it is so sterile that it looks like machine made Belgian production. This piece is not so evenly constructed.
Steve, the comparison with the Pazyryk rug is interesting but irrelevant in my opinion. The swastika had little meaning outside of south Asia until 1937, at which time its use took on an entirely new meaning. The use of cruciform devices in lands conquered by the Muslim invasions is tolerated at varying levels depending on local conditions. In many places, it is frowned upon.
The Pazyryk image was posted in order to empahsize that there are plenty of examples of cruciform devices that can't possibly be related to Christian symbolism. And, secondarily, just to jerk your chain a bit. I hope it didn't offend; doing so wasn't my intention.
Hello Lloyd, John,
many thanks for the reference.
Steve, Filiberto, Chuck, there are people who debate the Sibirian origin of the Pazyryk carpet. They have made a good point about it (Gantzhorn). I have seen many mosaics in the Near East and can imagine that such may have been the prototype to the rug.
Chuck, the rug looks north-west Iran rather than Soviet to me.
Bye for now, I am in a hurry,
Steve, if I took offense at stuff that is not offensive I would not have lasted this long at Turkotek. I don't mind someone requesting that I think. And my point was made in good faith. I understand what you meant, but like I said, symbols takes on different meanings over time and crowds form in streets over the dumbest things, sometimes symbols. Geometry is big in the Islamic world, but crosses far less so than most other things; they tend to appear in tesselating geometric montages..
Filiberto has a point. Still, my first impression of this rug was also NW Iran, as Horst suggests. Take a close look at the back and ask yourself if this looks like factory production. Symmetrical knots, wool warp & weft (unlike most Caucasian pieces, the weft is not visible, another indicator..):
The older rug bears a Ghasgai medallion and may have a Christian background. Several indicators point in this direction:
(1) Volkmar Gantzhorn in Orientalische Teppiche (1998) draws a connection between the well known Ghasgai medallion and early Anatolian carpets as a result of the forced resettlement of a great number or Armenian families early in the 17th century during the reign of Shah Abbas I. The design seems not to have been known with Armenian weavers lately, but there may have been some Chaldaen-/ Assyrian Christians from the area around Lake Urmiah amongst those gone south. Gantzhorn’s idea is as intriguing as the evidence he provides is scant.
(2) The settlement area of the Herki and other Kurdish tribes (see map) also accommodated many Nestorians and Chaldeans in the past. Further north towards Lake Van Armenian settlement areas connected. For the border region on the Iraqi side population figures from a 1926 count give a rough picture: 10 - 20 % of the population belonged to one or another Christian group (Field, The Anthropology of Iraq II, 2, 3, Expedition 1934). In some high altitude areas in the Cilo and Sat ranges they may have been in the majority. The reports of a joint Austrian and German Alpine Club expedition speaks of a large area as “Dead Mountains” due to the observation that after having being left by its former inhabitants, Chaldean Christians, it completely lacked resettlement, looking an analogy to the “landscape of ruins” (Ruinenlandschaft) around Lake Van (Bobek H (1938) Forschungen im zentralkurdischen Hochgebirge zwischen Van- und Urmia-See. Petermanns Geogr. Mitteilungen 1938 Heft 5).
warp, weft and crosses
Often on reading the comments of the many left-brained souls who populate Turkotek, I feel a certain amount of envy. Your ability to perceive and recall pattern, color and design far outstrip my feeble right-brainedness. You artsie folks have it going on! However on the subject of cruciforms, a little right brain may add a bit of insight.
In looking at any art form, one must always consider the underlying limitations of the medium. In sculpture and architecture, for example, every part of the object must be supported properly or else gravity will produce the obvious effects. (Think of the leaning tower of Pisa.)
In weaving, the artist is limited by the reality that the use of warp and weft on a loom means that one is ALWAYS working with a grid. "Round" carpets and "curvilinear" designs are ultimately nothing more than a series of jagged edges that are smoothed out in our perceptions of the finished product.
That said, when it comes to the two dimensional world of a grid, the intersection of a straight line following the warp and a straight line following the weft will always be a cross. Right angles, top and bottom, left and right, four quadrants. Given the creativity of weavers, these crosses can be quite elegant but a certain percentage of weavings will ultimately always contain one or more crosses.
Does this have to be a Christian symbol? If your name is Gantzhorn, the answer is yes, absolutely. For the rest of us, we can acknowledge that there have been Christian Armenians weavers who may have deliberately included cruciforms in their rugs as an act of piety. Or not. Or that there were Muslim or Zoroastrian weavers who worked with crossed lines.
