Posted by R. John Howe on 05-27-2007 06:16 AM:

A Fragmented Yastik

Dear folks -

Another piece that I encountered and bought in Konya is this fairly seriously fragmented yastik.

It exhibits a mild red, a nice blue and a strong yellow.

It has field devices reminiscent of some Turkmen usages.

And its main border design (although done in various colors) is that used on many Turkmen engsis.

This yastik fragment is attributed to the Konya area.

I am not sure, of course, but think it has some age.

As usual, thoughts and comments are invited.


R. John Howe

Posted by Lars_Jurell on 05-27-2007 08:21 AM:

Hello John

Two weeks after ICOC, we were in Istanbul and found this yastik.
And now it is in Sweden!

The image is from the dealers web-site, I have not my camera ready.

I called it "Malatya area" but the dealer call it "Elazig". There is not a long distance between Malatya and Elazig, and somewhere in that area I guess your yastik was born.

A lot of similaritys, except for the colours.

The main pattern i your border can be seen in different places all over the textile world. I think it is stilized rams horn.


Lars Jurell

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-27-2007 11:14 AM:

Hi John,

That looks pretty old. You'd like to think the Turkmen-esque elements are vestigial. What is the design in that narrow end border adjoining the flatwoven end? I can't quite make it out.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-27-2007 11:15 AM:

Hi Lars,

Are the warps in your yastik cotton (excepting a small section at one edge)?

Rich Larkin

Posted by Lars_Jurell on 05-27-2007 11:35 AM:

The white warp is ivory coloured wool. And 4 cm dark brown wool in one end.
And I agree with the dealer that the yastik is 80 - 100 years old.

This thread is about John´s yastik but if you want detail images from mine I can send it later.

Lars J

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-27-2007 12:02 PM:

Thanks Lars,

I inquired because the warp ends look strikingly white on my monitor. Yet, it seemed that the piece was too old to have cotton warps on a Turkish yastik.

I don't think John minds the extra images, especially where they provide an interesting comparison with his.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-27-2007 02:53 PM:

Dear folks -

Lars' manners are exquisite, but Rich is right: I think it appropriate that we discuss these two pieces together, especially since some aspects of mine are more visible on the "Swedish" piece.

Richard, the small border before the kilim, on my fragment, that is almost unreadable, is a "quinque" design (like the "five" on a set of dice) that is very visible on the Swedish piece.

Lars, the Swedish piece makes clear why some of my friends shake their heads about some of my purchasing decisions. I will sometimes buy just short of unreadability and this piece tempts that line. Good purchase on your side. Thanks for sharing it.

Is there any indication that the pale green of the field in your piece is from a "sulphonic blue?" That would permit dating it fairly closely, would it not?


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-27-2007 04:17 PM:

Hi John,

Can you direct me to a source, online or otherwise published, where "sulphonic blue" is discussed knowledgeably? I know it's a dye used in Turkey before the advent of the earliest synthetics from Europe.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-27-2007 04:50 PM:

Rich -

I may have misspelled it a bit. It may be more researchable as "sulfonic blue."

Here is what the Eilands say on page 54 of their most recent survey:

"...When indigo is treated with concentrated sulfuric acid, it produces a compound called indigo sulfonic acid. This is a water-soluable dye (ed. indigo is not) which may be used - by much simpler methods than indigo - as a direct or mordant dye. The range of colors produced is slightly different from indigo: light to medium blues predominate, at times with a torquoise or slightly greenish tone. This process came into use in Europe during the 18th century and appears to have reached Anatolia by the first part of the 19th..."

I had thought that there was also an approximate date after which sulfonic blue was no longer used much in Anatolia, but there is no reference to that in the Eiland's treatment.


R. John Howe

Posted by Lloyd Kannenberg on 05-27-2007 09:24 PM:

Hello Richard, John, et al.,

On p. 230 of Bohmer's "Koekboya" is a note "Indigo Sulphonic Acid: The First Half-Synthetic Dyestuff". He says that it was first produced in 1740, does not require vat-dyeing as with oridinary indigo, but is water-soluble. Consequently, "in older textiles, if the blue has run into the white, or washed out almost completely to a pale blue tone, then it was dyed with indigo sulphonic acid. Use of this dyestuff for ... carpets expanded into the Orient after the middle of the 19th century . . . Identification of indigo sulphonic acid in a textile allows a rough dating." I think it's worth adding that the UNIFORM pale blue (no blotchiness) seen on some older Anatolian weavings is probably NOT indigo sulphonic acid.

