Posted by Steve Price on 06-30-2004 11:14 AM:

Camel Ground Afshar Prayer Rug

Hi Ralph

I think your camel ground Afshar prayer rug is one of the nicest pieces in the group.

I was kind of surprised that you made no mention of the elegant inscription (except for the part that is the date). Has it been translated, or can any of our readers translate it? If so, what does it say?


Steve Price

Posted by Ralph_Kaffel on 07-02-2004 09:48 PM:


No, I never did have the inscription translated. I did show the rug to Parviz Tanavoli at a San Francisco Bay Area Rug Society meeting a few years ago. He requested and received a transparency of the rug, and intends to publish it in his forthcoming book on Afshar rugs. I think that he will have the translation of the inscription included in his caption.



Posted by Patrick Weiler on 07-04-2004 01:35 AM:

Care for a Date?


The top of the field in this rug shows some numbers, 123. Is there any speculation regarding what this date is? The rug seems to be a 19th century weaving.
How common are Afshar prayer rugs? I do not seem to recall a huge number of them. Would this rug indicate that it was therefore woven for the market, or could it be that this is a lone survivor of a vanished tradition?
I notice that the diagonal diamond spandrels are similar to the Shirvan prayer rug at the bottom of the first page of the Salon. Coincidence?
The three large devices in the field seem similar to Shirvan Snowflake rug designs. And the stars within the snowflakes are also very similar to Shirvan devices.
I particularly like the asymmetrical placement of the 8-pointed star devices scattered about the field. And the otherwise open field makes quite a visual impact. A lot of Afshar vase rugs have a largely open field, with a floral vase at each end. This version, however, is especially dramatic.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Steve Price on 07-04-2004 07:42 AM:

Hi Patrick

The numerals at the top of the inscription are 1236 (the 6 isn't quite on the same line as the others), which, under the usual assumption that this is an Islamic date, corresponds to 1823 AD.

A lot of inscribed dates are preceded by a symbol that looks kind of like a handle, which translates roughly as "In the Islamic year ..." That element isn't present in this inscription, but I think it's reasonable to believe that the inscription begins with a date and that the date is probably the Islamic year in which the rug was woven. There are alternative possibilities even if it is a date - it could be the year in which some memorable event occurred (a marriage, a death, a circumcision, etc.).


Steve Price

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 07-04-2004 12:45 PM:

I would hazard a guess that there are more "prayer" rugs with the numbers "1,2 3" than any other combination. Just another question about the meaningfulness of dates.
Your friendly curmudgeon,

Posted by Steve Price on 07-04-2004 01:13 PM:

Hi Marvin

Someone (I think it was Fred Wilbur) compiled dates in inscribed rugs, and documented that your impression is correct.

What is the significance of this? Well, you can approximate the conversion of Islamic to Christian calendars by taking the year 1900 AD as 1318 AH, and simply adding or subtracting the same number of years from one as from the other. This introduces an error of only 3 years per century.

Since almost all oriental rugs that are around nowadays were made between, say, 1800 AD and today, the Islamic dates range from about 1218 AH to about 1422 AH. So, every single one of them includes the numeral "1" AT LEAST once - in the first position every time. That certainly suffices to explain the very high frequency of that numeral.

The remaining three numerals can be any combination of 1 through 0, and for any one position there is a 30% chance that it will be a 1, 2 or 3, if the distribution of years is random in inscribed rugs. But, of course, we know that the distribution of years isn't random. Very large numbers were woven between, say, 1870 and 1920, the so-called commercial period. Look at the AH dates for those two extremes: 1870 AD to 1920 AD correspond to about 1287 AH to about 1338 AH. That is, during the commercial period (the source of the vast majority of extant oriental rugs), the Islamic dates all include the numeral 1 in the first position and either a 2 or a 3 in the second, with a 30% probability of the third and fourth positions each including a 1, 2 or 3.

