Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-07-2006 05:24 AM:

Caucasian "Shield" Carpets

(edited and transferred from 'Avar connection')

Looking at the "modern" blossom-like motive on the Synagogue Carpet ("modern" from a 16th or 17th century perspectice) and visually blending it with the ancient "ark"- motive of plate 09 and 10, I can see much of what makes those shield carpets, the pronounced gable or fork in the "ark"- motive being transferred into the flanking, protective palmettes.

Horst Nitz

Posted by Filiberto_Boncompagni on 06-07-2006 11:57 AM:

Hi Horst,

A few, perhaps disorganized thoughts:

When I first saw the Synagogue Rug my first reaction was to connect it with the Caucasian “Shield” carpets, like this one from Wright & Wertime’s book

The connection was more in terms of general layout and with regard to the outlining design of the shield palmette, while you concentrated more on the internal ark design.

I’m still intrigued by the similarities between the “Synagogue blossom”

and the “shield palmette”.

Confusingly, there are other explanations for the origin of this palmette (from Peter Stone's "The Definitive Guide to Design etc", page 144):

See also the palmettes in the Harshang design – which has a Persian origin.


Which one is the right source of the “shield palmette”? Who knows, maybe different designs from different origins metamorphosed into similar motifs.

Posted by Horst_Nitz on 06-07-2006 12:02 PM:

Hi Filiberto,

I think you were absolutely right in your intuition, please have a look into the parallel thread. About else you are saying I have to think - just now my family wants me.

Bye, Horst

Posted by Horst_Nitz on 06-07-2006 12:07 PM:

Hi Filiberto

wife still in bed reading her novel, kids playing along happily, rolls in the oven at low heat, mug of tea in front of me - the scenario for a perfect 20 minutes.

The first to shield palmettes have nothing to do with it, the third one is the thing, although (Peter Stone’s book?) the palmettes flanking the gable have been left out (they are essential part of the motive), what has given the name to it, the three objects inside the blossom are not palmettes, they are trees. It shows, it is to schematic, the design is not really understood, we are trotting uncertain territory. This is were the puzzle picture approach falls short, it helps with the identification on which knowledgeable people would agree, it fails where one moves from the centre of accepted knowledge to the peripheries.

Let’s take a look at shield 3 and the Wright / Wertime book carpet:

Blossom like motive (see Synagogue Carpet); three arches, central one bigger (b/w image of Amsterdam Torah Shrine in part (I), trees are a decorative rendering of those arches; two palmettes flanking the blossom echo the small gable in the Synagogue Carpet and the exaggerated gable on rug 09; flanking serrated leaves outside the blossoms (Synagogue Carpet) and inside the blossom (schematic image), Wright & Wertime inside and outside where they have become column-like (b/w Amsterdam Torah Shrine); threefold base (Synagogue Carpet, rug 09, Wright / Wertime). Conclusion: What we are having here is a merger of an ark-motive and a torah-shrine motive.

The ultimate give-away cannot to be found in the images above nor in any rug books. Those birds flanking the gable of the Ark on the mosaic in the ancient Bet Alfa Synagogue (part I, graph D) have found their way into at least one so-called “Shield-“ Carpet: the one in the V&A (parallel thread). The significance of this has gone unnoticed in the literature. You need good eyes to find them and a magnifying class if you look at the small image in the Hali article, and you need to know what you are looking for and what the significance is: they are derivates of the angels that were guarding the Ark according to the Rabbinical Literature.

Those “Shield-“ Carpets are Jewish Carpets or, adopting the Terminology S. Azadi has chosen in his Baluch book, are Carpets in a Jewish tradition. Their main motive is that of a Torah Shrine, sometimes incorporating elements of the older ark-design.

Now it’s breakfast time here.



Posted by Filiberto_Boncompagni on 06-07-2006 12:10 PM:

Hi Horst,

Yes, the image with the three palmettes and some text is from Stone’s last book. I forgot to add the reference and I did it only a couple of hours ago. Stone includes the first of the three palmettes among the Karabagh Field designs. I choose this image because also the Kaabagh pattern is among the ones classified as “shield palmettes”, although the one interesting us is only the third one.

