TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  The Old and the Beautiful
Author  :  Filiberto Boncompagn
Date  :  06-05-2000 on 08:58 a.m.
filibert@go.com.jo Dear John, I was quite surprised to learn in your Salon that "the Italians had textile "factories" in Turkey at this time licensed by the Ottomans to make such textiles for them". I had no idea that such a thing existed at that time, nothing new under the sun, uh? Anyway, should we consider the "Italianate" products of those factories as copies? No, I do not think so, at least not in the depreciative meaning of this word. Fortunately, here we are not walking on the minefield of the Tribal tradition/Ethnographic genuinely. Both the Italian velvets and their Ottoman counterparts were products of workshops, the ancestors of modern industrial factories. They produced there wonderful textiles for the mighty and rich. There was little tradition involved, I think: the accent was probably more on the creation of stunning and opulent design in order to please their masters/customers, and on the technical qualities of the artifacts. More likely, the artisans worked on somebody else’s design, too. In that contest, it made little difference if the textile itself was created in Italy or in the Ottoman Empire… If some Italian merchant chose to open a production center in Turkey it was probably because labor there was skilled but cheaper. Exactly as it happens today. Is a shirt (or a car for that matter) made in India a copy? Now, about age… Why we value so much things like, say, gold and diamonds? 1) for their aesthetic qualities - they are beautiful 2) for their physical/technical qualities - they are imperishable 3) last but not least, for their rarity Likewise, we collect textiles because they are beautiful, but why we prefer antiques? Because they are generally more beautiful than the modern production, and this is, I think, for two reasons: 1) modern makers do not have anymore the skills of their predecessors. 2) the materials available to them are of industrial production, so of a very lower quality and durability of the pre-industrial ones. This is a sad truth we learn in art restoration. And, of course, Old and Beautiful collectibles are always Rare - thus more desirable. In short, I can explain the preference for old items when old also means better aesthetic, physical qualities and rarity. Being able to judge an artifact’s age is another matter, though. Other opinions? Regards, Filiberto Boncompagni

Subject  :  RE:The Old and the Beautiful
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  06-05-2000 on 10:10 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear Filiberto, I think most rug collectors combine two distinct personnae. 1. They love the aesthetics (visual and tactile) of textiles. 2. They are collectors, and many factors related to collector mentality affect their aesthetic judgements. Rarity, age, exoticism, etc., are all examples. Why do they usually prefer the antiques? I believe that this is largely due to combining the collector mentality with the aesthetics. The "collector" factors make us prefer old to new, rare to common, etc., and we transfer that to our aesthetic preferences. Thus, we learn to perceive old and rare as more beautiful than new or common. I think people who collect other things (stamps, baseball cards, autographs, etc.) enjoy an advantage - they don't have to believe that their stuff's value and desirability is related to its beauty. Before people start aiming their flamethrowers at me, let me remind us of some basic facts. 1. There are far more people in the world who think Pakistani "Bokhara" rugs in pastel colors are beautiful than there are who think 19th century Turkmen rugs are beautiful. I'm not one of them, and probably there aren't many of them who follow what goes on in this website, but they exist in great numbers. 2. Those of us who really love old Turkmen stuff, for instance, include among the criteria for beauty the uncrowded and spacious layout of the pre-commercial Turkmen works. It's easy to believe that this preference is the most natural thing in the world. But what was the origin of the crowding and busy-ness that characterizes more recent Turkmen work? It was a response to most western buyers perceiving those properties as more beautiful and desirable. I think a lot of mystery about rug collector aesthetics is virtually inexplicable without recognizing this. It reminds me of a little episode that took place in the streets of Istanbul about 5 years ago. I was invited by one of the locals to come with him to a shop where I could learn all about rugs and Turkish culture. I thanked him, but said I was a rug collector and really wasn't interested in visiting his shop. "What do you collect?", he asked. "Mostly antique tribal things, good Turkmen, stuff like that", I answered. "But those are very hard to find", he said. I responded, "Why would anyone collect anything that isn't very hard to find?" He said he couldn't think of a single reason. I still haven't thought of one. Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:"Out-sourcing"
Author  :  R. John Howe
Date  :  06-06-2000 on 06:36 a.m.
Dear Filiberto and folks - You comment on the indication in the opening salon statement that perhaps the Ottomans licensed Italian "factories" in Turkey to make luxury fabrics for them. The catalog for the Corcoran Topkapi exhibition talks quite a bit about the records that exist concerning various groups of artists (including "wrestlers!) that were employed by the palace. In one section, tantalizingly entitled "Out-sourcing," they offer the following paragraph: "Further flexibility was introduced into the system by commissioning artisans outside the "Ehl-i Hiref" (ed. the palace guild) to undertake certain projects as necessary. Artists and craftsmen of repute, whether belonging to the city guilds or independent were sometimes temporarily employed by the palace or hired on a permanent basis. Some craftsman, moreover, were employed by other state sectors... Although the observation in the initial salon text came from Harold Keshishian, both the title of this passage and especially the last sentence in the quotation above seem to provide support for his assertion. As a footnote, I do not see much indication, in the catalog discussion, that such outsourcing was done in part to take advantage of lower production costs. Resources are mentioned but the emphasis seems to be on specifying the character of the product desired and on quality. The final catalog sentence in this section suggests, to me, that this latter emphasis was likely primary. "...Ottoman art developed in a framework of relatively more centralized palace patronage, under a system where the state exerted close control over both resource allocation, and quality and design." Thanks for your comment here, R. John Howe

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