A Parallel Argument

Horst -

This is an interesting salon essay and you have clearly done some "homework" preparing it.

I don't have anything to add to it directly, but it might be useful to mention what you and some others here may know, that Walter Denny has been making a somewhat similar argument about the source of Anatolian "couple-column" niche-design rugs.

He thinks it most likely that this "achitechtural" design is based on arch forms that existed only in Spain in the 14th-15th centuries. He further thinks that the Jews, driven out of Spain during the Inquisition, carried this design in the form of "torah" rugs into Turkey and that it is reflected in the Anatolian "coupled column designs of the 16th-18th centuries. In his TM catalog "The Classical Tradition in Anatolian Carpets," the coupled column variety is one design he importantly explores. Denny repeated and emphasized this "carried by Jews from Spain" argument in his lecture at the opening of Dennis Dodds recent Anatolian exhibition in Philadelphia.

Your task, here, seems more difficult, because, although someone has indicated somewhere, at one point there were more Jews than Moslems in Istanbul, you must show plausibly how the "ark" motif traveled to and became reflected in Caucasian rugs.

And I think you have made a reasonable argument about that, even if all the mechanisms cannot be precisely described (what else is new in a discussion of oriental rugs? )

Anyway, thanks for the nice salon idea and essay.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 06-03-2006 07:59 AM:

Hi John

You wrote, ... at one point there were more Jews than Moslems in Istanbul, you must show plausibly how the "ark" motif traveled to and became reflected in Caucasian rugs.

First, there were no Muslims anywhere until AD 622, so even one Jew in Constantinople would have outnumbered the Muslims in that city before then.

Second, it is almost never a problem to devise plausible explanations for the migration of motifs, and I don't see why the migration of the "ark" motif to the Caucasus should present any special difficulties. Is there something I'm missing?


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-03-2006 11:04 AM:

Hi Steve,

I don’t know if this is what John means but what is missing is something filling a gap of at least four centuries between the Synagogue Rug and the Caucasian rugs or shown by Horst.
Walter Danny has an easier job in trying to demonstrate the “niche connection” because there are several examples of “niche” design in early Anatolian rugs.
But what about the few surviving early Caucasian? Do we know examples with a layout similar to the Synagogue Rug?
Not at my knowledge, although the flaming/palmette/shield is very similar to the Synagogue/ark element.
Perhaps we’ll need a few scan, I’ll try to make them when time permits.
In any case thanks, Horst, for the your interesting and plausible theory.
More on the next thread.



Posted by R._John_Howe on 06-04-2006 06:14 AM:

Filiberto et al -

Steve is right. The comment I have heard about more Jews than Muslims once in Istanbul was not as obvious as to point to pre-Islamic times.

I don't have dates, but think the reference was to the numbers in Istanbul after the large Jewish exodus from Spain. As Horst has indicated the Ottomans apparently encouraged the Jews to come their way and they apparently did in large numbers. So I suspect the time being pointed to might in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Large numbers of Spanish Jews migrating to Turkey provides a clear mechanism for carrying motifs used by Jews that far. I was simply saying that despite "Silk Road" and all that, Horst would seem to have the additional task of showing how Jews "ark" motifs moved further east into specific Caucasian areas and usages. And he has given more than one hint about how this might have occurred. More he seems to show that many of the Caucasian rugs with "ark-like" motifs were made in areas that coincide with what is known about the distribution of the Jewish population in the Caucasus.


R. John Howe

Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-04-2006 03:06 PM:

Thank you Folks for your appreciative comments and a happy Whitsuntide to all.

John, you are saying, Walter Denny has been making a somewhat similar argument
about the source of Anatolian "couple-column" niche-design rugs. This is new to me, but I have no reservations towards the argument, in fact I have been thinking along the same lines ever since I read the mentioned 1972 article in TMJ by Schuyler Cammann, in which he mentioned and presented an image of one of those rugs with a Hebrew inscription. Perhaps this also inspired Walter Denny, as it is the same issue in which he had published an article on Ottoman Turkish Textiles, which is also good reading and in which he discussed among other topics, the influence of the Qibla on Ottoman textile designs, the Torah Shrine remained unmentioned at that time.