Now we need to look closely at the V&A shield carpet you mention in the “parallel argument” thread. Perhaps an enlarged scan of that Hali copy cold be enough. I don’t have it, sorry.
Was breakfast good?


Posted by Horst_Nitz on 06-07-2006 12:21 PM:

Hi Filiberto

Thank you for your inquiry.

I can try to take a scan once I’m in the office again, it would be quite a challenge.

I had a look into my b/w copy of the Hali inaugurating article by Pinner R and Franses M (1978) Caucasian Shield Carpets. Hali I No 1. They have noticed the birds in the “shields” of some carpets but have drawn no or wrong conclusions.

It would be great if someone looking in here could have a look at the Paris and St. Petersburg (Leningrad) “Shield” Carpets if he or she has an image of them, and would share the observation.



Posted by Horst_Nitz on 06-07-2006 12:25 PM:

This tells us about the connection between Ark and Angels:



Posted by Filiberto_Boncompagni on 06-07-2006 12:32 PM:

Hi Horst,

Searching the Net for Shield carpets I found this text, written probably by Michel Franses on a rug he’s selling. Actually the last paragraph was missing. I know because I had found before the same but more complete text on another rug site, without any reference to Mr. Franses… Mmmmh!

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the weavers of the Caucasus developed their own distinctive style. This outstandingly beautiful carpet, from the Emirate of Shirvan on the western side of the Caspian Sea, is a masterpiece of their art. At this time the Caucasus was continuously fought over by the Safavid Persians and the Ottoman Turks, but true control of the area was in the hands of a number of wealthy and powerful emirs who paid homage and allegiance to their great neighbours. The art of weaving during this period was clearly influenced by both the Safavid and Ottoman cultures. It is difficult therefore to fully understand or appreciate the magnificence and importance of this extraordinary carpet in isolation from other examples of this pattern.

The 'Shield' group of carpets - named after their principal design feature of ascending shield-like palmettes flanked by two large leaves - are the earliest known carpets from the Shirvan region, and the oldest seven of them are believed to date from the middle of the seventeenth century. These particular carpets are amongst the finest-woven examples from this region, and most of them have a silk foundation and a blue background. It is often muted that they were special commissions. In the first issue of Hali in 1978, twenty-six Shield carpets were published and thoroughly discussed. Since then eight further examples have come to light, each of which has shed more light upon this rare and extraordinary group of carpets. They have been divided into seven design sub-groups, three with 'shields' as the principal motif.

The first and earliest sub-group is represented by three examples: one in the Musée des Art Décoratifs, Paris; one in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; and the third in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The shields and curved leaves tend to be more curvilinear than examples in other groups. They each have some ornaments typical of Persian Safavid court designs and others typical of Ottoman court designs. The second group is made up of fragments from three different carpets - no complete examples exist. They are certainly the finest woven. The outlines of the shields are less curvileanear than those of the first group, but more so than the third. Sections of two of these carpets are in the Kestner Museum, Hannover; and parts of the other are divided between the Islamic Museum, Berlin, and a German private collection.

The magnificent example presented here, from a private collection in Paris, forms a link between the first two groups and the third. It has the same extraordinarily fine quality weave as the first two groups and a most beautiful border pattern that is, to date, unique. In outstanding condition, with remarkably fresh and vibrant colours and lustrous wool, it is a joy to behold. The third group contains sixteen carpets. Six have a fine meander and arrow border, including one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Another has a border of flower shrubs. Six have a border with a large meandering stem with curled leaves and double crosses: one of these is in the Benaki Museum, Athens, and another is in the Textile Museum, Washington DC; another example from the same collection is missing its borders. Two others have red grounds: one in a private collection in Switzerland, and the other in the Royal Ontorio Museum, Toronto.

Eleven other carpets can be divided into four further groups by their field designs; they use three different main border designs. Most of the field designs do not include actual 'shield' motifs, but they do have many of the ornaments found on the traditional Shield carpets and were clearly made in the same workshops. The field design of group four, of which only two examples are known, is composed of rows of hexagonal medallions alternating with curled leaves; both carpets have the typical curled leaf border. Group five, of which five examples are known (one of which is dated to around 1719), repeats a pattern seen at the ends of the Paris and St. Petersburg carpets: a floral stem with large tulips, chrysanthemums and curved leaves that are similar to those flanking the shields seen on the carpets of the first three groups. The three examples of group six have palmettes and forked leaves on the stem. Group seven is represented by a single example, a carpet of the same construction as several others cited earlier but with a field design in the manner of the famous Graf 'dragon' carpet, except that small shields and curled leaves have been added.

