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The Tuning-Fork Kurdish Rugs
by Guido Imbimbo and Daniel Deschuyteneer
The Kurdish Levis Rug
In a well known article published in the summer 1993 in Hali 70, Alberto Levi, the Italian dealer, introduced a number of Kurdish carpets that predate 1850 connecting them to the iconography of the Safavid garden carpets. Among them there was an unpublished rug (fig. 15 in the article, page 93) (1) that, in some way, was left out by the intense debate that followed the article. In this Salon we will discuss a group of rugs to which the Levi's rug belongs. We will take the opportunity to also present two of our recent acquisitions that may represent an interesting addition to this group.
1. The Levi Rug
The field of the Levis rug is characterized by a repeated floral design (2) that is developed along three vertical axes. According to the author this motif resembles a tuning-fork. He also believes that the vertical lines are derived from the shape of the watercourses that would "have been extrapolated from the early garden iconography" (Hali 70, p. 92). While we believe that actually the design may reflect a floral motive with calyx, stem and opened petals, for simplicity we will refer to it as Tuning-Fork(1).
2. The Tuning Fork Motif
In the field there are also some filler elements represented by multicolor and well-designed flowers. The color background of the field is a corroded brown that has been extensively restored. A floral tendril formed by three repeated elements (a round 8-petal flower, a small flower and a floral bud) represents the main border of the Levi's rug. We will refer to it as the "Bud and Flower" border. Finally, the two secondary borders are represented by the "running dog" design that is found in several other Kurdish rugs.
The Tuning-Fork Rugs Group
We found eleven pieces that present a field with the tuning fork device. These carpets can be subdivided in two subgroups, A and B (see Table 1) (2).
Group A is formed by five pieces (see Table 1). Beside the Levis rug there are two rugs that appeared in the international auction market and sold respectively at Phillips in 1987 (3) and at Skinner in 1995(3), and an unpublished small fragment (4). The fifth piece that belongs to Group A is a blue ground and narrow fragmentary rug that has appeared in the Internet market (5).
Table 1: "Tuning-Fork" Kurdish Rugs
A1 Levi Rug
A2 Phillips Rug
A3 Guido Fragment
A4 Skinner Rug
A5 Fragmented Rug
early 19th century
mid 19th century
115 x 251
116 x 200
96 x 44 (*)
112 x 371 (*)
95 x 254(*)
Hali 70, Aug. 1993, p. 93
Lot 43, London, 24-Feb-1987 reviewed in Hali 34, p. 82
Lot 64, 9-Dec-1995
|B1 Boralevi Rug
B2 Eagleton Rug
B3 Skinner Rug
B4 Haliden Rug
B5 Daniel Rug
B6 Ebay Rug
|late 19th century
early 20th century
|120 x 241
76 x 256
122 x 208
132 x 213 (*)
145 x 270
160 x 310
|Hali 91, Mar. 1997, p. 94
Plate 11, An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs, 1988
Lot 178, 22-Jan-1993 reviewed in Hali 68, p. 174
Haliden website, Nov-2000
Item #1509124116, eBay, 3-Feb-2002
(*) indicates reduced in length
3. The Phillips Tuning-Fork Rug
The design of fragment (4) is very similar to the Levi's rug but there are also some differences. While for both fragments the field is a deep indigo, the Levi's one is a heavy corroded brown. The field of the Phillips rug, according with the entry of the catalogue, is piled in natural camel hair. Fragment (4) is also significantly narrower than the other pieces that belong to group A.
4. A Tuning-Fork Rug Fragment
5. A Tuning-Fork Fragmented Rug (detail)
In summary, carpets in this group present the following features:
(i) The "Tuning-Fork" in the field is carefully designed and has a more naturalistic execution.
(ii) The "Bud and Flower" main border that is often associated with the oldest Kurdish carpets.
(iii) A flower represents the filling device in the field.
(iv) A quite fine weaving with high knots counting.
We believe that carpets in this group are older than those classified in Group B.
The "Bud & Flower" Border
The Levi rug and fragment (4) presents a border with a "bud and flower" device. This border is found also in a number of others old Kurdish rugs that have been dated between 1800 and 1850 (6 and Table 2)(4) .
6.The "Bud & Flower" Border
Note that the Kurdish rugs in Table 2 with the "Bud & Flower" motif have different field design varying from "flaming palmette" to "avshang" design and "multiple medallions" (5). Some of the rugs in Table 2 present also a secondary border with the traditional "running dog" design.