Lloyd Kannenberg

Posted by Lars_Jurell on 05-29-2007 01:31 PM:

Hello John and all
Below is an image showing both front and back from my yastik.

John: I can not see anything that indicate what kind of blue is used to get the green colour. The green is a little darker on the back but for me it is normal for the age.

My guess is that blue is natural indigo, both for the blue and the green colours.
And as there are three different nyances of blue, two dark and a little bit light blue, they should be pale if not real indigo.


Lars Jurell

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-01-2007 05:36 PM:

Hello everyone,

I am studying a group of rugs stylistically related to the field design of these yastics. I wonder whether someone knows something about the central square.



Posted by R. John Howe on 06-02-2007 03:21 PM:

Ms. Khairallah -

No one is answering quickly, and I wouldn't pretend to anything particularly authoritative but here are a few thoughts.

I assume this is the "center" piece of interest:

If so, the boxed device has some similarity to some Turkmen chuval guls. Here, below, is a Turkmen chuval gul from a recent discussion.

This one is from a chuval seen to be Ersari but similar guls are used by several of the Turkmen tribes.

The external outline of the yastik device has lost the "lobing" that seems sourced in more curvilinear usages, but is pretty close in basic shape. But in this version it's almost entirely rectilinear. Diagonals, for example, are not used on the outside outline, but only for the internal instrumentation.

The internal devices in the yastik "gul" are quartered as many Turkmen guls are, but the color usage is not diagonal. Most turkmen chuval guls exhibition diagonal color usage in the four internal quarters. There is also, no white used to color the internal elements of the yastik device. Such use is very frequent in Turkmen chuval guls.

The "brackets" (sometimes "banners") that are part of the internal instrumentation of most Turkmen chuval guls of this sort are messing in the yastik device.

I suspect that we cannot make too much of the similarities and distinctions between these two devices. Turkic weavers in broadly separated locations seem to share a design vocabulary of which this gul-like device, is likely only one example.

Hope that helps a little.

Others may have more to say about your question.

One book that might well be useful in a study of such designs is Peter Stone's "Tribal and Village Rugs." This volume is a serious comparative study of patterns and motifs." It is widely available at reasonable prices. I saw it even in Turkey recently.

Welcome to Turkotek,

R. John Howe

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 06-02-2007 08:26 PM:

Another direction


If you feel like investing more than time in rugs, you could pick up a copy of Antique Rugs of Kurdistan, A Historical Legacy of Woven Art, by James D. Burns.

In it he discusses a 3-medallion carpet, saying "It is probable that this combination is meant to represent a stylized garden with pools. It is interesting that some weavers in the Caucasus refer to such medallions as guls, meaning not "flowers", the interpretation favored by writers on Turkoman weavings, but "lakes", the alternative meaning of the word in several Turkic languages."

The brilliant blue-ground "guls" in Lars yastik certainly have a lake-like appearance.

Describing another rug with "Karaja"-type medallions, he notes: "This is a stylized garden design. The form of the medallions seen here is said to represent an abyss (hauzi) where Kidr lives according to followers of the Yazdani native Kurdish religion."

There is another rug with a central medallion with a 6-pronged device in the center which he says may be a turtle that lives in the hauzi.

And John has shown a Turkmen ensi, too, which I believe is also based on a garden design.

I think I will go out and cut a couple of roses off my rose bush now.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-03-2007 02:26 PM:

Thank you both John and Patrick,

First I wish to correct a small common mistake, I am a male and my name should be pronounced in Arabic as Kameel, but as I am French educated, I always wrote it the French way.

I would also like to apologize if my English is not always a proper one.

Well, let me tell you that your comments will make me "release a spring" that I have been compressing for quite a while. And as I often find in this site threads enclosing some brain-storming, I will allow myself to give an opinion that might not be taken for granted.
Although all what you said could make sense, I will personally retain from your ideas the words gul, medallion and garden.

