TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  The Coptic connection
Author  :  Wendel Swan
Date  :  08-30-2000 on 10:10 p.m.
Dear Daniel and all, When I first saw the borders in Daniel's Moghan and Kazak rugs, my response was to associate them with the group (to which the Pap, Rudnick and Emry examples belong) of long rugs from NWP or the Caucasus that have been discussed elsewhere in this Salon. Except for those sumak mafrash side panels of the Housego type, I had not seen the interlace border used other than with the medallion field. I think this image of the Housego mafrash may provide a bit better resolution. There is an undeniably similar spirit in the long rugs, the mafrash panels and Daniel's rugs, probably due to the color palette and distinctive juxtaposition of color. The colors may lead us to group them all, perhaps correctly, but the designs themselves yield no answer to their "ethnic" origin. The rug community often speaks of certain designs as if they belong only to a certain time period, geography or people, when in fact many are both timeless and ubiquitous. In part two of the Salon, Daniel inquires if some of these designs are derived from the Coptic tradition. Whether they originated in the Coptic era or not, some of these designs can clearly be traced back at least that far. Both the field and the border of the Pap, Rudnick, Thompson and Emry rugs have ancestors in Coptic textiles. Here is a Coptic tunic decoration from the 2nd or 3rd Century A. D. with an interlace design that is little changed from those in Daniel's borders. (For convenience, it might be called a rosette, but since it seems not to have been a floral motif almost 2,000 years ago, I think we have little reason to believe that more recent versions specifically represent flowers.) Note: I have shown an inverted image on the right for the purpose of more easily reading the design. Here is a detail of the interlace at the center in its original white pattern on black ground format. I chose this embroidered piece from among several examples because it was easiest to scan. While the medallions adjoin, they do not interlace with one another. However, they do create very interesting patterns with positive and negative space; notice that the inter-medallion space comprises an eight-pointed star with a diamond at the center. While "Coptic" textiles cover a broad range of styles (from the pictorial to the geometric), I suspect that almost any variation of familiar eight-pointed stars or eight-lobed medallions could be found among them. Next, the Coptic interlace is followed by several interlaces in this tradition. I have aligned them in the order in which one might say that the pattern most resembles that of the Coptic interlace. However, I'm not certain that doing so serves any real purpose. But the similarity to the Luri and Belouch examples is most striking. And the Talish interlace that follows is also nearly identical in drawing. Now I'd like to turn to the fields of pile rugs that seem to most commonly have this interlace border. Following are details of the Pap and Rudnick rugs (with better resolution and color than they appear elsewhere in the salon) and well as a pile mafrash side panel which has structural qualities very similar to those of the Rudnick rug. Next we can compare these medallions with a medallion design found on a linen and wool Coptic textile on the far right believed to come from the 7th or 8th Century A. D. While the color palettes are entirely different, there can be little doubt that the designs of the NWP/Caucasian rugs are descended from the earlier Coptic textile tradition (unless one chooses the spontaneous recreation theory). This is an overall view of the Coptic textile seen in detail above. I'm unable to do more than observe the similarity between these Coptic designs and many that we see today. I certainly can't account for the path of descent of these designs over the 1,200 to 1,800 years or how the Coptic styles themselves may have evolved. I don't know where else in the world these interlaces and eight sided devices may have existed during the first millennium. I do know that we frequently see and discuss many other geometric patterns with ancestors among Coptic textiles. For example, one can easily find Coptic medallions that strongly resemble Turkmen guls. The Coptic connection raises important issues. Knowing that the rugs that most collectors cherish have an ancient history is both comforting and troubling. It may, for example, substantiate the beliefs of some who are trying to establish great age for Turkmen rugs by C-14 dating, since the designs seem to have been around almost unchanged for a long, long time. But this knowledge does little for those who are trying to establish narrow time slots for the rugs that most collectors buy and own. We have great difficulties trying to specifically date Caucasian rugs in the period before the commercial boom of the last part of the 19th Century, simply because we collectively really don't know much about what rugs were made in the Caucasus before about 1850. We further don't really know much about Persian rugs between about 1700 and 1850. We can see how the dynamics of trade and commerce altered the look of rugs in the boom period, but if certain designs can remain virtually unchanged for more than a millennium, how can we decide, based upon design, that any given rug was woven during a specific decade prior to about 1850? The issues become even more problematic when we try to decide which ethnic group produced them. Wendel