There are some questions worth asking to explore whether the cruciforms are deliberately Christian crosses or not. 1. Did the same type of cruciform (e.g., the so-called Celtic cross) appear in other media or types of art by the same group? Christian communities could be expected to incorporate crosses in many aspects of life: for example, buildings, tombstones, or religious implements. If the same or similar crosses are found across multiple media or settings, then we could believe that their inclusion in weavings is a deliberate statement of piety. 2. Are there other Christian symbols included in the weavings to suggest this piety as well? For example, do they contain the fish (symbol of Jesus Christ), the triangle (symbol of the Trinity), or the dove or flame (symbols of the Holy Spirit)? If we never see these or other ancient Christian symbols, then it would suggest that the inclusion of a cruciform is just the elaborate intersection of two lines.
The comments of the artsy folks would be welcome. As for me, my guess is that the cruciforms are the product of right-brained weavers.
Practicing right-brained Christian
I'm sorry to drag us back to "nude figures on rugs", but....
Here is a Khamseh or Shekarlu rug I saw recently. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a detailed enough picture to illustrate it, but there is an interesting feature. Each of the figures in this cluster of three human figures looks to be wearing a dress or skirt. However, the bottom right figure of this triad has a definite "appendage" extending between the legs below the hem of the "skirt". It consists of 2 knots, and is of the same colour as the upper torso and arms. It is obscure in this photo, but very clear in reality.
Since it seems clear that the appendage is deliberate, I suppose there are three possible explanations: 1) the appendage represents something other than a male reproductive organ; 2) the weaver started to weave a man, and then changed her mind and wove a woman; 3) it is a man in a short skirt.
Personally, I favour the second option but would be interested in others' opinions.
I favour option 3 - maybe it is Scottish, not Kamseh?
- sorry for being late with this -
(3) As Loretta Boxdorfer has pointed out, nude figures appear on Armenian rugs relatively frequently. The images she provides seems to support this. So does my experience (only, I didn’t look at it this way before): the nearer to Armenia and the Caucasus, the more often human figures seem to appear on rugs, which includes Eastern Turkey as well as Northwest Iran (Shasavan). Nudes figures appear on rugs from other areas, as some here have dmonstrated, but we know little about their context. Why should the nude figures (or symbols of nude figures) on the Herki rug not be Kurdish?
After the fall of the Sasanid dynasty (642) and with the Islamisation of the country that the Arabs had to begun to invade a decade or so previously, the Kurds after many battles and changing alliances eventually turned to the Sunna, more specific, to the Shafiite denomination (Field H (1952) The Anthropology of Iraq, Pt II No 2 Kurdistan and No 3 Conclusions, PMP Vol 46 No 2, 3, Expedition 1934 p 15. Peabody Museum Publications, Cambridge, Mass.; Encyclopaedia of Islam (1981) Vol V, p 475, Leiden). “As the Kurds are extremely modest and do not show themselves naked to others …” (Hansen H H (1961) The Kurdish Woman’s Life. Field Research in a Muslim Society in Iraq, p 145, Nationalmusee Kobenhavn, Denmark). Against this background it seems unlikely that a Kurdish tribe should have been responsible for this kind of rug.
Secondly , the (age-wise) middle rug, number two, although following the general design of its predecessor, shows features that can be considered as indicator for a fundamental shift in socio-cultural environment as has gone along with the exodus of the main body of the Christian population and the assimilation of as few remainders as were left by neighbouring Kurdish tribes, i.e. the Herki: following from what was said in the previous paragraph, the nude figures lost the significance they probably had within a Christian culture and eventually were replaced by other motives.
In rug number three the figures have multiplied and make a dressed reappearance on a folkloristic “Herki” rug that seems to have hit the Istanbul and international market in the 1990’ies. There are other aspects that suggest customisation and loss of meaning, that I leave out here and now. Of the images I have downloaded in 1995 from a website, I have lost the one with the general perspective. I remember it gave some unrealistic date, 1940-1960, which is impossible on the basis of visual impression of the dyes alone. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Herki flatweaves were unknown in Turkey before 1980, therefore I have suspected - this is clearly hypothetical of course - that rug number three may have been manufactured on the second panel of the rug shown here.
(4) As we may have found out in this thread, there are different kind of nudes that appear on rugs: (1) arts nudes, (2) folkloristic nudes (3) sexy nudes, and others (4). The more I think about it, the nude figures on the Herki rug are not there for their own sake, not for amusement or to increase their desirability on the market. From a 19th century perspective they could mean to represent the most ancient people of all, because civilized contemporary people wear clothes, i.e. they are biblical Adam and Eve.