I agree on the generic use of the word gul especially that what are considered more proper guls in rug literature have nothing to do with flowers and I am referring here for instance to the ertmen pattern... But if these are not flowers then what could they then represent?..
I might have further comments about that in a more adequate thread.

As for the medallion, I just conferred Peter Stone Lexicon where the explanation ends on: "One theory holds that the medallions of the earliest medallion court rugs were derived from book bindings."
I guess the book in question is the Holy Qur'an and the medallion represented symbolizes a "smaller Paradise", the terminology of the Arabic word "Junaynah" which means in current Arabic "garden" (!) and that is derived from the word "Jannah" (Arabic for Paradise).
Hence this explains the existence of a medallion inside the mihrabs of certain early -Ottoman- prayer rugs, the mihrab itself representing the gate of Paradise.

Returning to our yastiks, the major field design is clearly a double-ended mihrab and the central square might represent now for me a smaller Paradise-medallion.
In fact I would like to show you a prayer rug with a similar mihrab where a squarish device is inserted but I still do not know technically how to.

There is no doubt Burns's book should be a great reference for me and a major work on Kurdish rugs but It will cost me a lot to receive it here in Beirut.



Posted by Steve Price on 06-03-2007 02:38 PM:

Hi Camille

Don't apologize for your use of English - it's just fine, and easy to understand.

If you'd like to post pictures, it's easy if you ahve them in digital form (scans or from a digital camera). Attach your image files to an e-mail message to me (; or to Filiberto). I'll adjust the size of the files and the dimensions of the images, and put them into our server. Then I'll send you instructions for how to make them appear in a message. There's nothing to it at all.


Steve Price

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-03-2007 04:56 PM:

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your prompt help.

Here is the picture I wanted to post

The square inside the mihrab here has hooks all around, a feature that is sometimes considered by some -and I agree- as protective elements.



Posted by R. John Howe on 06-03-2007 10:07 PM:

Dear Camille -

First, an apology for not discerning your gender accurately.

Your most recent post shows an enthusiasm for analysis of rug designs and, in truth, that is likely the oldest, most prevalent endeavor in rug literature.

But I would caution about moving too quickly to conclusion as you examine and compare rug designs.

You say in part: "...the major field design is clearly a double-ended mihrab and the central square might represent now for me a smaller Paradise-medallion..."

Now, it might be that this gul is in fact a "double-niche" form but it is not "obviously" so.

(A related point: Richard Farber, the composer, who has sometimes written on Turkotek, advised long ago that terms like "mirhab" are often too conclusionary in ways that are unearned. In most cases, the most we can likely say about such a form is to describe its shape. "Niche" does that. Whether a given "niche" is also intended as a "mirhab" would require a separate demonstration. This why the term "prayer rug" is also sometimes called into question (although still widely used).

One additional difficulty with moving to conclusion that the yastik "gul-like" form is a "mirhab" is showing under what conditions one would be forced to conclude that it is not one. That would need to be described at least hypothetically in order to demonstrate that there was such a distinction.

There is another familiar argument that may also apply to the shape of this yastik "gul-like" device. It is that the severely rectilinear character of the drawing is not required in pile weaving which is very flexible despite being done on a rectilinear structural grid. The retention of this rather strict rectilinear character of this device might suggest that the pile weaver was using a device that came from a weaving in which a more restritive technique (like slit tapestry) was used. Slit tapestry would require the stepping character of such a design in order to maintain structural integrity of the fabric.

I encourage you in your interest in rugs and the analysis of them, but would advise that quite often the designs in rugs and other weavings are not necessarily what they might initially appear to be. At the very least, you can expect that something you state is "obviously X" will be seen as controversial.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-04-2007 02:24 AM:

Bonjour Camille,

...Peter Stone Lexicon where the explanation ends on: "One theory holds that the medallions of the earliest medallion court rugs were derived from book bindings."
I guess the book in question is the Holy Qur'an

Not necessarily: see ““Exhibits prepared by the Near East Collection at Yale University Library”

Hu, the photo with the caption Stamped leather binding (1472 A.D. / 876 A.H.) on page 1 and the one with Stamped leather binding(1568 A.D. / 976 A.H.) on page 2 are switched, though.



Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-04-2007 07:46 AM:

Dear John

Thank you for all your comments.