Subject  :  RE:The Coptic connection
Author  :  Patrick+Weiler
Date  :  08-31-2000 on 09:37 a.m.
jpweil00@gte.net Wendel, WOW, WHEW! That is a very fascinating, comprehensive and insightful commentary. It is almost a salon in itself. Should this salon be renamed "When is Shared Design a Basis for COPTIC Ethnic Attribution?" Your photos of the Coptic (early Egyptian Christian, apex in the 6th century) textiles certainly stir up the pot. The varied features in them look similar to not only Turkmen, but also Baluch, Caucasian AND Turkish weavings of more recent centuries. The more or less discredited Volkmar Gantzhorn theory that oriental carpets stem from Armenian Christian roots comes to mind also. Your reasonable disclaimer that we do not know where else in the world these designs may also have existed shows clearly that the design pool of oriental rugs is almost universal. Most likely the only conclusion one can come to is that the NWP/Caucasus was a crossroads of trade and travel and the designs that appear on their textiles came from a variety of sources. Patrick Weiler

Subject  :  RE:The Coptic connection
Author  :  Michael Wendorf
Date  :  08-31-2000 on 10:31 a.m.
Wendel, Patrick: Insightful commentary? Absolutely. Of course, Wendel does not assert that these designs originate with Coptic textiles but rather that they can be traced back that far. I can only add that they can probably be traced back even further if we had access to archeological fragments that have been unearthed. As rug collectors we sometimes get caught up in distinctions between weavings made in 1880 as compared to 1850 and forget how old weaving is and how sophisticated and interrelated the world was by the time the copts were weaving these textiles. Trade routes were established throughout what we would associate with the rug weaving areas thousands of years earlier. We also tend to forget how flexible the knotted pile structure is. Weavers can copy, adopt or adapt almost any design. To this I can only add that structures more basic and probably older than knotted pile may be the genesis of many of these designs. In any event, Wendel is certainly correct that we cannot determine much, if anything, about who wove something simply by a design. Color, structure and other details provide more reliable clues, but even those can lead to dead ends. Thanks to Wendel for the post. Michael