Much of the early development of the pattern can be seen through the close study of the three first-period carpets.The in-fill design of the shield motif is probably derived from sixteenth century Safavid silk textiles that depict a winged angel, hori, seated upon a square box and flanked by a pair of trees. The St. Petersburg carpet clearly depicts the hori, while the example in London only has vestiges of the wings and the hori is replaced by a cypress. Typical of Persian design is a central cypress flanked by other trees. In the field of the Paris and St. Petersburg carpets are the large tulips and flower forms characteristic of Ottoman art. The form of the shield itself may well derive from palmettes in Persian carpet design, but it can also be seen in Ottoman tiles and silks of the sixteenth century - both may well have shared a common heritage.

It seems we could use Hali # 1 too.



Posted by Horst_Nitz on 06-07-2006 12:39 PM:

Hi Filiberto

Basically this is a summary of the article in Hali I/1, missing the significance of the motive. In the original Hali article the old lotus was stressed for an explanation.

It sounds as if the carpet is going to be very, very expensive.

Unfortunately, my 20 years old b/w issue of Hali I/1 is only good for reading, the images are appaling. In the morning I had a look at the Hali website where I thought I had seen a little while ago a button giving access to online reading of Hali I/1. I didn't find it this time and wonder whether I have only imagined it.



Posted by Filiberto_Boncompagni on 06-07-2006 12:46 PM:

Hi Horst,

This is a scan from Chirkov “Daghestan Decorative Art” 1971, page 257:

The page is bigger than A4 format, so my scan is not complete but you get the idea. The rug is said to be “Lezgian work, 19th century.”

There is another one on Bennett and Bassoul’s “Tapis du Caucase – Rugs of the Caucasus” plate 76 (Kuba, late 19th or early 20th).
It’s very similar but without that odd “lightning” arch that could qualify Chirkov’s rug as a niche format.

As expected, Bennett says that the origin of this design is from “silk brocades with repeating floral designs that became popular throughout the Persian Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries”.
Let’s have a closer look to this floral design and compare it with the Synagogue blossom.

That triangular stepped element isn’t very floral, but much like the “roof” of the Synagogue blossom, in my opinion. Could that be?

P.S. Perhaps their presence is casual, but notice also the two birds at the bottom of the "floral design" .

Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-07-2006 03:46 PM:

Hi all

I would accept it as an interpretation of the ark design (as long as nobody comes up claiming it to be an image of a Nepalese stupa). It's an interesting one, also drawing from the Avar kelim design apparently. Has a date been given?

Yes, I have seen those little sitting birds, Filiberto. I have also seen some flying about those red medallions that look as if they were eagles (the yellow ones underneath the others), also the outline of the red field of some medallions reminds stunningly of Dragon carpets (without dragon).

Some of the riddle of the lost Ark rugs is perhaps about to be solved:

Using the V&A Shield Carpet T13-1944 as a reference, or the one further up from the Wright & Wertime book, rug 09 at the beginning of part II of this salon appears to be a 2nd half 19th century village or small town workshop version of the more courtly 17th and 18th century “Shield Carpets”, now extinct. The heyday of those carpets propably came when Imperial Russia took the region into grip and reshaped the social, political and economical structure, by that pulling the carpet away from under the feet of those little Khanates and their rulers that apparently had commissioned them (see one of the previous posts by Filiberto Boncampagni).

17th century (V&A) and 19th century “rugs of the Ark” side by side:

I do not think that the V&A Shield rug and others of the type are the direct predecessor to the 19th century rug, although they may have influenced the design and layout. The 19th century rug is probably deeply rooted in folk-art and flourished before and after, whilst the 17th century Shield rug, being a 'rug of art' has risen and descended all within a couple of hundred years when Sephardim influx was fresh and Russia wasn’t to strong yet.