What I meant by “major field design” is of course the contour of the field itself ( the double yellow/brown line) and not what is inside that field (what you called /or might be a gul), a misunderstanding that engendered a long commentary. I knew it was going to happen somewhere!
But regarding that field contour, I guess I am quite sure about it and this is a major part of a chapter in a book that I am writing. So I think I have strong proofs for that. And here the double-ended prayer niche does not of course mean that it was intended for prayer, therefore the design in this case is symbolic.

As for the square inside the field, I am still exploring the ground and of course do not intend to jump to quick conclusions. But I do rely on certain basics that in general, nothing is “baroque” in Oriental art and at the origin, everything had a precise meaning.
The “purely decorative” always came in second phase and was definitely affected by a certain commercial demand.
I fully agree on the comment that you put forward regarding the rendition of the inner -gul- design as could be taken from a kilim and I guess this applies to the motif included in the square of my prayer rug. But on the other hand, in general, the less busy the field of a non-commercial tribal or village tug is the more expressive it is and the more symbolic its motifs and elements are. I don’t know whetheryou agree with me on that point.


Monsieur Boncompagni bonjour!

Thanks for your reference but I don’t really see that it goes against what I wrote.
In such proposals I always prefer to keep the safe aide and I leave some room for doubts comments or criticism.
But what does a medallion mean inside the niche of a prayer rug especially when it encloses nothing else?
When I first had this idea, I asked a friend of mine who wrote a book on Islamic art and he agreed. Still, I shall not stress on it.



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-04-2007 07:56 AM:

Thanks for your reference but I don’t really see that it goes against what I wrote

It doesn’t. It only means that “not all book bindings with central medallions” are Korans.


Posted by R. John Howe on 06-04-2007 08:19 AM:

Hi Camille -

If your focus is on the area inside the double-yellow, brown line,

and if you are insisting that this is a "double-ended prayer niche," then the question becomes, under what conditions would you be forced to say that such a design does NOT earn the word "prayer?" Under what conditions should such a device be described, instead with a phrase like "anchored medallion?"

It may well be that many devices had very specific meanings (and you can find folks who think they know what they were and are; I had an experienced dealer in Turkey recently insist that the literature is all wrong about the "hands on hips" device being a reference to fertility; he says that it was used by young female weavers to express indignation about such things as unwanted arranged marriages) but I doubt very much whether we have any longer much evidence of what these meanings might have been. The people we want to talk to have been dead for at least 200 years. So I personally think it is pretty pointless to speculate about them. That doesn't stop lots of folks from doing it.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 06-04-2007 08:41 AM:

Hi Camille

I have some problems with the notion that the central medallion is a double-ended prayer niche, too. They are:

1. I don't see the dimensions of this textile, but it is described as a yastik fragment. If it's yastik size, it's too small to be a prayer rug. If it's not a prayer rug, the arch isn't a mihrab. There are some who believe that every rug with an arch form in it was made for and used in Moslem prayer and that every arch in a rug is a mihrab. I think they're mistaken.

2. The mihrab on a prayer rug is presumably to be oriented in the direction of Mecca. That can't be in two directions that are 180 degrees different.

The matter of what we really mean by the term, prayer rug, has interested me for some time, and my thoughts on the subject were presented as a Salon awhile ago. You might find it (and the accompanying discussion) interesting; here is a link to it.


Steve Price

Posted by James Blanchard on 06-04-2007 09:55 AM:

"Double-niched prayer rugs"...

Hi all,

The subject of double niched rugs has been written about in relation to Baluch rugs (sorry to drag us all back to the Baluchophile territory, just a bit). There are a small number of Baluch rugs that look very much like prayer rugs but they have mihrabs (niches) at both ends. Jerry Anderson and others have referred to these as "funeral rugs". However, when I have asked some experienced dealers from Herat about this they found that suggestion quite surprising. They thought that it would be odd to use a piled rug for a funeral. Perhaps they are wrong, but I wonder how firm the basis is for describing these as "funeral rugs". When I asked what else could explain these somewhat unusual rugs, they suggested that perhaps it was made specially for someone who was blind or had very poor eyesight. That way your prayer is always correctly oriented with respect to the rug, and it is somewhat more easy to orient oneself to face Mecca if you are in familiar surroundings. As always in rugdom, there is more than one opinion for most mysteries, and the challenge is to figure out where the truth lies.

