Posted by R. John Howe on 12-24-2002 07:29 AM:

"Arch" Better Than "Mihrab"

Dear Steve -

Russell Pickering has also argued against the notion that what we often call "prayer rugs" were actually used much for that purpose.

He tends to subsitute "mihrab" and you use that term occasionally too, in your introductory essay.

I have suggested to Russell that "mihrab" has some of the same problems as "prayer." That is, it suggests that the "arch" design in a "prayer" rug is intended to convey either the notion of "the direction of Mecca" or that of a "symbolic gateway." Like the "prayer" usage, it is rarely the case that either of these intentions can be demonstrated.

I think the more neutrally descriptive term "arch," which is the one you use most frequently here is usually preferrable.

Just a little pedantry here in the morning.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Farber on 12-24-2002 10:10 AM:

niche form

Dear Mr Howe

I suggested niche form in a previous salon . . . . if only becuase some to the forms dont look like they could support a load . . . as in arch

best regards


I for one appreciate pedantic nit pickers . . .

Posted by Steve Price on 12-24-2002 11:15 AM:

Hi Richard,

The Salon essay includes a link to your very relevant Salon on arch form embroideries in the footnotes, but it probably should have had more prominence in the text. Anyone interested in prayer rug designs should take the time to read it over.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-25-2002 02:52 PM:

Dear folks -

Richard Farber's indication that the primary definition of "arch" suggested something that not only had a "curved shape," but also had a function, that of "supporting some load," sent me scurrying to my dictionaries (my learned architectural authority friend upstairs is not available to me today).

Sure, enough, Richard's suggestion seems to be part of the primary definition of "arch." Here's what the "Cambridge Dictionary of American English" has for "arch."

noun [C]
a structure consisting of a curved top on two supports which holds the weight of something above it, or something decorative that has this shape.

Two rows of arches support the roof of the church.

The arch of your foot is the higher, curved part on the bottom."

My own usage centered on the "or" part of this definition.

"Niche" it seems to me now, unless further evidence surfaces, is, in fact, the preferrable term for this design feature.


R. John Howe

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 12-27-2002 12:05 AM:


Dear R.J. Howe and All- P.R.J. Ford, in his Oriental Carpet Design, confronts this semantic dilemma and proposes the term 'archway' as a satisfactory resolution to this quandary, owning to the fact that the term is merely descriptive and hence unimpugnable by any symbolic associations. Interesting and telling, this reference to architecture and/or architectural elements when attempting to decsribe the prayer rug, for I believe a compelling argument would assert that many forms of the "prayer rug"design are in fact the manifestations of various architectural elements, such as the mihrab, the niche, the minaret, and the cloumned arch. This is of course not always readily or immediately apparent, especially as in the case of that which appears to be a design evolution exhibited by the

early "Multi column Ladik" and it's metamorphasis into

the " traditional" Ladik, then into the latter version in which the "crenulation and tulip" motive of the design is

inverted and placed at the base of the columns as if in some misguided attempt to balance the design. Next we find

the Mudjar and Kirsehir "prayer rug", a simplified geometric rendition of this same Multi column Ladik design in which the relative proportions of the various design elements have changed once again. And at the terminus of this evolutionary spectrum ,as exemplified in a weaving by

the Kurdish Kolyai tribe, the design is reduced to an angular medallion suggestive of the archway and only vestigal details by which to clearly identify the design for what it represents. I would suggest that we use the architectural term when it is readily apparent that the motive in question is in fact an architectural rendering, and the descriptive in others. Not that I will lose sleep if you fail to do so.

This last rug, besides being I believe, verry old and beautiful, is interesting in that it seems to incorperate into it's design the characteristics of a variety of styles of prayer rugs, including both the columnar and Classic Ladik and the Gordes/Transylvanian rugs, and suggests, at least superficially, some relationship between them all, and in the least with that of Ottoman court Carpets. - Dave

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 12-29-2002 04:49 AM:

Hi folks,
No time to participate to the discussion, so far.
This is only to let you know that the images are now inserted in Dave’s posting.

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 12-29-2002 09:08 AM:

Early vs Latter

Dear All- Just as important afterthought, it should be noted that early ladik prayer rugs may still exhibit the characteristic of crenelation and tulip panel being placed below the archway- the archways in the older rugs are proportionally larger than the other design elements- Dave

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 01-02-2003 11:18 AM:

Dear John,

Coming back to the topic of "Arch" better than "Mihrab"…
I was offered a book, Selected Precius (SIC) Rugs of Dafineh Museum with text in Farsi and (bad) English.
I learned that the Dafineh is a rather recent museum in Teheran.
Among the illustrations there are several examples of Persian rugs with arches - some of them with columns and central lamp which WE commonly identify as "prayer rugs", others with arches and trees, vases and flowers.
Interestingly the captions describe them only as Disign (SIC) : MEHRABI with, according to the case COLUMNAR, CONDYLED (?) VASE SHAPED, TREE.
No mention of Prayer or Arches.