The following images bear witness, that those carpets perhaps should be renamed “Torah Shrine Carpets” - this would be more accurate.

The outline of the “shield” seems conceived from a type of West-European Baroque Torah Shrine, similar to the one in the Amsterdam Sephardim Synagogue (below), which was erected by Spanish expatriates at around the middle of 17th century; it’s prototype may have stood in Spain.

Let’s now turn on to a discussion of the detailed images of the Torah Shrine motive in the V&A “Shield Carpet”:

(sorry - soon to follow)


Horst Nitz

Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-12-2006 01:39 PM:


Our starting position in understanding the transformation of the Ark as in the Berlin Synagogue carpet is defined as this:

(1) the Ark in an angular Classic / Renaissance drawing flanked by a stylised palm tree ? or kind of serrated leaf, bending outward;

(2) two outward forked gables, one over “doors”, the other in the main gable;

(3) an overall composition depicting several arks as blossoms, all linked by branches and stem.

The “serrated leaf” form is likely to represent a palm twig of palm tree, having a special meaning in Jewish history of culture. Judean Coins from the time of Alexander showing a palm tree are known (4th c. B.C.).

The outward forked gables rely on the same symmetric principle as the outward bend rests of the flanking palm stems or columns, and stand for the Cherubim that are said to have once guarded the Ark. A number of artefacts exist, demonstrating this: (1) the Ark in the 5th or 6th century Bet Alfa mosaic, guarded by two birds, symbolising the Cherubim, sitting on column-like palm stems on either side of the gable - see part one of this Salon; (2) a first century gilt glass, the Ark flanked by two birds - see part one of this Salon; (3) a portable plain casing of the Ark in a style typical for the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs as depicted by a later Italian artist, with two Cherubim guarding it. A similar structure with a mythical animal on top has been excavated with the tomb of Tuch-en-amun (14th c. B.C.); (4) in a very similar shield, in the position of the middle bird in detail 2, in the St. Peterburg shield carpet, an angel is depicted in “naturalistic” drawing (Franses and Pinner, 1978).

This is where we arrive roughly 400 years later:

The main motive in the shield carpets still is a blossom; it has taken the outline of a 16th or 17th century Torah Shrine, like the one in Amsterdam (above) or Gibraltar (part one of this Salon) with three recesses for the Torah Rolls.

These three recesses or arches also feature in the double-column Ottoman prayer rugs in the parallel thread started by John Howe (see there for pictures). In the case of the shield carpets those arches are represented by three blossoms, all linked with one another. The middle one is slightly bigger and a bird rests on it, it is flanked by column-like trees, on which two more birds are resting, all guarding the arrangement.

Underneath the central arch we see a rectangular container with two birds in it. Franses and Pinner (1978) describe this arrangement as a kind of duck pond - which is a nice idea - more likely it is another execution of the ark motive, again with birds / Cherubim as guardians. In late medieval and Renaissance Italy, the Torah Shrine apparently had the form of a an angular cupboard, still very similar to the traditional representations of the Ark.

In wealthy Jewish households trunks became popular, that were using the arch motive representation with Cherubim on top. These trunks served various purposes, i.e. keeping the dowry of the daughter(s) of the house. They may in fact have looked very similar to the original Ark.

There are two more shield motives similar in their outer shape. Inside, a blossom can be made out; in the second case the main motive is unclear. In the centre, feathered wings have replaced the birds, acquainting us with another stylistic means of representing the Cherubim. There are also chests or trunks underneath the main motives, possibly decorated with mystic animal only loosely related to the Ark or Torah Shrine as such: one could be a dragon, the other a serpent, they seem to be linked with the representations of the Cherubim. It appears, we are looking at an analogy of the eternal struggle between good and evil.

One word at last to the publications by Franses M and Pinner R (Hali 1978 I/1, 1980 III/2). Theirs is a very thorough assessment and minute record of most what was known about shield rugs in the late 1970’ies, amended by a second publication a couple of years later following the recognition of the V&A shield rug, which apparently was thought to be a facsimile previously. The time was not ripe then, to think of the possibility that a significant group of carpets may stand in a Jewish tradition.


Horst Nitz