I would like to leave the various cross forms out of the discussion, as they have no special significance here. They all seem to be of the Holbein type and occur on rugs of a wide area.
Of special interest is the elaborate rosettes decoration, twenty altogether on the red field of one panel; on the complete rug this would be forty rosettes. The figure 40 is of special significance in biblical records, i.e. the forty days of rain and rising water during the voyage of the ark, the forty years of Israel's wandering in the wildernessdays etc. Also, rosette forms are assumed to be (one of) the most significant decorative motive of Christian Assyrians.
A circle of rosettes surrounds the central medallion with one set of nude figures on either side of a horizontal axis (symmetry sake?), a vertical symmetry axis going right through some of the rosettes and the medallion - the tree with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?
quote:Well, I don’t think we know much more about the Caucasian context, for that matter.
the nearer to Armenia and the Caucasus, the more often human figures seem to appear on rugs, which includes Eastern Turkey as well as Northwest Iran (Shasavan). Nudes figures appear on rugs from other areas, as some here have dmonstrated, but we know little about their context.
A brief statement of Fred Mushkat's warning might be, Don't believe everything you think.
to be fair...
Now, to be fair, one should also ponder the content of this article published
on the website of “San Francisco Bay Area Rug Society”:
about inscribed Armenian rugs, crosses and human figures... and a Belouchi and two "Salor turreted gul" with Armenian inscriptions...
No images, unfortunately.
When is a nude a nude?
From a related but different art form, I have recently seen "nude" figures
on a series of North American Indian baskets.
They depict a series of people holding hands around the circumference of the basket. In one basket, all the figures have a single appendage between the legs. In another basket, most have the single appendage and two have an opposite design, or "notch-in-the-crotch". One of the "men" has three appendages!
I am not familiar with Native American cultures incorporating such designs on their art work and only noticed it because of the recent discussion here.
A cursory review of the SFBARS site does show one Kazak "wedding" rug with two figures.
It may be Armenian.
Yes I know that rug… (I’m also a ‘virtual’ rug collector, i.e. I collect rug images from the web. Not terribly gratifying, but it's interesting and CHEAP.)
That one belongs to the stolen Douglass collection, visible also here:
I don’t know if it’s an Armenian wedding rug. I don’t see any “markers” as inscriptions, AD dates or crosses.
This one, instead, is Armenian and has them all:
Virtually collected on eBay last year.
See all those crosses, so common on Shirvan-Kuba kilims?
These look like church roofs, don’t they?
Filiberto, yes they look like church roofes, the crosses too, unless it is all accidental sic !
Yes to your earlier notion as well, in my (actual) opinion, the appearance of nude figures on rugs (if this is what they are) is a function of two variables, proximity to the Christian Caucasus or Kurdish Taurus come to that, and distance to the next Imam. Tribal Islamic groups seem to have had considerably more freedom in this respect than village or town dwellers, unless they were “big swells” - I am thinking of those rather outspoken erotic Moghul miniatures.
We know a lot about the Caucasian context actually, only, the knowledge is shared between many people, controversial, badly organised, and therefore it appears to be less than it is.
I have had a look into Salon 90, where “a lot of examples of “woven” nudes from Persia plus, in the related discussion, Beluch and Turkmen “are represented … and above on this thread we have an Uzbek example. So, even assuming that the phenomenon is more frequent around Caucasia (of which I’m not sure) I don’t think its Caucasian/Armenian/Kurd related.” You have to take to aspects into account, that some fractions of the tribes of Fars where the cited examples come from, namely amongst the Quashgai and Afshari at some time where neighbors of those Caucasian/Armenian/Kurdish groups. Also, in the reign of Shah Abbas I Armenian weavers where pushed down to Fars. Apparently they traveled on to Khorassan, Mashad, and eventually Baluchistan. The Usbeki you mentioned where Christians until the 18th century, missionised by Nestorians (see further down for more on this topic).
To me those apparently “male-only figures” with their penises don’t really make sense either. A big erection would be a different matter, but those floppy things hanging about their legs? Why nude figures at all, if not Adam and Eve? To impress, for status in a male oriented society? We are not peeping in at a pin-up society after all.