To me, it is not at all surprising that the numerals 1, 2 and 3 occur with much greater frequency than any other in inscribed oriental rugs. This is exactly what we should expect if the numerals are dates. I hasten to add two considerations:
1. This doesn't prove that they are dates.
2. Those that are dates may not be the years in in which the rugs were woven, but may commemorate events that happened in the years inscribed.

My personal bias is that it is likely that most inscribed 4 digit sequences are AH years, and that the year inscribed is usually the year the rug was woven.


Steve Price

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 07-04-2004 02:13 PM:

Given my backround, I always appreciate a "scientific" explanation. However, I believe there is a preponderance of the order 1...2...3, that would reduce your calculations to about 9%. I think that is too low for my impression. Hope you'all are having a great 4th.

Posted by Steve Price on 07-04-2004 02:47 PM:

Hi Marvin

I misunderstod you. I thought you meant that those three numerals appeared very often, not that that the sequence 1-2-3 is especially common. The three numerals, 1, 2 and 3 do appear very frequently, and the numeral 1 as the first number is nearly universal.

But the 1-2-3 sequence is very uncommon. In the Islamic calendar, 1230 AH to 1239 AH correspond roughly to 1817 to 1829, and very few rugs fall within this range of inscriptions. The only other four digit sequence that can include 1-2-3 is 1123, which would be around the year 1700 AD if it's a date. I don't think I've ever seen or heard of a rug with that sequence inscribed.


Steve Price

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 07-04-2004 03:27 PM:

I believe that a large number of rugs that I have seen published in various catalogs and books have the 1,2,3 sequence. I'm stating this from memory and a bit of bourbon. Your point that very few rugs are around from those specific years is probably correct, which means that my belief that reasons other than year-of-make account for that frequent sequence.

Posted by Steve Price on 07-04-2004 05:30 PM:

Hi Marvin

Oriental Rug Review, Volume 14 Number 3 or 4, has Donald Wilbur's catalog of dated rugs. I don't have it handy to consult, but my recollection is that the distribution is pretty much what you might expect it to be if the numbers are the Islamic years in which the rugs were produced: clustered around the late 19th/early 20th centuries. I think the study would have created much more of a stir if he found them clustered around 1825, which would be the case if the 1-2-3 sequence of numbers was extremely common.

I will look for the Wilbur article tomorrow to see what it actually shows - if anyone else has it at hand and can look at the results, that would be great.


Steve Price

Posted by Steve Price on 07-04-2004 06:03 PM:

Hi Marvin

The Wilber article is in Oriental Rug Review, Volume 15, Number 4, pp. 14-43. It has tons of data in it, arranged in a number of ways.

In a nutshell, the information relevant to this discussion is as follows:
1. The number of rugs in his database having inscriptions that can be read as Islamic dates = 1,259
2. The number of those that include the 1-2-3 sequence of digits = 37 (2.3%)
3. Number in which the Islamic dates convert to years between 1870 and 1920 = 771 (61.2%)

The distribution of dates (assuming that the numbers really are dates most of the time) corresponds pretty much with what we might expect. Rugs made between about 1870 and 1920 make up the majority.


Steve Price

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 07-04-2004 06:39 PM:

There'e nothing like good data.

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 07-05-2004 03:18 AM:

I see Stars!

Here is a photo of one corner of a Shirvan rug:

The star/flower appears to be quite similar to the star/flowers in the centers of the top and bottom Shirvan-like "snowflake" medallions of the Afshar rug.
It could be argued that this floral device is easily rendered, therefore no relationship is likely. Or, those pesky Armenian Afshars have penetrated another rug-weaving enclave!!!

Patrick (Conspiracy) Weiler

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 07-05-2004 07:48 PM:

Shirvan by way of Kuba?

The Snowflake medallion in the Afshar is also seen in an earlier version in Kuba "blossom" carpets. Perhaps using this medallion was a way of bringing some cosmopolitan cachet from an exotic Caucasian carpet into this Afshar prayer rug. Many Afshar designs are derived from workshop rugs, such as the vase carpets, and their inimitable way of transforming these formal designs into their own is truly remarkable.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Jaina_Mishra on 07-07-2004 04:41 AM:

A few more 'snowflakes' from a Lesghi.