I can't speak for the past, but it is my impression that many Muslims who can afford prayer rugs own them and use them for prayer. Some households have many prayer rugs, in case there are guests. Some have special prayer rugs which are kept as keepsakes and used very rarely. It seems very likely to me that the origin of the prayer rug concept was for ritual prayer, even if a "prayer rug industry" developed subsequently to meet Western market demand. Similarly, the origin of the chuval is as a storage bag, even if in the 19th century it became largely a commercial item. Ditto for the engsi (even if we don't know exactly what it was used for originally).


Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-04-2007 10:48 AM:

Hi John,

I have many hints regarding the double-niche attribution if not for this yastik, for the group of rugs I am studying and you know it is an attribution that is applied for instance to the famous Kiz-Ghiordes; these were dowry pieces although they could have been used for prayer as well. In the yasrik, it is a double-ended sultan head mihrab design but not a prayer rug because of its small size. This design could have joined the dowry idea as well.

I am really sorry to tell you that I won’t discuss further about that precise point for I will then be obliged to pre-publish here a good part of my work that relies on observations, references, field-research and interviews, all starting around 1996.

You are right for the little -or lack of- evidence that we have about design meanings or symbolic but I believe we should make an effort to re-discover these because a rug is not a only a useful object where the pleasure stops at the eyes but a piece of art where the message is intended to the soul as well.. Some dealers use tales to sell their rugs... It is definitely not my style.

Hello Steve,

I already mentioned the following: And here the double-ended prayer niche does not of course mean that it was intended for prayer, therefore the design in this case is symbolic. But I discovered in a book a painting dating to the mid 19th c. where a sheikh is praying on a double-ended niche rug.

As for the direction of a prayer rug, it is not as important as the facing direction of the believer who is praying. Nevertheless, most Turkish prayer rugs and even some Baluch are woven top-end first so that the pile leans towards the top and does not disturb the hands of the praying person.

Regards to all

Posted by Steve Price on 06-04-2007 11:02 AM:

Hi Camille

I understand that you cannot release information that will be published as original findings in your book, and we're happy to read anything that you are able to share. Thank you for being willing to do so.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-04-2007 11:18 AM:

Hi Camille,

But I discovered in a book a painting dating to the mid 19th c. where a sheikh is praying on a double-ended niche rug.

Sorry, but you should take what you see in a 19th c. painting – or a photo for that matter – with a pinch of salt: a lot of them, if not MOST of them, were made in studios.
See, if you have time, Rugs in Orientalist Paintings and Orientalist paintings - a follow-up.


Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-04-2007 11:30 AM:

Hi Steve,

I’d always be glad to share my experience with all of you as I too appreciate the interesting and great contribution that this serious site is offering.

Thank you.

Hi Filberto,

The artist I am referring to was not at all the kind of passing tourist who bought some bargains and went home to paint them and impress people. Here too, I guess I well studied the case. Please be patient till the opus is out.

Thanks anyway for your note.



Posted by R. John Howe on 06-04-2007 01:40 PM:

Hi Camille -

I think things might go better if you provide a stable picture of the issue(s) you want to and can discuss.

You started with this sentence.

"...I am studying a group of rugs stylistically related to the field design of these yastics. I wonder whether someone knows something about the central square..."

The term "central square" seemed straightforward and I responded in terms of this device in the yastik.

But then you seemed to say that we had mistaken your interest and that you really intended to reference the broader nature of the field design: what I have described as an "anchored medallion."

And you seemed to begin to discuss this broader device somewhat (comments about hooks on the medallions being "protective" devices, etc.) but now have announced that you cannot go forward with some arguments you can in fact make because that would entail revealing prematurely some of your unpublished research results.

Well, we're not advising that, but are now puzzled both about what you want to, and can talk about, at the moment. Please clarify.

I would also be interested in your sense of some viable ways in which the meanings in rug designs might be sought.