As to “biblical Adam and Eve“, there is a special significance attached to the area the “Herki” rug comes from. In the Hakkari we are very close to the Garden of Eden and the landing place of the Ark, according to the Nestorian idea of it. Surely, this can be expected to reflect on the rugs woven by the people. The following is an excerpt from Canon Wigram E A (1922) The Cradle of Mankind. Life in Eastern Kurdistan. Adam and Charles Black, London, 2nd edition (based on travels before WW I, H.N.):
“The village of Qudshanis (ten miles north of Hakkari as the crow flies, H.N.), which is the residence of the Nestorian or Assyrian Patriarch, “Mar Shimun," and the headquarters of his Church, has a marvellous situation. It lies on a sloping “alp” of rugged pasture, between two mountain torrents which spring from the towering snow-fields to the west of it; and which descend in gradually deepening gorges, enclosing the tongue-shaped plateau on which the village stands. They meet beneath the point of the tongue at the base of a lofty wedge of rock; and thence the united stream flows on, joined by others on its way, till it falls into the Zab some two hours below the village. Nestorian tradition regards the Zab as the Pison, one of the four rivers of Paradise; and the Patriarch will occasionally date his official letters “from my cell on the River of the Garden of Eden."
The official title of the Church, whose principal bishop resides in this romantic, but singularly inaccessible, spot, is "the Church of the East." This title was given to it originally by those whom we call “the Eastern Christians," viz. those of Constantinople and Antioch; and by it they meant the Church to the east of them, beyond the frontier of the Roman Empire, in what was then the kingdom of the Sassanid Persians. In the days of its greatness, this communion extended itself marvelously, in just those countries where Christianity finds it hardest to establish a footing now. In the year 1300 its bishops were distributed from Damascus to Pekin, and from Tartary to Malabar. The “Syrian Christians” of the latter land, though they now own a different jurisdiction, still remain as a memorial of its missionary zeal in the fifth century; and the Singan monument in the very heart of China tells of the presence of this “pacific, philosophical, and excellent religion” there also, and commemorates the names of sundry of its bishops and clergy. Nay, the historic Prester John (for he was an historical figure strange to say) was of this Church. A dynasty of Tartar princes of the eleventh century were Christians; and the name of their founder, Ung Khan, readily became Yukhanan, which is John, in Syriac-speaking mouths. Whether he ever was, as a matter of fact, an ordained presbyter is more questionable.”
Steve, you are saying, “The Pazyryk image was posted in order to emphasize that there are plenty of examples of cruciform devices that can't possibly be related to Christian symbolism.” In fact, this particular cross (two crosses on the same axis, the “light cross”) on the Pazyryk carpet stands in a Phrygian tradition; apparently it was later used by their Urartian neighbors and eventually by the Armenian Christians. You also find it on the “Christian Herki rug” here in all twenty rosettes.
Chris, on straight weaving lines crossing, “Does this have to be a Christian symbol? If your name is Gantzhorn, the answer is yes, absolutely. For the rest of us …”, yours is a rather crude interpretation of Gantzhorn’s concept, not paying him justice. Or didn’t you find the time yet for a proper read in ‘Oriental Carpets’ and are therefore repeating a popular misconception? To me Gantzhorn’s work is one of the most profound theoretical contributions to rug science in decades. As happens elsewhere, around the far edges of his central topic he occasionally appears a little frayed, but his merits far outweigh this.
”Don't believe everything you think.” (Steve)
”As students and aficionados of tribal textile art, we must be rigorously careful to avoid assigning a definite meaning to such abstractions without some weight of evidence. One the essays in the Orient Stars text referred to the Oriental rug literature being full of dreamers and romantics, and while is natural to dream, we must be careful to distinguish between what is there and what we want to see.” Filiberto, Fred)
I answer this in summary. Thinking and believing, like right and left hemispheres of the brain need not oppose one another – integration is the key issue. This I think and believe.
So what if the Phrygians used a cross motif that was later adopted by Christians? The Phrygians weren't Christians, and their cross didn't represent the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (or of anyone else). That's what it means as a Christian symbol, in all of its variations.
The Pazyryk rug's crosses were not woven by anyone who intended tham to be Christian motifs; the fact that it predates Christianity by hundreds of years is conclusive proof of that.
It all started with Loretta Boxdorfer's claim that “Caucasian rugs displaying the human figures on them, nude and otherwise, are Armenian” based on the fact that a lot of Armenian inscribed rugs often portray nude or dressed humans.
Which is true.
Because “As Christians, the Armenians were not precluded by religious dogma against this practice”.
Which is not true, because Muslims did it as well.
We have to consider the Persian influence on Caucasus: remember that part of it has been Persian territory for centuries. Let’s have a look at Persian Art.