Indeed, those “couple-column” design rugs look very similar to some Torah Shrines, i.e. the one on the b/w image in part (I) of this Salon. Not alone the Ottoman court carpets are worth mentioning in this context, also the group of the so called “Siebenbürgen-“ or “Transsylvanian” rugs.

How the "ark" motif travelled to and became reflected in Caucasian rugs? My tentative answer is, once or twice or never. I could try from a different perspective:

When interviewing the man from Baku with the rabbi grandfather, I asked him in ethnologic text-book style about the myth of creation of his people, when and where they were thinking they have come from. His answer was ‘we did not think about it at all - we just assumed we have always been there’ - he might be right.
BBC documentaries are usually high standard and well researched. A few years ago there was one on programme, locating the “Garden of Eden” on the spot of modern days Tabris, capital of South-Azerbaidjan (Iran). For Adam and Eve the way to Baku would have been much shorter than all down to the Sinai; in other words, Azerbaidjan is Biblical country and within the original area of influence of the Ark. It may indeed have always been there from remotest antiquity, together with the people worshipping it. It may not have needed to travel in the sense it would have had to, if it was something from outside - as much as this for the “never”.

If one takes up the claim that Tat and Mountain Jews are descendants of the northern Jewish kingdom, having been taken north as hostages by Assyrians or Babylonians or both or having filtered into the area on their own accord, the image of the Ark would have been a living memory to those people, or even a vanguard on their way, besides the religious function, at the time of or even before the destruction of Salomon’s Temple - this for the “once”.

I can’t name the source right know, but I believe to have read, it being generally accepted, that most Sephardim did not reach Spain in the wake of the Arab conquest and across the Straits of Gibraltar, but have reached it via Germany and France in the early middle ages. They most likely would have passed through Azerbaidjan, bringing or taking with them the image of the Ark. That’s where the “Bessarabian Ark” in that book I mentioned would fit in neatly, Bessarabia being a possible station on the way. Once there and under Spanish-Moorish influence the Ark developed to its artistically high form in the Berlin “Synagogue Carpet”. From Spain, design ideas may have travelled back to Azerbaidjan, influencing style and production there in much the same way as it has happened at the Ottoman Court and in the Kerman province - as much as this now for “twice”.
No records are known to me, that could readily support this theory - but given the well documented influence in the neighbouring countries, it would seem very surprising indeed if no newcomers from Spain should have settled there. Their stimulating influence may have been the driving element behind the emergence of the “Shield”-Carpets as an innovative interpretation of the ancient ark motive. I know, this is not in line with prevailing opinion. On the other hand, the connecting design elements speak for themselves, the theory does not need to make far fetched assumptions (the old lotus flower doesn’t need to be stressed again) and, it is accepted among scholars, that “Shield-“ Carpets come from exactly the area we have been talking about here, i.e. Baku, Daghestan, Kuba, Shemakha, north-west Persia. One of those “Shield-“ Carpets at least, there may be more of which I have no high resolution image available at the moment, display a stunning likeliness with the “Synagogue”- Carpet and the prototypical Arks on other objects, extending to details, that one wonders, how it should have gone unnoticed for such a long time (Shield carpet T 13-1944 as described in Franses M & Pinner R (1980) Caucasian Rugs in the Victoria and Albert Museum. HALI Vol 3 No 4 pp 96-115).


Horst Nitz

Posted by Marty Grove on 06-05-2006 11:48 AM:

Lost Ark Rugs

Thank you Mr Nitz for an interesting Salon revealing a group of
rugs with an intriguing origin.

For myself there is no difficulty accepting the transference of a design, or of the 'remodelling' of that design by others in lands far from its origins. We see it all the time in rugs.

Even a Jewish design would not be banished by Muslims simply because it was Jewish, particularly when we consider that the Muslim bible the Koran was drawn from several extant religeons of the time, Christianity and Judaism.

