Posted by Wendel Swan on 06-20-2007 06:05 PM:

Whence the beetle bag

Dear all,

With 700 continuous years of weaving tradition on display at the TIEM at one time, it is a wonderful place to learn about carpets and the vast tradition that they represent. It is also allows us to place more recent collectibles into their historical context.

For a long, long time I would periodically mull over the possible origin of the so-called “beetle bags”, always convinced that they could not represent beetles or any other animate object. I superimposed drawings of Holbein interlaces on them and thought I was close, but there was never a nexus in the wool.

Quite a few years ago I saw an image of an early Ushak-type rug with 8 lobes that convinced me it was in the design continuum that produced the beetle bags. Somehow I lost that image but at the TIEM in April I saw the rug itself.

On the left is a 17th Century Ushak star medallion carpet (of exceptional quality) in the TIEM collection and in the middle is the 17th or 18th Century version from Cappadocia that I had remembered. On the right is the beetle bag from the cover of FTBTS.

Of course, there is a 200 year gap between the Cappadocia rug and the beetle bag, but to me it is not at all difficult to see the progressive changes continuing into the bag, down to the inclusion of the four boxes surrounding the medallion. There are many similarities in designs between traditional Anatolian rugs and Caucasian rugs and I believe that this is yet another.

I cannot say that this Cappadocia rug in the TIEM is itself the ancestor of beetle bags, but others like it must have existed and must have been copied. My earlier Holbein interlace theory may still has some merit, but the Cappadocia rug at the TIEM makes a rather convincing argument.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-21-2007 03:59 AM:

Hi Wendel,

The more we look into the matter, the more we find supposedly “tribal” designs coming from city rugs.
How unromantic.


Posted by Marty Grove on 06-21-2007 08:38 AM:

City vs Tribal

G'day Wendel and Filiberto,

Those three which you show Wendel, very definitely are connected through time. What surprises me is - forgive me Filiberto if I am taking a liberty or mistakenly believe you are intimating the earlier two are city rugs - but how can one say the Cappodocia and the Ushak were city products?

You havent said that Filiberto, but I take it that you surmise these two to be city rugs. From my just looking at the pictures, and reading that the Ushak is a very fine piece, there still is nothing to indicate to me that they were woven in a city or otherwise.

While I accept the likelihood that transference of design passed from city to bush and visa versa, looking at these old rugs does not really give me any sign just what sort they are.

Is there something specific which might lead us to identify the first two are from the city?


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-21-2007 08:52 AM:

Hi Marty,

I'm not sure about the Cappadocian one (probably not), but the Ushak IS a city carpet:
Ushak carpet - floor covering handwoven in the city of Usak (Ushak), Turkey. By the 16th century the principal manufacture of large commercial carpets in Ottoman Turkey had been established at Usak, which produced rugs for palace and mosque use and for export. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, this manufacture came increasingly under European control.


Posted by Marty Grove on 06-21-2007 09:32 AM:

Aah, Thanks Filiberto,

Excellent, that clears that up - I must admit not having travelled to Turkey, and being only generally aware of the specific cities, familiarity of the two places is not exact.

While I have read a fair bit about the weavings of Turkey and some of the historical contexts, this city versus tribal question has always left me a bit adrift.

When I think of city carpets, I see in my mind a large place with lots of looms and weavers working on the well ordered manufacture of very ornate, often large type carpets.

What is harder to get my mind around is the idea that if we accept that carpet making is thousands of years old, and a continuence throughout that time of girls being trained to weave them, why not can we then also presume that a percentage of these weavers whether working in the bush or city, are capable of extremely fine intricate work using exceptional materials, good wool and fantastic dyes.

It doesnt necessarily follow that this first class weaver, say a lady from the bush, will gravitate to the city to weave the masterworks drawn by some famous 'cartoonist'.

A well known master weaver would be an asset not only to her family but also to her village and she may not wish to leave that little village where her life is content, and so might produce in that little village of 40 or 50 persons just such masterful weavings that are so remarked on and desired today.

I find it hard to accept that all very fine and detailed intricate rugs were essentially city products. Even if certain designs are known to be mainly the work of specific city workshops, is there any reason why the renowned weaver in the little place way outback might not weave her own version which may be indistinguishable from the more common 'city' one?

Its semantics I know, splitting hairs, and apols if it seems Im being argumentative, but I just think this divide 'twixt city and bush is not really so definitive. While its true some of us prefer one or the other, I dont really think we can always tell...


Posted by Marty Grove on 06-21-2007 09:53 AM:


Filiberto, bang, shot myself in the foot in my last post, realising that the operative word is 'large', and as you showed, the Ushak were large carpets which obviously were highly unlikely to have been woven at home by however excellent the weaver.