Table 2: Kurdish (?) rugs with "Bud & Flower" border
|1||SNY||Flaming Palmette||No||1800||320x170||Lot 36, SNY, 12-Dec-1997|
|2||Nagel||Flaming Palmette||Yes||19th c.||234x138||Lot 88, 13-Nov-1996|
|3||RB||Flaming Palmette||No||early 19th c.||191x134||Lot 76, 18-Nov-2000|
|4||Dodds||Harshang||Yes||1800||224x142*||ORAC Plate 116|
|5||ORAC||Medallions||Yes||mid 19th c.||226x192||Plate 97|
|1||Levi Rug||Tuning Fork||Yes||1800||251x 115||Hali #70, p. 93|
|2||Guido Fragment||Tuning Fork||Yes||?||96x44*||Turkotek|
|3||Fragmented Rug||Tuning Fork||Yes||?||95x254*||Internet, February 2002|
|* length reduced|
While the "Bud & Flower" borders in the Levi Rug and in fragment (4) are identical, the Phillips rug presents instead a different border seen (7) in other old Kurdish weavings associated with a Stepped Diamond Lattice field design(6). Also different in the Phillips rug are the secondary borders.
7. Phillips Rug Border
We found three published rugs that may fall in the Group B: Plate 11 in Eagleton (1988), a rug advertised in Hali (8), and a carpet that appeared in the international market (9)(7). To them we can add two Kurdish carpets appeared in the internet market and another unpublished piece (10) (see Table 1).
|8. Boralevi Rug||9. Skinner Rug|
|10. Daniel's Rug|
Rug (10) is the longest and largest of the Tuning-fork groups. This allows the field design to insert three vertical rows of tuning-fork instead of two. The color scheme is usual for this group. The color saturation in this rug varies from place to place especially among the greens that are a mixture of indigo and yellow (11).
As in the other rugs of the two groups white is used as highlights. The main border as well as the outer minor border contains alternating rosette (12). The minor border is a floral meandering. The structure analysis (Appendix 2) fits the Sauj Bulagh attribution.
|11. Detail of Daniel's Rug||12. Borders of Daniel's Rug|
Group B can be identified by the following elements:
(i) The tuning-fork motif has a more geometric rendition (13).
(ii) The filling device in the field resembles a sort of cloudband collar(14).
(iii) The design of the border tends to move away from the elegant bud and flower design that we find in older Kurdish rugs.
13. Tuning-Fork motif in Group A and Group B
14. "Cloudband" Motif in Group B
The "Shikak" motif
The origin of the filling design (14) of Group B is uncertain. It could be another floral element (like the "bugs bunny" device of many NWP carpets) or recall the typical "cloudband" of Chinese origins. The "cloudband" element could be also associated to the "symmetrical cross" that is often found in several Kurdish weavings and that Eagleton attributes to the Shikak tribe of Iran (pp. 57-58 in his book; 8).
Michael Wendorf has briefly discussed the Shikak motif in Salon 88 in Turkotek. He believes that "its origins are in flatweaves, perhaps slit tapestry" and that the Shikak pieces "were probably woven by several groups in several places". Some of the weavings containing the Shikak cross are summarized in Table 3.
The "cloudband collar" design that we find in Tuning-Fork Kurdish carpets of Group B would simply represent "half" of the Shikak cross that appears in weavings like 16. This is actually the case in the Benardout and the Kailash mafrash. Note that the main border in the Bernardout and the Kailash mafrash is exactly the same as in Eagleton plate 12 and that the "S" horizontal border, also seen in Shasavan weavings, is exactly similar as the vertical main border of the Boralevi rug.
