Re: "Ethnographic": An Attractive Distinction Hard to Maintain

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Posted by Wendel Swan on November 29, 1998 at 13:07:35:

In Reply to: Re: "Ethnographic": An Attractive Distinction Hard to Maintain posted by Tom Cole on November 29, 1998 at 10:34:54:

I recommend reading Tom's article in Hali 67, which will help you to understand the truth of a statement I heard him make several years ago: "There are no real Chinese rugs."

If you would like to understand more about the Han people and their seemingly perpetual conflict with the wool-using "barbarians" to the north, read Thomas J. Barfield's The Perilous Frontier, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, MA, 1989 (paperback, 1992).

Even at the time it was published, I doubted Jon Thompson's theory as to the cloud collar origin of Turkmen guls and all that I have read and seen since then has merely reinforced my skepticism. Undoubtedly, some Chinese motifs have influenced weavings far to the west, but the Turkmen gul is not one of them.

During the most recent Rug Convention at the Textile Museum on Turkmen rugs, there was on exhibit in the upstairs gallery a Coptic roundel from the 4th or 5th Century AD bearing so similar a design to some of the Turkmen rugs that we were seeing simultaneously that one could not escape the conclusion that these weavings shared an ancient but common heritage. I plan to do an article on this subject before too long.

There is, perhaps not coincidentally, an undeniable similarity between Turkmen guls and the "Holbein" patterns of Anatolia. The connection between Anatolian and Turkmen designs is infinitely more likely than that with the motifs of Han China.

Exactly how, when and why designs traveled across the Rug Belt is one of the most intriguing questions to me, but they have done just that. When seeking the "origins" of a particular motif, one cannot look to 19th Century examples or to 15th Century Chinese porcelain. One must look back to the Mamluks, the Copts, the Romans, the Greeks and perhaps even earlier civilizations for the answers. To paraphrase a saying: There is nothing new off the loom.

I will reserve for another time my vehement disagreement with Tom's assertion that it is "ludicrous" to believe designs traveled from urban centers to rural locales.


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