She probably just would not have the size loom, nor the resource capability to make something so big.

I guess that tribal, using the word to indicate NOT city, really can be applied more often only to fairly small pieces, regardless how ornate, fine and intricate.


Posted by Wendel Swan on 06-21-2007 10:10 AM:

Hi Marty,

The terms city, village and nomadic are all relative terms that refer to a combination of aspects of a rug. When we refer to a city rug we refer to its style, the size, the regularity of the weave, the structure, its intended use, the number of similar rugs produced and whether the rug appears to have been woven under supervision or by following a cartoon.

Ushak was an important and influential weaving center that produced huge quantities of rugs over a long period of time. The large star and medallion Ushaks are perhaps the most readily identifiable, but small rugs were also woven in Ushak or its environs, including a yastik that I own and appears in this thread posted by Jeff Krauss:

The Ushak on the left is what I think anyone would call a city rug, being sophisticated in drawing and execution and of good size. It must have been woven on a fixed loom and under supervision.

Because of its size alone, the Seljuk carpet that appears in the “legacy” thread was also undoubtedly woven in an urban environment, but proper supervision appears to have been wanting, in either setting up the loom or in the actual weaving.

The Cappadocia rug above is less formally drawn and executed and its style is derivative, so we’re tempted to call it village. But it could have been woven in a city, as Filiberto suggests. Some small towns or villages produced lots of rugs and many large cities produced few if any.

So, city and village are relative, not absolute, terms.


Posted by R. John Howe on 06-21-2007 10:18 AM:

Dear folks -

Not to detract from Wendel's initial taxonomy (which seems to me to show striking similarities), and not to follow precisely Marty's question of whether the older rugs with more complex designs are properly described as "city rugs," there is a related old debate about whether there are designs that originated in more remote sectors of rug producing societies, these latter being described as "nomadic," "tribal," maybe even "village," as contrasted with designs that seem to have originated in more "urban" settings.

The old debate is usually about which direction of "flow" is properly seen to be predominant. Some say from the country-side to the urban areas. Others say that most designs originate in urban areas and moved to the countryside. There are even some who seem not to worry about flow, but who say that particular designs originated in both of these places.

Murray Eiland, Jr. has for years argued that he thinks it unlikely that designs credited to nomads originated in such societies. He believes that most designs originated in urban settings and moved to the countryside. Lots of folks seem nowadays to agree with him.

But Michael Franses has recently argued in print that he believes that the nomads who came into such areas as northwest Turkey already had designs of their own when they first contacted urban areas and so the designs in their pieces were/are not strictly products of urban influence.

I was surprised to see him make this argument because I had the impression that the Eiland thesis was now pretty generally accepted.

Apparently not in some circles.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marty Grove on 06-21-2007 11:05 AM:


Thanks Wendel, Filiberto and John,

You have each deliniated an acceptable picture of the three main groupings from within which rugs were made. I accept the main suppositions between city, village and nomad are pretty straight forward as you have explained.

John has given more food for thought, and following it, might there be the possibility the 'beetle bag' displayed by Wendel was the originator of the previous two pieces?

With an influx of other weaving groups into Turkey at some time in the past, bringing with them their own designs, its not beyond the realm of possibility some clever designer saw the 'beetle' type and thought 'Now thats something different - if I embellish it somewhat, from the cubic geometric to a more rounded style, it may prove popular with my urban clients'.

By the nature of weavings past and present, there is endless stuff for speculation, and this probably is another facet of just why we love such things as we do.


Posted by Horst Nitz on 06-21-2007 06:00 PM:

Hi Folks,

Wendel, your introductory comment was right from my heart and right as right could be (sic!).

Sixteenth century at last saw the Ottomans taking control over the east of Turkey, which until not much earlier was ruled by the Akkoyunlu, based in West-Persia. Eastern Turkey and Western Persia were a cultural and political entity for many centuries. The early "Usak" rugs come from there. The manufacture in Usak in the west of the country, put up by the Ottomans in 16th century, continued / exploited earlier designs from the east.

It is not surprising that the "beetle"-motiv is showing on the cover of FTBTS (an IQ of 170 was helpful in figuring out what you were referring to by this): the Shasavan as the probable originators of bags like the one further up, inherited and processed a motiv that was put into the region's pool a considerable time before they were formed; in this way the city version from Usak was just another interpretation but by no means the original.

I know this is not a mainstream view, but on the other hand there is something like evolution of concepts: those "beetle"-bags, at the time of the exhibition and when the book was printed in 1969, were still thought of as being Caucasian.