R. John Howe

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-04-2007 04:14 PM:

Hello John,

You took what I called “major field design” for the central -what you called- “gul”.
I corrected that misunderstanding and since, I guess I am doing my best to be the clearest possible.
You are always referring to the yastik while there is a prayer rug detail that I posted and about which I am talking as well. Where I am talking about hooks as protective device is right bellow my prayer rug and these are around the square that is inscribed inside the niche. Nevertheless, the hooks around the double yellow/brown line in the yastik could also have the same meaning.
I am still searching for a meaning of the central square and if the inside is a gul as you suggested, I did not find any meaning for it knowing that no one yet suggested what that kind of original [Ersari bag] gul could have represented and I don't think it was a flower unless we refer to Dali's imagination for metamorphosis!

About the meanings, I cannot pretend to have discovered a great many things and this is not easy at all as you already mentioned, but I could make a logic connection between the name given by weavers for a certain motif and the global meaning of the whole design or even with a technical feature (!).



PS: It is not that easy for me to attach pictures as I should refer to Mr. Price.

Posted by R. John Howe on 06-04-2007 08:25 PM:

Dear Camille -

OK, maybe we have at least one focus of yours that we can discern.

You say in part in the last post:

"...Where I am talking about hooks as protective device is right bellow my prayer rug and these are around the square that is inscribed inside the niche. Nevertheless, the hooks around the double yellow/brown line in the yastik could also have the same meaning..."

Me: I have heard before the notion that such hooks are seen by some to be protective devices. But some others see them as likely "bird forms," and I'll bet we could examine the literature and find other interpretations of them still, including the notion that they may have no symbolic meaning at all, but are merely one of the purely geometric devices that populate Islamic art.

Do you hold the view that such hook devices in rugs and other textiles are intended as protective devices? If so, please indicate the basis for that view.


R. John Howe

Posted by Wendel Swan on 06-06-2007 01:37 AM:

Hi John,

Your yastik “fragment” raises the issue as to just what a fragment is. How much must be missing for it to be a fragment and not merely excessively worn? I know that you attended a meeting of the Philadelphia Rug & Textile Society last year that focused on collecting fragments. I’m working to bring that discussion to Washington this fall.

I encountered the following yastik fragment at the Carpet Fair in Istanbul and thought it to be especially beautiful.


Posted by Steve Price on 06-06-2007 05:30 AM:

Hi Wendel

That one has great colors. And no matter where the line is that separates very worn from fragment, it's on the "fragment" side.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 06-06-2007 06:48 AM:

Hi Wendel -

You raise the question of what qualifies as a "fragment."

I would say that, while it can be argued, a "fragment" is a piece that is in some respect only part of an original whole.

For me, the question of "excessive wear" is separate.

I too, think the fragment you saw at the ICOC XI dealers' fair is beautiful. I obviously don't claim that for mine. (I'm not entirely sure that I can explain the appeal the piece I bought has for me, but it is definite.) My piece is both a "fragment" and "excessively worn."

I do think the condition of something that is a clear fragment still affects its price. The very expensive Turkish village rug fragments at ICOC XI were so in part because they were full pile. My own more modest, Konya yellow-ground fragment was more reasonable because it is not of the full pile sort.

By the way, referring to last November's Philadelphia in-person "salon" on fragments, I wrote that up, with illustrating photos, for the Philadelphia Rug Society club board, but it has never appeared (I just checked their site again).

They suggested that I put it up on Turkotek, but too many of the pieces used were and perhaps still are on the market.

The Philadelphia folks did good preparation work for this subject and the session went well in part because of the questions they posed at the beginning to structure it. Their initial question was a little different. It was "When is a Fragment 'Collectible?'" (These structuring questions were so successful in fostering useful discussion that after over an hour had passed we had to remind ourselves that we had some examples of fragments to look at.)

Craig Wallen, hosted and led this salon discussion and I no longer have the actual questions he used to structure it. What I do still have are my own thoughts given to him beforehand.
Musing on “Fragments”

I think that useful “cuts” into the world of oriental rugs are often a matter of finding or fashioning good questions. In this case the question of “what fragments might be seen to be ‘collectible’?” is less interesting to me than is something more like “what can we learn from oriental rug and textiles that are fragmented?”

Some examinations we can make with fragmented pieces:

1. Sometimes re-assemblage is possible (TM “Pieces of a Puzzle” exhibition; Kircheim in Orient Stars volume).

2. Sometimes can reconstruct at least part of a large piece.

3. Often can produce a computer simulation to suggest what a larger area with a design available only in a fragment might have looked like (this seem more easily done with “repeat” patterns. e.g. TM “Pieces of a Puzzle” exhibition and one Christopher Alexander needlepoint reconstruction)

4. Smaller fragments of large pieces (e.g., some rugs in the TM “Pieces of a Puzzle” exhibition) can be more readily compared (physically) than could the larger pieces from which they came.