Picture (17) shows a "reconstruction" of the shikak motifs using the half "cloudband-shikak" filler motifs of the rug B5. The similarities are striking but the horizontal prongs of the original motif are missing.
|15. Detail of Daniel's Rug||16. Kailash Mafrash||17. "Shikak" Motif Reconstruction|
Table 3: Some Kurdish (?) Weavings with "Shikak" Motif
|1||Kailash Mafrash||mid 19th c.||122x47||Hali 45, Jun. 1989, fig.4, p. 32|
|2||Bernadout Mafrash||mid 19th c.||127x48||Woven Stars, plate 22, p. 38|
|3||RB Rug 1||mid 19th c.||173x254||Lot 44, 11 May 1996|
|4||RB Rug 2||2nd half, 19th c.||125x235||Lot 8, 23 May 1998|
|5||Eagleton Fragment||ca 1870||107x300*||Plate 7, An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs, p. 57|
|6||Eagleton Rug||ca 1910||119x292||Plate 8, An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs, p. 58|
|7||Hilpp Rug||?||?||Minasian Exhibition, Chicago, Oct-2001|
|8||Willborg Rug||4th quarter, 19th c||131x267||Plate 32, Textile Treasures, 1995|
|9||Bamborough Rug||?||ca 1860||Plate 103, Antique Oriental Rugs and Carpets, 1979|
|10||Wendorf Bags||?||?||Keshishian Exhibition, 23-Oct-1999; Turkotek, Salon 88|
|11||Wendorf Rug||?||?||Turkotek, Salon 88|
|12||Frauenknecht Bag||?||?||Herbstausstellung 2002|
Ahlheim Ulrich, Seen But Not Kurd, in Hali Issue 97, March 1998, pp 67-69
Bamborough Philip, Antique Oriental Rugs and Carpets, 1979
Burns James D., The Caucasus Traditions in Weavings, 1987 Deschuyteneer Daniel, Kurdish North West Persian Rugs? in Salon du Tapis d'Orient, Turkotek website, December 1998
Deschuyteneer Daniel, Kurdish North West Persian Rugs? in Salon du Tapis d'Orient, Turkotek website, December 1998
Dodds Dennis R. and Murray L. Eiland Jr., Oriental Rug from Atlantic Collections, Philadelphia Eight ICOC Inc., 1996
Eagleton William, An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs, 1988
Eskenazi John, Il Tappeto Orientale, 1983
Izady Mehrdad R., The Kurds - A Concise Handbook, 1992
Levi Alberto, Hali Issue 70, Aug.-Sep. 1993, pp. 84-93
Stone Peter F. (Ed.), Mideast Meets Midwest, Ethnographic Rugs From Midwest Collections, The Chicago Rug Society, 1993
Table 4: Some Kurdish(?) Rug Groups
|1||Meyer-Muller Rug||142x269||3rd quarter 19th c.||Lot 60, CNY, 22-Jan-1991|
|2||SNY Rug||170x320||ca. 1800||Lot 36, 12-Dec-1997|
|3||Phillips Fragment||164x166||ca. 1800||Lot 61, 30-Sep-1986; see also Hali 34, p.97|
|4||Nagel Rug||234x138||19th c.||Lot 88, 13-Nov-1996|
|5||RB Rug #1||134x191||early 19th c.||Lot 76, 18-Nov-2000|
|6||RB Rug #2||137x251||mid 19th c.||Lot 10, 17-Nov-2001|
|7||CNY Rug 19th c.||160x348||3rd quarter 19th c.||Lot 110, 20-Apr-1994|
|8||Eagleton Rug||117x226||ca. 1900||Plate 12, An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs, 1988|
|ORAC Rug||122x226||mid 19th c.||Plate 97, ORAC, 1996|
|SL Rug||138x221||ca. 1880||Lot 69, 12-Apr-2000|
|Besim Rug||145x244||2nd half 19th c.||Hali 29, p. 93|
|Skinner Rug||?||19th c.||Lot 216, 23-Sep-2000|
|Stepped Diamond Lattice|
|1||Dodds Rug||124x196||3rd quarter 19th c.||Plate 111, ORAC, 1996|
|2||Wendorf Rug||?||?||Keshishian Exhibition, 23-Oct-1999|
|3||Rochester Rug||107x168||?||Turkotek, Salon 7, 30-Dec-1998|
|4||RB Rug||154x247||ca. 1800||Lot 123, 20-May-2000|
|6||Omer Tosun Rug||110x181||?||Turkotek, Salon 7, 1-Jan-1999|
|7||Eagleton Rug||104x287||ca. 1930||Plate 46, An Introduction to Kurdish Rugs, 1988|
|1||SNY Rug||129x223||ca. 1800||Lot 56, 10-Apr-1997|
|2||Dodds Rug||224x142*||ca. 1800||ORAC, Plate 116|
|3||Orient Stars||139x243||19th c.||Plate 28|
|4||ACOR-2 Rug||127x254||late 19th c.||Plate 14, Mideast Meets Midwest, 1993|
|5||Levi Rug||147x198||ca. 1800||CNY, 6-Jun-1989, Hali 101, p. 58|
|6||Burns Rug||97x191||ca. 1800||Plate 14, The Caucasus Traditions in Weaving, 1987|
