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The “Tuning-Fork” Kurdish Rugs

by Guido Imbimbo and Daniel Deschuyteneer

The Kurdish Levi’s 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 Among them there was an unpublished rug (fig. 15 in the article, page 93) (1) that, in some way, was left out by the intense debate that followed the article.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 Levi’s 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

Group A is formed by five pieces (see Table 1). Beside the Levi’s 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in the international auction market and sold respectively at Phillips in 1987 (3) and at Skinner in 1995(3), and an unpublished small fragment (4).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

Group A

A1 Levi Rug
A2 Phillips Rug
A3 Guido Fragment
A4 Skinner Rug
A5 Fragmented Rug
ca. 1800
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
Internet, Feb-2002

Group B

B1 Boralevi Rug
B2 Eagleton Rug
B3 Skinner Rug
B4 Haliden Rug
B5 Daniel Rug
B6 Ebay Rug
late 19th century
ca. 1890
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) .

Levi Guido Dodds Nagel ORACP197 SNY

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

  Rug Field Running
Date Size Source
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

Group B

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.

Guido Levi Phillips
Daniel Boralevi Skinner

13. ”Tuning-Fork” motif in Group A and Group B

Boralevi Daniel Skinner Haliden

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

Rug Date Size Reference
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

Appendix 1

Table 4: Some Kurdish(?) Rug Groups

  Rug Size Date Reference
  Flaming Palmette      
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 
  Multiple Medallions      
  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 
5  Levi Rug  ? ?  Unpublished
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
  Afshan Design      
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 
10  Basha Rug  132x193
19th c.
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 [1983], 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 [1992] calls the "Shikak" motif a turtle design. Some scholars believe that the "Shikak" motif has strong slit tapestry weave roots.


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