5. It is sometimes possible to learn things from a fragment that are important for puzzling out some aspect of the whole [e.g. TM fragment of a large Khorusan carpet has one finished side edge without a border, suggesting that it might have been part of a mult-part assemblage to be fitted together (design reinforces this suggestion since some devices are interrupted precisely at a midpoint at this selveged, but borderless, edge)].

6. Sometimes the “raw” edge of a fragment makes the materials used and the structure of a piece more accessible.

7. Other Potentially Advantageous Qualities of Fragmented Pieces.

- Sometimes one can afford a fragment, but not a whole piece.

- Sometimes a fragment can still project remarkable “wholeness”


Those familiar with Dan Walker's "Piece of a Puzzle" exhibition on classical Khurosan fragments, will recognize that some of my questions are taken from those Dan cited as advantages fragments can offer in his "walk-through" of this exhibition.

The "Pieces of a Puzzle" exhibition is now on-line on the TM's site. Here's the link:

Good intervention, Wendel.


R. John Howe

Posted by Lloyd Kannenberg on 06-06-2007 08:13 AM:

Hello All,

A while ago there was a Salon, "Relics, Wrecks and Rags, Fragments of the Imagination", by Patrick Weiler,
. Patrick provided useful definitions of rags, wrecks, fragments, etc., I thought. Maybe it would be helpful to use those definitions (with supplements) here as well.

Still green with envy over those who attended ICOC/Istanbul,

Lloyd Kannenberg

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-06-2007 06:08 PM:

Dear John,

The hook we are talking about is too widely applied and for quite a long time to be given just one signification especially that simple as it is, it is too expressive for me to give it a simple decorative value.

It could have been first inspired by the “Aleph” (A) letter used in one of the ancient Kufic calligraphic styles. It then looked like a capital “I” bearing a triangle at its top. By articulating the triangle 45 degrees clockwise, we will have a hook. Moreover the triangle itself is known to practically be one of the basic elements in Islamic abstract art.

This hook for me has always taken different meanings:
If you take a look at the dragon in the famous “Dragon and Phoenix” rug, the hooks with their sharp angles and, being consecutive, creating other complementary hooks, look like claws and a lot to the wildness and aggressiveness of the beast. Around the mihrab or the spandrels, they do appear as protective devices. When you insert an eye inside the triangle, you cannot but see it as an animal head, while in a dowry rug, a double hook often seen as ram’s horns could well have the role of a symbol of fertility.



Posted by R. John Howe on 06-06-2007 08:10 PM:

Camille -

But this is speculation. The literature is full of such speculation already.

I thought you were proposing to move beyond that.


R. John Howe

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-07-2007 05:51 AM:

Hi John.

It is very easy to reject non-prooved ideas. If we've got to be like Thomas all the way, I guess nothing will progress; after all, we are not dealing with a clear science. I believe that in tribal and rural art, one should always leave room for imagination, expression, feelings, symbolism, superstitions and all what is related to the soul.
If you never lived in the Orient, you can never value the amplitude of these values.

Now you can call that speculation, I won't pretend it is the ultimate truth, but for me, it is a good way to progress untill I am convinced about other suggestions that rely -or not- on stronger proofs.



Posted by R. John Howe on 06-07-2007 06:23 AM:

Camille -

I would not insist on hard-edged positivist-type proof, but rather that the claims made for some meanings offer some basis for treating them seriously other than "special insight," the latter open perhaps only to those who had lived in rug-producing societies.

The basis should be such that reasonable people looking at the evidence offered for the meaning(s) of a given design or symbol would come to similar conclusions.

Assertion is not demonstration.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-07-2007 06:30 AM:

Monsieur Camille,

If you never lived in the Orient, you can never value the amplitude of these values.

I do live in the Orient, it’s almost twenty years now.
Not only that, but my wife is, like you, a Christian-Lebanese. We lived in Beirut too, where my wife has relatives and friends.