I had no time to explore in depth this interesting website, “Persian Art Through the Centuries”:
but perusing here and there it’s quite clear that In Persian art human depiction wasn’t forbidden at all. Not only it was used in miniatures (and so destined to a restricted number of Court people) but also on more public painting and frescoes.
you’ll see a fresco from Isfahan, c. second half of 17th century:
The same page says that “From the description of Western travellers it is known that there once existed wall paintings; with battle scenes in Shiraz showing the capture of Hormuz from the Portuguese, as well as erotic scenes in Julfa, and pastoral scenes at the Hazar Jarib palace in Isfahan.”
Wall paintings with erotic scenes were permitted.
If you still think that in any case only the restricted caste of the aristocracy enjoyed this corpus of art while the lower classes had to abide to stricter rules, have a look at Qahveh Khanehei Painting (Tea House style of painting):
a rather modern example of folk art (around 80 years old) but it seems that “remaining paintings and plaster moulding indicate that some kind of this art existed in 18th and 19th centuries” and it was clearly derived from Court art.
Gantzhorn at the edges
Hi Horst and all,
Horst, in your response, you take me to task saying, "yours is a rather crude interpretation of Gantzhorn’s concept, not paying him justice. Or didn’t you find the time yet for a proper read in ‘Oriental Carpets’ and are therefore repeating a popular misconception? To me Gantzhorn’s work is one of the most profound theoretical contributions to rug science in decades. As happens elsewhere, around the far edges of his central topic he occasionally appears a little frayed, but his merits far outweigh this."
I have read 'Oriental Carpets' closely and find Gantzhorn's own words put his central thesis on the far edges. His acknowledgements (p. 12) make it clear that he believes that there are only a few carpets "until the 19th century which can, with certainty, be attributed to Moslem use." The rest he claims are Armenian Christian in origin and therefore there really is no Muslim oriental carpet. This strikes me as outlandish enough to merit the serious doubt most people offer. His thesis is based on a logical fallacy, "not A therefore B."
At the same time, Gantzhorn's key point is not the Christian root of oriental carpets but the Armenian root of the same. His claim of the Armenian origin is to bolster his attempt to right the historical wrongs done to the Armenian people (see his fourth paragraph on page 12). This is not rug science; it is an effort in cultural redemption.
I don't want to start a geopolitical war here--I respect that the Armenian people have suffered terribly in their history. However, one does not rectify those wrongs by offering a thesis that flies in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. To claim nearly all cruciforms (i.e., the intersection of two lines) in oriental rugs as support for his central idea is over the edge. Then again, maybe I'm wrong.
That said, it is a beautiful book to look at.
this is good linear logic, which for some reason or other occasionally gets forgotten here.
The solitaire Pazyryk carpet from sometime between 5th to 3rd century BC was sunk in the permafrost, unknown to and unable to communicate with the outside world, until it was thawed in 1949 – given this, how can it be called up as evidence that crosses on some 19th or first half 20th century rug are likely to be not Christian? Besides the Pazyryk carpet, to my knowledge, there are no central Asian of Far Eastern textile artifacts known with a cross on them, from regions other than those that have been missionised in the early and later middle ages, mostly by Nestorians.
Works of devotional art with crosses on them are known from 3rd century (Ghaza), 2nd century (Palmyra), and have probably existed before. At the time of the rise of Islam, there has been a more than five-hundred years old tradition of Christian crosses on works of (folk-) art; by the time the first Seldjuk groups arrived in the wider upper Mesopotamia, the tradition had been nearly thousand years old and the kind of cross like on the Pazyryk rug had found its way into the decorations of Haghia Sophia hundreds of years ago. It seems, logic is put on its head here, if crosses as possibly Christian designs are denounced with the argument, the form being a chance result or being so simple, that it must be part of the universal rug design repertoire - without ever producing evidence for this.
Nobody would assume a meteor to be born where it struck, but this seems to be what many people are doing with regard to the Pazyryk carpet. I am not arguing against the possibility that the Altai people at five-hundred BC were able to tie knots; but the Pazyryk carpet looks like a composition of totally different elements in that environment – like from another world. According to some writers like the great scholar Ulrich Schuermann, the world in which that rug may have been made is the vicinity or lake Urmiah in West-Iran on a present day map.
I did not arrange for this, but it would be right beyond the mountains if one comes from Qudshanis on the yayla route and bears slightly south.