Its is only in fairly recent times that severe animosity has been expressed towards the Jews by Muslims, for in ancient and much more recent times, the two faiths have lived harmoniously alongside each other.

With regard to the Spanish 'Synagogue Carpet', 1000 years ago the Jews were established in Spain, living in their own areas, and used by the aristocracy of the time for purposes of banking, although not much input I think, more borrowings, the repayment of which was more easily affected by stirring up a 'pogrom' against the Jews, and by their dispersal or even killing, the monies owed were easily forgotten by the borrowers.

Due to the troubled times, perhaps it was as Mr Nitz proposed earlier, that the rugs were portable prayer items, for when ten fleeing Jews were able to gather for religeous purposes.

That a rug was woven containing iconic examples of their faith might have been a very necessary item when their world was crashing around them, and they may have had to flee with very little excepting easily portable treasures.

A rug which contained Jewish iconic design might have been readily accepted by the Muslim population wherever the Jews had found succour from their flight, especially since the Muslim faith earlier had acceptance of the Jewish faith, and Mahommed had even told his followers that god had told him to respect the faith of others.

So its not hard to visualise weavers in the Caucasus adopting the form of the Jewish carpets, and through time modifying them, until the appearance of the 'shield' in their rugs might have been the latest evolution of the Jewish ark or torah design.

If we acknowledge that weavers were nearly always prepared to make rugs not only for their own purposes, but in the event of need, sell them, and if there were many pockets of Jewish converts throughout the Middle east and the Caucasus, then why would they not do a form of rug which had appeal to both Muslim and 'new' Muslim, those who were originaly Jewish?

Regardless, these interesting rugs are a new addition to our constant search for, and interpretation of, the many wonderous and endlessly fascinating items in the world of woven fabrics.

Thank you,
Martin Grove

Martin R. Grove

Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-06-2006 02:48 AM:

Dear "Unregistered"

"If I understand your argument correctly, the ark design itself is supposed to post-date the second temple. Accordingly, its iconography cannot have travelled eastward before the second temple existed at all."

This is either a case of lax formulating on my my side or an misinterpretation on yours - or both of it. Which is the incriminated passage?

Clearly, the ark must be older than the first (Salomon's) temple. More on this, if you look under "tabernacle" in http://www.wikipedia.com/. When exactly it made its first appearance as a motive on artefacts I would not know.


Horst Nitz

Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-06-2006 08:10 AM:

Dear Marty Grove,

"Due to the troubled times, perhaps it was as Mr Nitz proposed earlier, that the rugs were portable prayer items, for when ten fleeing Jews were able to gather for religeous purposes."

This is not exactly what I said, it's your own authentic idea and I am glad if I helped a little on the way for you to formulate it. It is an interesting thought.

I am glad you found your glasses eventually and time to share your observations and insights.


Horst Nitz

Posted by Marty Grove on 06-06-2006 08:31 AM:

Lost Ark Rugs

G'day Mr Nitz,

Perhaps you may not have said what I wrote exactly, however it was your hypothesis which must have lead me to come to that interpretation.

Your Salon is a really good historical adventure for me, one of the things which I love about rugs, and perhaps we all derive some sense of dabbling in the 'mystic east' when we appreciate rugs and carpets.

For those of us who will likely never be able to own few, if any, of the quality of the spectacular weavings displayed on Turkotek, at least through a Salon such as you have originated, we can share the vision and interpretation of them you and other Turkotekkies present before us.

Turkotek is akin to travelling through time in a quest to learn and appreciate something of the history and culture of the many varied peoples who have created such splendid pieces displayed here.

And the experience, knowledge and intellect in so many fields, possessed by many of the participants does make excellent reading for those of us who spend their time in such pursuits.

Keep up the fascinating work

Martin Grove.