Subject  :  RE:The Coptic connection
Author  :  Marla Mallett
Date  :  08-31-2000 on 12:31 p.m.
marlam@mindspring.com Daniel's mention of a possible "Coptic connection" for the border rosettes on his rugs prompted me to prepare some notes and photos. Although these overlap with the material posted by Wendel above, my conclusions differ. Why on earth do we need a 1400- to 1500-year-old Coptic/Byzantine predecessor for these particular motifs when there are sources directly at hand in the ancient warp-substitution jajim traditions of Kurdish, Turkic and other western and central Asian weavers themselves--including the prolific Shahsevan jajim weavers? I won't bore you here with the rationale for the warp-substitution pattern development, as I've written about that elsewhere, but instead will just include one of several variations on the common warp-substitution arrow motif--in this case a rather elaborate detail from a striped Kurdish jajim. Here's the only thing I could find in Coptic work with even a vague resemblance to Caucasian rosettes--an Egyptian tapestry tunic insert in the standard Greco-Roman 4th-5th century interlace style. Its motif is similar to Wendel's example. But resemblances between these and the pile rug and soumak border rosettes are superficial. Subdivided and ornamented circles are so basic to human expression, that comparisons make little sense unless we consider the subtleties. The Devil's in the Details--the building blocks. The three-dimensional continuously interlacing scrollwork seen throughout Byzantine, Coptic and early Islamic art has little in common with four-part multi-colored rosettes made with triangles and angular hooked attachments--including those with eventually rounded corners. The concepts and basic design elements are very different. Surely no logic suggests that one idea developed out of the other. Elaborate interlaces are pen and paper (or brush and papyrus) concepts, while the knotted pile motifs in the arrow borders represent a straightforward on-the-loom design development. It makes no sense to pluck fully developed examples from the END of an evolving Caucasian/Persian/Anatolian pile-rug border developmental sequence and suggest a dependency upon forms from a far distant, earlier culture. When we compare the full range of evolving Asian warp-substitution, soumak, and knotted-pile arrow borders with a range of complex Egyptian interlace designs, passing similarities seem to evaporate. To know the difference between the END and the BEGINNING of any evolutionary sequence, we have to study intermediate examples--whether it's in nature or in human design. Unless we find the missing links, there is no way to identify derivative forms. With textiles, it is certainly foolish to ignore the natural accommodations made by weavers to technical and structural factors. It's still more foolish to ignore the information provided by extant developmental series of works. Examples can always be found to bolster pet theories, but lining up lots of fully developed motifs tells us nothing about their evolution. The four-part "rosettes" in both of Daniel's rugs display clear tell-tale signs of derivation from TWO-PART motifs. The horizontal and vertical parts are differentiated--that is, they are shaped in different ways. This characteristic is common when composite motifs are constructed from simpler one-directional forms--in this case a simple vertical border figure. The first of the examples below shows a detail from a Caucasian soumak "bug bag." The small arrow motifs in this border are identical to those in the simplest of common warp-substitution borders. The important thing to notice is that the two side elements in these figures are simply triangular space fillers, with no stems or hooks. In later examples, weavers gradually added stems, then hooks, to these side parts, forming "rosettes." In the second photo, an Anatolian rug border, the horizontal parts also still appear in abbreviated form--with no stems, and with simpler hooks. Again, it's the subtle but tell-tale horizontal/vertical differentiation characteristic of transitional motifs. The mental processes for a weaver working without a cartoon are distinctly different when articulating design parts right side up versus turned sideways. It's not so easy to immediately make them identical. To cover the problem, the artisan often opts to emphasize differences between them. The details on Daniel's two rugs show this exaggerated horizontal/vertical differentiation. In the first, the hooks are pointed on the top and bottom, rectangular on the sides. In the second, they are rounded on top and bottom, flat on the sides. The same differentiation appears when these forms are isolated and used as field motifs. On an earlier thread, Daniel showed a couple of such examples on Anatolian yastiks--one with a plain, simple outside arrow border as well!!! Even when the motif was developed further by Talish weavers, a few of the earliest plump, refined rosettes display tell-tale signs of their origins--hroizontal/vertical differentiation. Sorry that I can't put my hands on one of those at the moment, but they DO exist. If you scroll to the right, you will see one of the earliest Talish versions that is quadrilaterally symmetrical. The scan below, from a Sahhsevan soumak bag shows an example that expands on Patrick's astute point on an earlier thread: The composite arrow motif here has four vertical arrows still arranged in a border configuration. Or, one might say it has arrows added on the top and bottom. Again, in this example, horizontal and vertical parts are treated differently. It is no stretch to say that one logical next step would be the addition of extra hooked arrows on the sides, and then manipulation or reversal of the outmmost parts. To note vaguely similar decorative motifs from cultures separated widely by time and space proves exactly what? That human experience and artistic inclinations display similar tendencies just about everywhere? Why do we have such an intense desire to prove this again and again? To play the game, though, we need to at least avoid superficialities and refrain from using the available evidence selectively. Marla

Subject  :  Deletion of remainder of this thread
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  09-05-2000 on 10:39 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear People, As some of you know, the thread continued beyond this point with some heated personal disagreements that went far beyond discussion of the matter at hand, the rugs. Some of the people involved feel that their words were chosen badly, and unintentionally inflamed some of the others. The thread unquestionably contained some useful, albeit provocative, material, and it seemed a shame to lose it. On the other hand, having people feel awkward about words that conveyed meanings other than what they intended is not really in anybody's best interest. What to do about it? One option was to leave it just the way it was. Another was to delete the whole thing. A third, which is the one I chose after polling the parties involved, is to selectively delete part of the thread. Although I supppose it would have been best to go through the whole thread, delete the inflammatory parts and edit each subsequent message, I just don't have time to do that. Instead, I deleted all posts made after August 31. That removes some of the causes of hurt and discomfort while leaving most of the valuable parts of the thread in place. I see the whole incident as illustrating some basic truths: 1. Many of the people who contribute to these discussions are very passionate, indeed, about rugs. 2. Among the weaknesses of a medium of communication that is entirely written, of which this is an example, is that the parties involved cannot hear inflections and intonations that convey meaning, nor can they see facial expressions or body language. Perhaps it is surprising that we don't have misunderstandings more often. Steve Price

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