I never suggested that the existence of a cross motif at a time before the birth of Jesus proves that post-Jesus crosses were never Christian motifs. Let me lay out the argument.
1. The following hypothesis was made, or nearly so, by Gantzhorn: Crosses on rugs are Christian symbols, were used as such by Christian (Armenian) weavers since many centuries ago ,and were not used by Moslem weavers until, perhaps, the 18th or 19th century. Therefore, cross forms on carpets are, or are derived from, the Christian symbol.
2. The existence of crosses on the Pazyryk doesn't prove that all later crosses are unrelated to the Christian symbol, but it does prove that crosses that are unrelated to Christianity (in meaning) have existed for a long time.
3. It doesn't really matter who wove the Pazyryk, for purposes of this discussion. The only important issue is that it predates Jesus' birth. As far as I know, this isn't controversial.
4. The widespread occurrence of cross-like design elements of rugs is easily explained without any ethnographic references, as someone else pointed out already.
5. You say, Besides the Pazyryk carpet, to my knowledge, there are no central Asian of Far Eastern textile artifacts known with a cross on them, from regions other than those that have been missionised in the early and later middle ages, mostly by Nestorians. Really? Maybe if it's restricted to textiles, but the reason for that is trivial: there are nearly none still in existence. Look at stone sculpture, though, and I'll bet there are cross-like design elements on the earliest examples from nearly every place on the globe.
I'm not arguing that cross-like elements on rugs are never Christianity-related. But to suppose that all of them were until the 18th or 19th century seems indefensible to me.
Chris, it was good that you were so specific, as this has helped me to understand why you and others seem to be so sensitized to V Gantzhorn, that you had begun ridiculing him .
The statements (you) in “his acknowledgements that make it clear that he believes that there are only a few carpets "until the 19th century which can, with certainty, be attributed to Moslem use"
and that the rest he claims
“are Armenian Christian in origin and therefore there really is no Muslim oriental carpet” would indeed be objectionable to me as well.
Set off by you, I checked on it last night and come to the result that the incriminated statement is omitted in my 1998 German edition (p 10 “Für Claudia”, pp 11-12 “Dank”, pp 13-46 “Einleitung”). I scanned until page thirty - no trace. Maybe the English/US edition is based on an earlier German edition and V. Gantzhorn has repented since.
That he is so obviously breaking a lance in the Armenian cause, may have some biographic trait behind it, he lays this open fair enough, and his personal involvement does not seem to impair fundamentally on his work as a whole.
The Christian emphasis in his work is not what comes first for me or what I regard most important - his essential contribution in my opinion is, that he has drafted an alternative concept to build on, that looks at rug history from an Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamian perspective. This is called for, to balance the scientifically somewhat out of step, 19th century understanding owed to a great romantic Orient enthusiasm, that everything in rug history had come from the East, the more far away, the better; which in itself is understandable as a reaction against a certain weariness from a long preoccupation with the classical European cultures as the Cradle of Civilization, which they certainly never were in many aspects.
Filiberto, thanks for those interesting links.
Steve, could you be a little more specific regarding point 4 of your previous post, thanks?
In the meantime, I would like to direct your attention to the rug, whose image I sent. Has anybody an idea as to the big white medallion that we normally consider to be representative of Quasghai works?
My point was simple: it isn't necessary to invoke ethnographic connections to account for cross-like design elements. Someone pointed out that they are virtually unavoidable in textiles because of the grid-like nature of the medium. It's also a very simple form, probably would require that someone take special pains to avoid it rather than requiring someone to purposely include it.
o.k., got it. I would not call it "a cross" in this case, because this is not what is meant, rather "crossing lines."
To me Gantzhorn's greatest contribution to rugdom was somehow managing to get
funding to print such a book at such a low sales price. Who else in rugdom has
done that? No one I've ever seen.
What I try to keep in mind when I get annoyed by being beat over the head with all those big ugly cross drawings when I look through that book is that the book's funding must have somehow hinged on that onslaught.
To me the author's post-publication announced repentance is detectable quite early in the book in the form of some inconsistencies that a true zealot would have homed in on and weeded out but could easily escape notice of zealot funders. I could be dead flat-out wrong about this, of course. I know nothing about the circumstances surrounding the book's publication. He could have paid for everything himself for all I know. All I know is that it must have cost a small fortune to print. Sue
Hi Horst and all,
Thank you Horst for your explanation citing the different translations/editions of V. Gantzhorn. I wonder if anyone has ever had contact with him to get greater clarity on his position.