Posted by Jack Williams on 06-06-2006 07:57 PM:


I am desperate to read this article, given the interesting line here, but I cannot find it, or access it. Can someone instruct me how to find the subject article? Thanks, Jack Williams

Posted by Steve Price on 06-06-2006 09:31 PM:

Hi Jack

If you are referring to the essay from which this discussion springs, it's at http://www.turkotek.com/salon_00114/salon.html

It's linked from our home page.


Steve Price

Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-14-2006 07:32 AM:

Hello all,

the following is an excerpt from http://www.turkishjews.com./ It illustrates impressively, how receptive Ottoman society was to the newcomers, their skill and their knowledge. It was this climate that made it possible, that much of what seemed to be left behind and lost of the ‘golden age’ of hispano-moresque tradition, could flourish again in a new context. It is no surprise therefore, that this may also have prompted the development of prayer rugs.

A History Predating 1492

The history of the Jews in Anatolia started many centuries before the migration of Sephardic Jews. Remnants of Jewish settlement from the 4th century B.C. have been uncovered in the Aegean region. The historian Josephus Flavius relates that Aristotle "met Jewish people with whom he had an exchange of views during his trip across Asia Minor."

Ancient synagogue ruins have been found in Sardis, near Izmir, dating from 220 B.C. and traces of other Jewish settlements have been discovered near Bursa, in the southeast and along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts. A bronze column found in Ankara confirms the rights the Emperor Augustus accorded the Jews of Asia Minor.

Jewish communities in Anatolia flourished and continued to prosper through the Turkish conquest. When the Ottomans captured Bursa in 1324 and made it their capital, they found a Jewish community oppressed under Byzantine rule. The Jews welcomed the Ottomans as saviors. Sultan Orhan gave them permission to build the Etz ha-Hayyim (Tree of Life) synagogue which remained in service until 50 years ago.

Early in the 14th century, when the Ottomans had established their capital at Edirne, Jews from Europe, including Karaites, migrated there. (1) Similarly, Jews expelled from Hungary in 1376, from France by Charles VI in September 1394, and from Sicily early in the 15th century found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. In the 1420s, Jews from Salonika then under Venetian control fled to Edirne. (2)

Ottoman rule was much kinder than Byzantine rule had been. In fact, from the early 15th century on, the Ottomans actively encouraged Jewish immigration. A letter sent by Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati (from Edirne) to Jewish communities in Europe in the first part of the century "invited his coreligionists to lease the torments they were enduring in Christiandom and to seek safety and prosperity in Turkey". (3)

When Mehmet II "the Conqueror" took Constantinople in 1453, he encountered an oppressed Romaniot (Byzantine) Jewish community which welcomed him with enthousiasm. Sultan Mehmet II issued a proclamation to all Jews "... to ascend the site of the Imperial Throne, to dwell in the best of the land, each beneath his Dine and his fig tree, with silver and with gold, with wealth and with cattle...". (4)

In 1470, Jews expelled from Bavaria by Ludwig X found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. (5)

(1) Mark Alan Epstein, "The Ottoman Jewish Communities and their role in the 15th and 16th centuries"
(2) Joseph Nehama, "Histoire des Israelites de Salonique"
(3) Bernard Lewis, "The Jews of Islam"
(4) Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 16 page 1532
(5) Avram Galante, "Histoire des Juifs d'lstanbul", Volume 2

A Haven for Sephardic Jews

Sultan Bayazid II's offer of refuge gave new hope to the persecuted Sephardim. In 1492, the Sultan ordered the governors of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire "not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially";. (6) According to Bernard Lewis, "the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled".
Immanual Aboab attributes to Bayazid II the famous remark that "the Catholic monarch Ferdinand was wrongly considered as wise, since he impoverished Spain by the expulsion of the Jews, and enriched Turkey". (7)

The arrival of the Sephardim altered the structure of the community and the original group of Romaniote Jews was totally absorbed.

