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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

The Roots of Caucasian Rug Designs

by Daniel Deschuyteneer

Dear all,

The purpose of this Salon is to collect examples of outside influences into the Caucasian weaving culture and to discuss how, when and why such influences expressed themselves in this area. This way, it may be possible to determine what can be considered as typically Caucasian in both structure and design and to develop a more complete understanding of the weavings from this region.

Exploring these outside influences is a way to establish who were the main players in this area. It is situated between the Caspian and Black Seas; with mountains in the north and high levels and plains in the South, and a mixed population of Paleocaucasians, Armenians, Kurds, and later, Oghuz Turks having migrated from Central Asia during the 11 and 12th centuries. The region has always been in the path of expanding empires, among them, Seljuk and later Ottoman Turks, Georgian Russians, Turkmens, and Sassanian Persians later replaced by the Arab caliphates who introduced Islam.

In this essay I will only illustrate examples of Turkic influences, hoping examples from other outside influences will appear on the Discussion board. Each rug illustrated here or on the Discussion Board should be considered as a "Show and Tell" rug, so all opinions and thoughts are welcome.

At least three usual patterns/designs appearing in Caucasian weavings have what I believe to be Turkic roots: the "Kufic" border, the "Leaf and Calyx" border and the "two one two" compartments layout.

The "Leaf and Calyx" border

At the ICOC conference in Philadelphia in 1996, Wendel Swan delivered a paper (published in OCTS V, part 1) on a border commonly referred to as the “leaf and wineglass” or “leaf and calyx” border that is frequently found on village Anatolian and Caucasian rugs. He noted that while the fields of these rugs almost invariably contain non-representational geometric designs in a tradition extending back to the Seljuk period and earlier, this border design is usually described in representational terms, i.e., “leaf and wineglass.”

The thesis of the paper was that "it can be demonstrated that this border does not record the images of leaves or wineglasses or any other specific objects. Rather, it results from whole, purely geometric, non-pictorial medallions being halved, rotated or reflected in order to create a meander."

A typical example of the so-called "leaf and wineglass border is this one:

The "Kufic" border

Plate 79 Orient Stars (showing both Persian and Turkic influence)

Origins of the Kufic border are difficult to establish but, to my knowledge, it seems that the earliest renditions of this border appeared in the 12th to 14th centuries Seljuk rugs (see Orient Stars 185 & 186) and survived in the 15th and 16th century Anatolian Holbein and Lotto rugs, as well as in later specimens
illustrated in Italian paintings (see John Mills' article in Oriental Carpet and TExtile Studies II, pages 112 & 113).

Orient Stars – plate 185

P.R.J Ford (Oriental Carpet Design, plate 616) shows a scene depicted in an illuminated manuscript painted in Herat, 1428. The design of the ground pattern of the carpet depicted has clear affinities with that of the Turkoman rugs of Anatolia (small Holbein pattern) and a Kufic border. It can be seen in this magnified close up in the rugs hanging on the wall.

PRJ Ford – Oriental Carpet Design - plate 616

This Kufic border appears also in 15th century Mamluk rugs. Here is a closeup of number 325, in Gantzhorn's Tapis Chrétien Oriental

The "two one two" compartments layout

Turkish Ottoman influence may be the source of the two-one-two design concept. I say "may be the source", as the same layout appears also in 15th century Cairo Mamluk (Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, fig 28 page 238) and Para-Mamluk rugs. Most probably, this pattern has been inherited from Cairo, when the Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517 and removed the weavers from Cairo.

If you like this topic and want to share your thoughts with us or want to add other examples of outside influences join us on the Discussion board.

My first question is : Is there a pure Caucasian design or is there only a Caucasian Style?

Complementary to the main topic of this Salon and to illustrate the 2-1-2 topic, I would want to share with you this unusual Karachov Kazak rug illustrating the east to west migration of the "two-one-two" design, imported from the west Turkey Cannakale group, which, in turn, hark back to one of the most important 15th century group of Classical Ottoman rugs and Egypt rugs. I will discuss this rug as a Show and Tell rug.

It was very difficult to do a good photo of this rug, and colors as well as design improvisations can be better appreciated in this close up.

Here are several questions I submit:

I am thinking this the earliest Kazak Karachov I have ever handled and would want to share with you which indicator would help to date this rug correctly. It was in hand of the grandfather of its actual Armenian owner at the beginning of the 20th century. It predates the 1860-1870 boring workshop products woven under Russian influence and control for export. Trying to fix a date is always a perilous but informative exercise. One characteristic of the design which seems to be reliable, at least for me, is an observation made by Bennett. He says that the Karachov rugs in which the dotted triangular corner pieces flanking the central medallion are not reinforced by outlining appear to be the oldest example. This design feature may therefore be a useful guide to establishing relative ages. Any thoughts?

When did the 2-1-2 pattern appear in Kazak rugs?

Which group of weavers introduced this design in the Caucasus?

Are there any structure characteristics such as fineness of weaving that are of any help?

Are there any colors or color palette distinctive of early weavings?

Is this rug a pure Caucasian one, a Kurdish version woven in the Kazak area, or a so-called Kagizman from Eastern Anatolia? We keep reading references to Kurds who lived in the Caucasus and were weavers, but I am not aware that anyone has known how to isolate their products. Maybe it has just been woven by weavers without much experience. The design more poorly executed than what we expect for this group do me think it is may be a rural version.

Weaving in the Caucasus was mostly a home industry. Was it possible to weave such large pieces in this area?

Dimensions are V265cm H175cm (8’10" x 6’0"), somewhat more than the usual average (between 265 x 175 cm). Are dimensions indicative of age?

Structure analysis:

Date: circa 1815

Yarn: spin Z

Knot: 2 singles, symmetrical , H7pi V7 49psi, H28/10cm V29/10cm; 812/dm² - glossy wool

Knot irregularities: overlapping, stacked and offset knots -

These stacked and overlapped knots appear essentially and occasionally, in the borders area where they were used to make either the transition to a diagonal or to correct an error, and to increase bulk as in Saryk and Yomut pieces.

Warp: 2 ply ivory wool, level – often lack of weft ease.

Weft: 2 singles, red died wool, 3 up to 6 picks – The wefts are crossed between sheds and sometimes cross over the rows of knots.

Selvage: reinforced selvage in bands of colors with wool single. Uneven covering of the ground wefts four units 1,1,1,1 reinforced in pairs with wool singles..

Top end: band of two pick oblique interlacing that has been plied and sewn

Colors are natural and saturated.