I am quite taken by many of the Armenian rugs which do deliberately depict crosses as religious symbols and find the rug at this top of this page most interesting. And you don't even have to "open the door to see all the people."
I agree with Sue on Gantzhorn’s book.
For the record, my Italian edition (Il Tappeto Cristiano Orientale) is dated 1991, should have the same page numbers (Per Claudia p.10, Ringraziamenti p.11-12) and doesn’t have that phrase on page 12, albeit it says at the end: “The patrimony of motifs of the Oriental carpet is a component of the Armenian identity and it must be considered as such. Stuttgart, spring 1990.”
Filiberto, again, thank you, I am quite taken with the art-arena website which I find, offers a good and concise introduction to Iranian art.
Today a book arrived here for me by Seattle historian-writer Gordon Taylor. The title is Fever & Thirst – A Missionary Doctor amid the Christian Tribes of Kurdistan. I bought it on pot-luck and wonder what it is going to be like.
I send a few more pictures of the “Herki” rug. Perhaps I have to reconsider the character of the figures. On the general view image sent on 10-03-2006 01:20 PM they look like two couples. Now I have taken the rug out and they look all the same shape, but turning it as I like, they don’t seem male to me – the half crouched position, a birth-giving scene after all? More naturalistic by all accounts than what we know from “The Goddess from Anatolia” by Mellaart J, Hirsch U and Balpinar B. (see Salon 90 on Sexual and Reproductive Themes by Fred Mushkat)).
The rug seems to have some sort of genealogic theme and is unidirectional. If you take a look at the general view image, you can see that the medallions at the bottom branch out like roots; the sections of the stem indicate by arrow heads where is top; in the middle section the big “Quashgai”-medallion takes the place of a small one. All small medallions carry a little cross in the centre, which in the top medallion is substituted by one commonly known as patriarchal cross. There are the other familiar ones as well.
The central medallion I cannot interpret, however, two of the figures could be fish.
What do you think?
Hello to all
It looks as if we are coming to the end of our tether with this thread, no new ideas, long loading time etc. I would like to say thank you to Brian Moore who has started it, to Loretta Boxdorfer who had prompted me to look at the “Herki” rug from an entirely new perspective, and all others who have posted exiting images, ideas and links.
As to the “Herki” (more likely: Assyrian) rug, I’ll bring it up again eventually, perhaps in a Salon on flatweaves from the Van-Hakkari region or similar, if that fits in with the planning of our administrators. I have the feeling, this rug may have a function in the understanding of some very old motives.
A couple of closing remarks from my personal perspective: I don’t understand, why Fred Mushak in Salon # 90 had chosen an image of the “Goddess” that is apt to be particularly controversial for her masculine shoulders. Below is the image that adored the publisher’s advertising flyer:
Why the “elli belinde” as a long used description by Turkish weavers for that particular posture is denounced on grounds of a supposed Kurdish expression, giving it an entirely different meaning (“big chief”) is beyond me: Catal Hüyük is an hour’s drive south of Konya and way out of Kurdish settlement area.
It may not have gone unnoticed, that the “Herki” / Assyrian rug carries various kinds of more or less elaborate crosses. As it is a soumak and no pile rug (weft-wrapping technique), there is even less room for stray line-crossings giving the thing an illegitimate or speculative meaning. Perhaps it would help the at times somewhat tense discussion on such issues, if we pondered a little in quite over the question, whether it really is for scientific reason, that crosses on rugs here sometimes seem to need extra justification if they are thought of as having a religious connotation, or whether it is a sophisticated bias.
You wrote, Perhaps it would help the at times somewhat tense discussion on such issues, if we pondered a little in quite over the question, whether it really is for scientific reason, that crosses on rugs here sometimes seem to need extra justification if they are thought of as having a religious connotation, or whether it is a sophisticated bias.
Unless I'm reading too much into your words, they seem to imply that the objection often raised to seeing Christian symbols in crossing lines and crossing bars on rugs singles that element out for prejudiced skepticism. In my opinion, the reality is completely reversed. We almost universally agree that reading a motif's historical meaning is (with rare exceptions) fantasizing. Why should crossing lines/crossing bars elements be any different? There are instances in which such an element is obviously Christian, and I don't think anybody makes a fuss about calling it Christian in those cases. But most of the time there is no compelling reason to regard it as a Christian symbol, and in such cases, the default position (for me, at least) is to not assume that it is one. "If it isn't a Christian symbol, why is it there?", is a simplified form of the defense often invoked to justify seeing it as Christian. But there are simple alternate explanations, and it's easy to trot out examples that can't conceivably be Christian symbols (proving that the presence of crossed lines or crossed bars doesn't automatically lead to Christian symbolism).