Jaina Mishra

Posted by Richard Tomlinson on 07-07-2004 09:56 AM:

Dear Mr Kaffel

I am probably not going to make any friends with my posting but here goes..

You wrote, in reply to Steve Price's question re: inscription

"No, I never did have the inscription translated"

To be honest, I cannot understand how you can have lived with such a beautiful rug without knowing what the inscription says.

Had I acquired this piece, my VERY first enquiry would have been "What does it say, what does it say?"

I am at a total loss to understand your evident lack of interest in the inscription.

I hope this does not sound too harsh, but it really does mystify me.

Richard Tomlinson

Posted by Steve Price on 07-07-2004 10:07 AM:

Hi Richard

I own a Hereke prayer rug, ca 1960, that I find very beautiful. It has a cartouche in the mihrab, with an inscription in it. My attitude toward the inscription was like yours - I simply had to know what it said.

Then I found out: it reads "Marka Duruder". The closest translation in English is "Design copyrighted to Duruder workshop". Not very romantic, and I sort of wished I hadn't found out.

Some inscriptions are best left mysterious. Ralph may have learned this the hard way, as I did.


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Tomlinson on 07-07-2004 10:35 AM:

Hi Steve

Sorry, but all the more reason for finding out.

The truth may be bitter, but at least let us have the truth out in the open.

Isn't that what it's all about? Learning what we do not know.

Richard Tomlinson

Posted by Lloyd Kannenberg on 07-07-2004 04:47 PM:

Hi Richard, Hi all,

Have you seen Reinisch's excellent "Sattel Taschen"? His Plate 69, a double bag from Khotan, has my favorite inscription, in beautiful Chinese characters: "Bag for putting in corn" on one side, "Souvenir from Khotan" on the other.

Lloyd Kannenberg

Posted by Ralph_Kaffel on 07-07-2004 06:04 PM:

Dear Mr. Tomlinson,

I am not entirely un-curious. When we bought this rug at auction at Lefevre's in 1980, I asked Jean Lefevre if he had the inscription translated, and he said that he tried and could not. When Hali reviewed the sale, they were unable to translate it. I checked in Donald Wilber's chronological compilation of dated and inscribed rugs, and this rug was not included. At that point my efforts to translate the inscription were suspended. We collect rugs, and the inscriptions are merely incidental.

Much later, when I showed the rug to Mr. Tanavoli, he said the inscription read something like "There is no God but Allah", a fairly common theme in Islamic rugs. As I said before, I believe the precise translation will appear when (and if) the rug is published in his Afshar book.



Posted by Patrick Weiler on 07-08-2004 12:57 AM:

Snowflakes and stars


The motif you have shown is the star/flower. The snowflakes are the large medallions (there are three of them in the Afshar rug) in the center of the rug with star/flowers in their centers.
Since the Leshgi design has been woven in several areas of the Caucasus, yours may well be a Shirvan Leshgi.
This shows that these motifs were shared by weavers from many areas. A diligent search might determine who came first, but it would not be easy. The Snoflake goes back at least into the 18th century with the Blossom Kuba rugs, and the star/flower is even seen in a prayer rug from the 15th/16th century, the ex-Wher collection Ushak from west Anatolia. It can be seen in the recent May-June Hali, issue 134, on page 101 in the re-entrant keyhole at the bottom of the field.
Many of the Caucasian rugs tended to enlarge a single motif from an earlier carpet and add filler motifs. This is the likely source of the Leshgi design. The Afshar took a basic design from an earlier source and simplified it, removing much of the extraneous and most of what held the earlier design together, creating a stark and stunning rendition all their own.
Walking past a downtown rug store today I saw a Leshgi design with a Turkmen boat-border on a new Afghan rug.
Maybe all these designs started with the prehistoric Mother Goddess from Armenia?

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 07-08-2004 04:48 AM:

Oooooppps !!

Live n learn !