I can assure you that none of our relatives, friends and acquaintances in Lebanon and elsewhere in the M.E. has ever shown any special insight concerning rug symbolism.
They aren't any better than your regular American guy that makes the bulk of the posters here.


Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-07-2007 01:38 PM:

Hello Filberto,

Beirut is different from Chicago as far as East is not West on one hand, and on the other, it is certainly not the Lebanese, Syrian Turkish or Iranian countryside and much less where tribes dwell.

I do not claim to have lived among all these but also did not stay in my shell in Beirut. Besides, it is not only my oppinion, but I have heard this from many scholars, the last of which was Siavosch Azadi that I met during the Istanbul ICOC and that of Jon Thompson as well.



PS: Can someone please tell me how to delete the line + signature bellow?

Posted by Steve Price on 06-07-2007 01:40 PM:

Hi Camille

I've deleted it, and I've set your profile to not put it into any more of your posts.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 06-07-2007 02:43 PM:

Hi Camille -

You say in part:

"...Besides, it is not only my oppinion, but I have heard this from many scholars, the last of which was Siavosch Azadi that I met during the Istanbul ICOC and that of Jon Thompson as well..."


Please specify what your "this" is, in this instance, and give your Azadi and Jon Thompson cites. That is, relate your "this" to a specific ICOC XI presentation by or personal conversation with one of these gentlemen.

Be forwarned that Mr. Azadi is seen, in some circles, to exhibit "romantic tendencies" in some of his writings. (See for example, Ned Long's review, in ORR long ago, of Azadi's contribution to the volume in which the Rautgenstengel's first structurally defined the Turkmen "eagle" group.)


R. John Howe

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 06-07-2007 06:38 PM:

Hello John,

I feel like I am playing ping-pong against two!

I am refering to what Filberto commented concerning the Oriental mentality and "all what is related to the soul" at the rural and tribal weavers.

I met both poeple many times and I am talking about personnal conversations.
The one with Mr. Azadi was during ICOC XI.
I feel that Mr. Azadi is often criticized. I personally feel that he often stretches datings and might have added some salt and peper here and there. But he agreed on what I mentioned above knowing also that he's Iranian.
Please, don't ask me where above



Posted by richard tomlinson on 06-07-2007 08:34 PM:

hi all

john - you stated ;

"But this is speculation. The literature is full of such speculation already.I thought you were proposing to move beyond that."

how would it be possible to move beyond speculation?

richard tomlinson

Posted by Unregistered on 06-09-2007 02:05 PM:


Jumping in late on all this very interesting stuff.

I agree with John that there is a difference between "worn out" and "fragmented." At the same time, I don't see much to be gained by establishing a finely tuned definition of "fragment." One has to decide whether, in the whole context of collecting, the thing is pleasing and desirable (such as the excellent little item posted by Wendel) or not.

As far as that goes, I have always noted that some worn rugs look good, and some just look dreary, and it isn't necessarily a function of how good they were at the outset. I'm not quite sure how that aesthetic operates.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 06-10-2007 05:34 AM:

Richard (Tomilson) :

About how to move beyond speculation.

If you read back you will see that that is my own question. For me, a great deal of rug literature is "taxonomy" (comparing similarities and differences in rug designs) attempting to move to "development" (suggesting how rug designs "evolve") in ways that are unearned. I personally think that suggestions about what meanings particular designs have or had historically are also often without much grounding.

Camille seemed at one point to be suggesting that his own thoughts about designs moved beyond the more speculative. I was asking precisely for any basis for that. It appears, now that he treats less evidence-based indications from those in the rug producing societies more seriously than I do.

Now, to attempt to answer that question, some feel that there is some historical evidence of some design evolution (perhaps, sometimes, also meanings). Here is an analysis by Horst Nitz here not long ago:

Others argue that it is not pointless, still, to interview older weavers to attempt to determine what their views are.

But I think we are at least 200 years too late, maybe much more, and that design evolution/meanings is a subject that we ought largely to give up.

That's not going to happen and folks as well thought of as Christine Klose, in Germany are very seriously going about it still. Here is a link to our report on one of her efforts:

She thinks the main "eagle Kazak" device is sourced in Persian "vase" carpets. Sometimes folks seem to be saying that if we can determine what the designs in rugs "denote" we will also be able to infer reliably what they "connote."


R. John Howe