To make a long story shorter, I think it is reasonable to require considerable justification to interpret the historical meaning of any motif or design element on any rug, and crossed lines or crossed bars are no exceptions.
Hi Steve and all,
if we want to extend our understanding of rugs (which I am sure we want to do) beyond the stage of what is required for being able to appreciate their exotic beauty, and try to pursuit them in their meandering through time and geography, we do best by carefully studying the oldest rugs accessible, like those in the Vakiflar Museum and in the TIEM, or publications with good pictures of them. Doing this, we can get a relatively defined position and a clear start in the enterprise.
However, we are likely to meet obstacles, two of them here being bias and laissez-fair logic.
If we go back in time and investigate Anatolia, the Caucasus and West-Iran, the ‘Wider Upper-Mesopotamia’ or the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ as many call it, besides others, we are likely to come across ancient Christian rugs. One of the most focussed books on the subject, easily available and on the by and large quite well researched, for some unfortunate formulations by the author, is not well received here on Turkotek, which in my opinion is equally unfortunate. I hope, this translation of a German proverb makes sense here, it is a case of “spilling the child with the bath.”
If we begin to drop distinctions like between a cross and crossing weaving-lines, or strip a distinct cross of it’s history and add it as an indistinct element to the big pond of universal rug designs, we may as well give up and surrender to the Agnostics. However, more knowledge can be gained, and I would like to help to keep the door open.
There are likely to have been at least three periods when rug designs travelled west to east, first, the ‘Pazyryk-Era’; after it the ‘Silk-Era’ in Sasanian times from 4th century onwards, when West-Persian silks found their way to China keeping the copying workshops busy (Grigg J (1979) Sasanian influence on the Silks of T’ang China. HALI II 2); later, the Nestorian ‘Missionary-Era’ from about 5th century on, taking the Silk Route to East Turkestan and China. For an exquisite example of a Beshir carpet with Nestorian crosses see Pinner R (1981) The Beshir Carpets of the Bukhara Emirate, pp 294-304. Although the ‘Christian Cross’ has primed this exchange, it has exhausted itself as an example and I would like to get away from it, as the issue is a wider one. Not only crosses, other motives as well have travelled east, among them the ‘aina-göl’, usually conceived as a motive as tribal as tribal can be, adorning plate 1, an Afghani felt rug, in ‘Yörük’ (1980).
Quoting: “We almost universally agree that reading a motif's historical meaning is (with rare exceptions) fantasizing…” - I’d say it is fascinating, a kind of creative investigation, guided by hypotheses. I agree, meaning may indeed often prove difficult to establish, but travel-logs and relationships can be established more easily.
Quoting: “If it isn't a Christian symbol, why is it there?", is a simplified form of the defense often invoked to justify seeing it as Christian.” - This is an example of hopelessly circular logic. Even whilst roughly keeping their shape, symbols may change their meaning over time and with context: what was a decoration on a Hitite king’s garment in 8th century BC became a 20th century design on an Afghani felt-rug;
what was a Phrygian tile decoration became part of a carpet excavated in the Altai and a decoration under the ceiling of Haghia Sophia (Cevat Kanig introduced us to this observation some time ago) – we can reasonably assume that the same motive had different meanings at different times to different people, but what that was before the Christian period, would be very difficult to say;
if we scraped together all pieces of wood that are supposed to be splinters from ‘the holy cross’, we might gain a patch of forest. In the same sense, a rug with crosses on it, pretty or not and almost bigger than the rug itself (see further up in this thread), nevertheless stands in a Christian context – due to area and locality of the workshop, or by anticipation of a customer in a Christian country etc. This is how culture and history work together, not always the result is in good taste.
Quote: ”To make a long story shorter, I think it is reasonable to require considerable justification to interpret the historical meaning of any motif or design element on any rug, and crossed lines or crossed bars are no exceptions.” – That’s right.
Steve, I do not want to appear being mean, but I have to pull out of it. There are several loose end in this discussion for which I feel somewhat sorry, but I am sure, there will be a future opportunity to take it up again. For the time being, I need to get my hands free - besides such distracting activities like work - to get the club boats out of water here and lay them up for winter.
Out of respect for the fact that you are unable to continue the discussion for now, I'll not list my points of disagreement with the content of your last post. I simply want to mention that there are some, lest anyone think that the matters are settled. We'll resume when you are less pressed for time.