|7||Purdon Rug||196x335||ca. 1800||Hali 86, p. 128|
|8||RB Rug||120x303||mid 19th c.||Lot 66, 18-Nov-2000|
|9||Minasian Rug||147x193||19th c.||Hali 119, p. 107|
|Hali 118, p. 124|
|11||Eskenazi Rug||180x400||2nd half 19th c.||Plate 192, Il tappeto orientale, 1981|
|12||Bausback Rug||127x239||ca. 1800||Plate 19, Alte und Antike Orientalische Knupfkunst, 1982 = SNY, Lot 175, 3-Dec-1988|
|13||Willborg Rug||156x275||1st half 19th c.||Cloudband, 14-Aug-2000|
|* Reduced in Length|
Appendix 2: Technical Analysis
Daniel's Rug (B5 Table 1)
Size: 270cm x145cm
Structure analysis: Marla Mallett's "Woven Structure" nomenclature
Yarn spin: Z Knot: wool, 2 singles, symmetrical, H21/dm V36/dm 756/dm² (H5.5pi V9pi 50psi)
Pile height: 1cm - very glossy and silky wool
Warp: 2 ply wool - ivory and gray brown
Weft: brownish red wool, 2 singles, 2 or 3 picks, wefts are crossed between sheds
Interlaced selvage: 6 units (1,1,1,1,1,1) reinforced in two groups with red wool singles
End finishes: missing
Colors: very saturated and brilliant - Pinkish and brick reds- From medium to very dark saturated indigo blue- From apple green to dark blue green - gold yellow, orange- yellow, lemon yellow, white, medium brown and darker slightly corroded brown
Guido's Fragment (A3 Table 1)
Size: 96cm x 44cm (reduced in length)
Structure analysis: Marla Mallett's "Woven Structure" nomenclature
Yarn spin: Z Knot: symmetrical, 2 wool singles, V9pi H7pi 63psi
Pile height: Low
Warp: ivory or light brown, 2 plies wool
Weft: red wool single, two picks
Selvage: reinforced selvage
End finishes: missing
Colors: white, brown, pink, red, aubergine, black, light blue, dark blue, indigo, yellow, light green
1. The floral "Tuning-Fork" device resembles a more simplified "Trefoil" motif, often organized in a lattice scheme, that is found in others Persian weavings (see plate 295, ORAC or some carpets in the Wendorf exhibition in Washington).
2. The dates attributed to the rugs in Table 1, as well in the others tables in this Salon, reflect simply the attribution given in the reference source when available. It does not reflect our opinion. The only temporal attribution we have attempted here is in relative terms: we believe that rugs in Group A are older than those in Group B.
3. We have only a black and white picture for the Skinner piece. The entry says: "Northwest Persian Runner, mid 19th century, three columns of blossoming vines in red, sky blue, aubergine, gold, red-brown, ivory, and light blue-green on the midnight blue field, red square motif and rosette border, (reduced in length, borders missing from one end, small holes, crease)". This carpet is quite close to the Levi piece having the central column of the "tuning forks" in ivory. It presents the same filler motifs.
4. To this list of rugs with "bud and flower" border we may also add the North-West Persian carpet shown in Eskenazi , plate 192, p. 290.
5. A wider list of Kurdish (?) rugs, organized by groups, is presented in Appendix 1.
6. See the Rochester Rug, the Wendorf Rug and the Levi Rug in the Steeped Diamond Lattice Group in Table 4 in Appendix 1. In the Wendorf's exhibition there was also another rug with the same border but with different field.
7. Thomas Baker reviewed this rug in Oriental Rug Review, Vol. 13/3: "Lot 178 was a very collectable Kurd rug with a field of ascending leaf and flower motifs. Somewhat crooked, it had outstanding wool and the best, clear and bright Kurdish colors you can find. A truly "inviting" rug, it was reasonably and astutely bid to $2,300"
8. Izady  calls the "Shikak" motif a turtle design. Some scholars believe that the "Shikak" motif has strong slit tapestry weave roots.