Over the centuries an increasing number of European Jews, escaping persecution in their native countries, settled in the Ottoman Empire. In 1537 the Jews expelled from Apulia (Italy) after the city fell under Papal control, in 1542 those expelled from Bohemia by King Ferdinand found a safe haven in the Ottoman Empire.(8) In March of 1556, Sultan Suleyman "the Magnificent" wrote a letter to Pope Paul IV asking for the immediate release of the Ancona Marranos, which he declared to be Ottoman citizens. The Pope had no other alternative than to release them, the Ottoman Empire being the "Super Power" of those days.
By 1477, Jewish households in Istanbul numbered 1647 or 11% of the total. Half a century later, 8070 Jewish houses were listed in the city.

(6) Abraham Danon, in the Review Yossef Daath No. 4
(7) Immanual Aboab, "A Consolacam as Tribulacoes de Israel, III Israel"
(8) H. Graetz, "History of the Jews"

The Life of Ottoman Jews

For 300 years following the expulsion, the prosperity and creativity of the Ottoman Jews rivalled that of the Golden Age of Spain. Four Turkish cities: Istanbul, Izmir, Safed and Salonica became the centres of Sephardic Jewry.

Most of the court physicians were Jews: Hakim Yakoub, Joseph and Moshe Hamon, Daniel Fonseca, Gabriel Buenauentura to name only very few ones.

One of the most significant innovations that Jews brought to the Ottoman Empire was the printing press. In 1493, only one year after their expulsion from Spain, David & Samuel ibn Nahmias established the first Hebrew printing press in Istanbul .

Ottoman diplomacy was often carried out by Jews. Joseph Nasi, appointed the Duke of Naxos, was the former Portuguese Marrano Joao Miques. Another Portuguese Marrano, Aluaro Mandes, was named Duke of Mytylene in return of his diplomatic services to the Sultan. Salamon ben Nathan Eskenazi arranged the first diplomatic ties with the British Empire. Jewish women such as Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi "La Seniora" and Esther Kyra exercised considerable influence in the Court.

In the free air of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish literature flourished. Joseph Caro compiled the Shulhan Arouh. Shlomo haLevi Alkabes composed the Lekhah Dodi a hymn which welcomes the Sabbath according to both Sephardic and Ashkenazi ritual. Jacob Culi began to write the famous MeAm Loez. Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac Assa became known as the father of JudeoSpanish literature.
On October 27,1840 Sultan Abdulmecid issued his famous ferman concerning the "Blood Libel Accusation" saying: "... and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth...".
Under Ottoman tradition, each nonMoslem religious community was responsible for its own institutions, including schools. In the early 19th century, Abraham de Camondo established a modern school, "La Escola", causing a serious conflict between conservative and secular rabbis which was only settled by the intervention of Sultan Abdulaziz in 1864. The same year the Takkanot haKehilla (By-laws of the Jewish Community) was published, defining the structure of the Jewish community.
An important event in the life of Ottoman Jews in the 17th century was the schism led by Sabetay Sevi, the pseudo Messiah who lived in Izmir and later adopted Islam with his followers.

I have found two images of the type mentioned, no. 1 is the rug from the collection of the Textile Museum Washington DC, published in the article by Cammann S V R (1972), no. 2 is from the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, Hungary.


Horst Nitz

Posted by R. John Howe on 06-17-2006 07:42 AM:

"Karaites," An Aside

Hi Horst -

Interesting things here.

Your subject is specialized enough that it will be difficult to get much participation in reponse to your good work.

Perhaps that will license an aside here. I notice in one passage in the post above there is a reference to the Jewish "Karaites." I was not until recently familiar with this apparently "fundamentalist" Jewish sect, but for those interested here is a description of what they were about.


This term attracted my attention because I recently read a novel by Cynthia Ozick (a NYC writer, whom I think can do anything; read her essays, all the volumes have alliterative titles like "Art and Ardor") entitled "Heir to the Glimmering World," in which a central figure is a Karaite scholar.


Despite having grown up (and escaped from) a Protestant fundamentalist religious community myself, I was not previously familiar with the Karaites, who seem to take a similar position with regard to interpretation of the fundamental scriptures. I have not encountered any indication of whether they wove or not. Seem like "word" people.

Back to the rugs.


R. John Howe